Through the novel Les Miserables, Victor Hugo depicts the rigor and cruelty of the French society in the 19th century. Although human beings all have the inclination toward sinning and making mistakes, the harsh and inhumane laws enforced by a corrupt government system made people miserable, forming many prejudices. Jean Valjean, the protagonist of this story, has to live in this immoral society. Trying to feed the hungry children of his sister, he is condemned by the whole society. If he was not given a second chance by the bishop, the readers would not be able to see such a wonderful man he would become.
Therefore, Hugo wants to remind readers that not by violence, strict law or jail time but only by love, and altruism can people convert to goodness and re-create a better society. Martin Luther once said, “Forgiveness is God’s command”. And only by forgiving, people can truly free themselves from hatred. The author emphasizes these critical characteristics through the characters of the Bishop, Valjean and Javert.
The past cannot dictate a person’s future. People cannot change things which are in the past but they can alter the role they play in their future. Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, cannot find any sympathy from anyone after serving his nineteen years long imprisonment for stealing a loaf of bread. Instead of helping those in need, the people turn their back on each other. The only person who is willing to help is Bishop Myriel, the embodiment of God. He represents God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. Throughout Valjean’s life, he lives in a world without any compassion. It makes his character becomes wicked. Bishop Myriel gives Valjean food, shelter, and most importantly a second chance to become a better person. Moreover, instead of punishing Valjean for robbing him, Myriel sees an opportunity to change Valjean’s life by forgiving him. Bishop Myriel says to Valjean, ‘Forget not never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man’ (Hugo 34).
Metamora commented on the action of the Bishop, “This liberating act of forgiveness shatters Valjean’s old vengeance–oriented world, forges a new one in its place and completely transforms his life.” This is the beginning of the conversion of Jean Valjean, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.” (Hugo 34). Throughout the story, he faces many hardships and difficulties like the time he risk his real identity to save Madeleine, coming out as the real Valjean to save Champmathieu, and putting himself in danger to save Marius. There are many internal struggles in Valjean’s mind; however, he always remembers his vow to Bishop Myriel and chooses the right path. With the help of him, Jean Valjean has truly devoted his life to God. Life changes truly begin with love and forgiveness.
The part of the novel that shows the ennoblement of Valjean is when he spares the life of officer Javert, a man of law and justice. He has always been the biggest enemy of Jean Valjean. Javert has spent his whole life devoted to fighting crimes and bringing justice to the society. Sadly, the law is not always right, which makes Javert doing the immoral things, “Javert is so obsessed with enforcing society’s laws and morals that he does not realize he is living by mistaken assumptions—a tragic and ironic flaw in a man who believes so strongly in enforcing what he believes is right”.(Sparknotes). The Friends of the ABC capture the spy Javert and Valjean asks the permission to take care of him, “To blow out that main’s brain myself”(Hugo 492). Javert makes Valjean’s life miserable. He constantly chases Valjean because he thinks that a thief like Valjean only belongs in jail. Javert could have shown mercy to Valjean because of all he has done to make the community better. But in Javert’s mind, a man is guilty when the law declares him so.
Javert’s life is now in Valjean’s hand. More than anyone, Javert understands that his time has come, “Take your revenge”(Hugo 493). However, instead of taking Javert’s life, Jean Valjean spares him, making a big impact on Javert,”You are free. Javert was not easily astonished. Still, complete master as he was of himself, he could not escape an emotion. He stood aghast and emotionless.”(Hugo 497). Valjean shows his mercy and compassion to his greatest enemy. Moreover, he still remembers his promise that he made to the Bishop Myriel. Although killing Javert would mean that Valjean could live a normal life again without running or hiding, there would be no turning back from murder. God guides his way through the darkness. His action is based upon God’s grace and love.
Throughout the novel, Victor Hugo proves that goodness exists inside every person. But the environment affects them, making it hard to be a good person. The society needs to opens up to people, giving the chances to do the right things. Once again, Javert has the opportunity to make things right, putting Valjean back in jail, but he chooses to let him go. “Javert realizes the conflict between law and inner morality. It is not the letter of the law, but the spirit and intent.”(Sheeks). The mercy that Valjean shows Javert really changes him, which makes him acknowledges the good in Valjean. Therefore, he decides to let Valjean go free, meaning that Javert has forgiven him, “Before we can forgive one another, we have to understand one another.”(Goldman). However, this confusion is too enormous for Javert to bear, leading to his suicide. “He realized that his life was wasted and empty because of how he had perceived Jean, and was filled with remorse.”(Sheeks). In this situation, Hugo shows that love and altruism can even convert one’s greatest enemy, putting away all the enmity.
Through the characters Bishop Myriel, Valjean and Javert, Victor Hugo has successfully sent his message to the readers that love and altruism can eradicate all the hatred and prejudices. Anger and bitterness can only make things worse, losing the humanness inside every person. Only when people open up to each other, humanity can live in an improved and prosper society. All the thinking and actions needs to come from the heart, devoting toward the life of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Even in the 21st century, Les Miserables is still a wonderful masterpiece that its meaningful value can still be applied in today’s society.
- ‘Martin Luther Quotes.’ BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2020. 4 March 2020.
- Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables, 1862. Print
- SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/lesmis/character/javert/.
- Sheeks, Matt. “Justice and Sacrifice as Represented in Les Miserables.”
- 8 Dec. 2016, tritheos.com/justice-and-sacrifice-as-represented-in-les-miserables/.
- ‘Emma Goldman Quotes.’ BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2020. 4 March 2020. \
- ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. Quotes.’ BrainyQuote.com. BrainyMedia Inc, 2020. 4 March 2020.
Cite this Life Change Begins With Forgiveness
Life Change Begins With Forgiveness . (2021, May 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/life-change-begins-with-forgiveness/