Sunday, January 26, 2014

Les Miserables

Forgiveness and justice are two common themes or morals in any story. Most popular movies and books contain one or both of these elements. One world-renowned musical that is set around the themes of justice and forgiveness is Les Miserables. Les Miserables tells the story of a man living in France before the French Revolution. At the beginning, this man named Jean Valjean is being freed from 19 years of time in prison as punishment for stealing a loaf of bread. Afterwards, Jean Valjean is forced to stay on parole for the rest as his life and has a terrible time finding work because his work papers show that he is a convict. Eventually, Jean Valjean changes his name and leads a new and successful life for a long time.

It is not hard to find examples of either forgiveness or justice in this musical. It seems that almost every character goes through one or the other, even if they are very minor characters. For example, the people of France, many of whom we never get to know, are fighting the government for their justice. In order to fully focus on the portrayal of forgiveness and justice as a theme in this musical without having to switch gears, I would like to analyze just one theme in Les Miserables. After Jean Valjean is released from prison, he is treated miserably by everyone he meets. He has no money for food and cannot find someone to give him shelter. After a while, he meets a bishop who takes him in and feeds him, as well as gives him a place to sleep. The bishop has silverware that can be of value to Jean Valjean, so while the bishop is sleeping he sneaks in his room and steals the silverware. He runs away from the house and is eventually caught by the police. Jean Valjean tells the police that the bishop gave him the silverware. When the bishop hears this, he tells the policemen that Jean Valjean has spoken the truth; and not only that, he also gives him matching candlesticks. The bishop tells Jean Valjean that he must use the silverware and candlesticks to make himself an honest man and commit himself to God. Jean Valjean is really affected by the kindness that the bishop has shown him. After this scene, Jean Valjean changes his name and becomes a very giving and wonderful man.

This scene is a powerful turning point in Les Miserables. Had the theme of justice and forgiveness not been a factor in this scene, the story would have gone a completely different way. The bishop shows justice towards Jean Valjean right from the beginning. He doesn't care about Jean Valjean's past; he is only concerned about helping this miserable man. After almost two decades of punishment for a seemingly small crime, he is treated like a dog by the citizens. The bishop is the first person to show Jean Valjean any mercy or justice. Jean Valjean tries to be a good man and find work and earn his living but no one gives him the chance to. The bishop also forgives Jean Valjean after he steals the bishop's silverware. Because of the kindness that the bishop shows to Jean Valjean by bringing justice to his life and forgiving him when he didn't have to, Jean Valjean becomes a different man.

Les Miserables is a successful musical that utilizes forgiveness and justice as a theme in it's story-telling. Without those two themes, the story would not have had the huge turning point that was vital to the plot.