Les Miserables is one of the best books I have ever read. Initially when I began, the novel seemed to be too slow, but when you come to the end, you realize it is worth the pain. Not that the novel is all pleasant but the surprise is literally how Hugo transforms the Ugly into a Sublime Beauty- the transformation from the physical features to psychological struggle, which the protagonist conquers. The Need to Belong
and The Need to Carry on
if it can be said are proportional to each other. In order to carry on - one needs to belong- in other words ’’ the need of a purpose’’ and this immediately follows with question - For Whom?
Now the answer to this question ’’For Whom’’ is largely from the material point of view external, personal and conditional and all that is external, personal and conditional always conflict and contradict - but the same when it becomes impersonal and unconditional, there remains only one answer - For Whom? For Love
(Love in the most sublime sense of the word) and there one confronts GOD. This is what the book is all about.
Instead of the story, let me take personalities and discuss: Javert
, The Inspector-general. Javert was like all policemen hard but without conscience. To him everything was either right or wrong. He was somebody who never took into account the circumstances which made one right or wrong. All along he is in search of the convict Jean Valijean. One fine day he is saved by this same convict who could have easily avenged him and his conscience for the first time disturbs him- He has never known Love before and when he did he could no longer bear it (the power of Love), he commits suicide for he breaches the law, lets the convict escape and in his death he realizes that there is something above duty. Fantine
, a Mother who suffers humiliation to look after her child Cosette. She sells her hair (at age no woman would do) for the sake of her child being brought up in some other family. At one stage she even sells her teeth and becomes hideous to look at - For Whom did she do all this? - For Love - Her child. Fantine degenerates physically - but slowly regains composure under the care of Mayor Madeliene (The convict - Jean Valijean), only to die without ever having seen her only child. The Bishop
- Act of one man saves so many lives. The priest gives life and direction to the convict Jean Valijean which transforms him. The Bishop gives him a place to rest when everyone else in the town refuse - but his soul so wretched wishes to steal the two silver candlesticks and when caught, the Bishop rescues him from the police saying that he had given it to him and asks Jean Valijean to use it for true means - He kept his promise - It was Love (not demanded and least expected) that transformed him. Monsieur Guillenormand,
An old man who hates Republic and who has never in his life seemed kind - not even to his grandchild Marius. But when Marius leaves his house in protest - He realizes how deeply he Loved Marius and who for his happiness (when he returns) says Vive La Republique and allows him even to marry Cosette which he had earlier opposed - For the first time in life he feels happy - For what - For Whom - Love. Cosette
, A child who never has met Mother - A child who had known suffering even before she could be five- for she worked as a servant in the family of Thenardiers to whom Fantine sent all the money in vain. Jean - Valijean rescues her. He sees a purpose to live for the first time and Cosette finds ’’Love’’ that is pure and divine. Jean Valijean
, A convict - Mayor - A Father - A pious Man - This is how the transformation takes place. Jean Valijean is able to bring happiness to all lives around him - His last words to Cosette shows his benign attitude - He asks Cosette to forgive Thenardiers - Unites Cosette with Marius whom she fell in love with - though he could have been selfish, for Cosette was the only purpose of his Life - We all have things to learn from him.
The other incidents narrated in the story are equally important - It captures the disturbed moment of France of 1830’s - Post Napoleonic Times - and almost all the other characters not mentioned here die in Civil War - Hugo’s portrayal here is marvelous. When ennui sets in, Mind rebels. It can lead to anything - One option is war - pretence to die for those who cannot live. But we always have men like Jean Valijean...