Learning from others essentially strengthens the friendship and enriches both people, so in a sense we become more complete. With that value realized, I remembered a recommendation of a book by my twin friends: Les Miserables. My pragmatic part refused to read such a large book in the first place (around 1.5K pages and 17 years of work), so I decided to watch first a film adaptation of the book. Then I was lucky to find 2018 British series consisting of 6 episodes that contained much more details compared to previous musicals. While reading the book, I was impressed how many important moments were included to the series, though some of the plot parts were changed.
With the series I felt a variety of emotions that I wanted to live through again. Partially it was related to having a lot of sympathy to all injustice I have seen so far in the country I was born. Les Miserables clearly contains a revolutionary spirit and speaks a lot about injustice in the society, and subsequently was banned for a while, e.g. by Napoleon III or tsar Nikolai I.
Who are the people that Victor has devoted his novel?
The les miserables == “miserable people” are people rejected by society. Many of them started as innocent and
hard-working people, but a small mistake could have turned them into the rejected ones. The status “rejected” can not be taken back and people have to live with it, tolerating all injustice towards them.
Say Jean Valjean’s story: while being an orphan, he took care of his foster family and made an attempt to steal the bread to save the family from hunger. In the first place, why society did not provide people with ways to earn the money to have food? People were at times in a desperate situation and with the attempt to find some food, they are punished as the one who committed the crime. But who actually has committed the crime, a person trying to survive or the society not providing the opportunity for food? Hugo asks these types of questions from us, daring to be surprisingly direct in his moral discussions.
So Jean gets into prison, which in theory supposed to bring a person to a good path, but does it fulfills its goal? On the opposite, it rather puts a stamp of no-worthiness, where the only feeling the person gets is hate. A prison transforms some good people into embittered people who are supposed to be easily controllable. Rejected people back then had a yellow passport, which made others ignore rejected and treat them badly. So Jean Valjean till the rest of his days feels ashamed for his past of being convicted to the extent that he had to distance himself from the person he loved the most.
After having spent 19 years in prison, Jean becomes free. That does not mean he knows what to do in his life since in prison he has seen only unfairness and exploitation of people like him. People around do not meet him in a friendly way, refusing to give food or provide a place to spend the night, due to his rejected status. One of the most memorable moments of the book is when the priest plants a good seed in his head by treating him like a decent person. Jean Valjean after a nice dinner with a priest, has stolen s silver spoon set from his house. We would expect the priest to be angry,
but instead, he took a word from Jean Valjean to become a good person. Jean probably stroke by priest’s kindness have slowly changed into the person, which the priest could see in him. I think that for Hugo it was especially important that the person would be a priest and he certainly depicted the priest as the most kind-hearted person spending almost all of his salary on charity. Later the same church saves Jean again. In psychology quite often they recommend treating people as you want them to be, but the hardest is to go against the herd opinion of rejected people.
The book depicts the process of Jean Valjean’s spiritual growth, where he faces the dilemmas related to justice and keeping the promises and finally being ready to give up his freedom when the mission to save his beloved Cozette and his fiancé is accomplished. The author pays great attention to all thoughts and worries that Jean had to deal with to make the decision to show as well that the path to becoming a better person is hard and mental stones would never make his life as pure as it was before prison.
Unfortunately rejected people exist today, though the definition and scope are different. Those rejected people might be placed in prison because of their political views or the fact that they tell the unwanted truth or made too good business. Jean Valjean was arrested the second time due to taking the coin dropped from a child’s hand. Rejected people live in fear of being attacked again which so dramatically affected the lifestyle of Jean. He had to live unnoticed, to avoid the idea of living in one place, and even did not get a chance to be loved by a woman. He continues to devalue himself despite contributing to society, like by leading a factory and supporting people in need. That generosity and dedication to others strike me a lot. Jean Valjean is portrayed as a man that everyone would like to be close to, however, which suffers inside from insecurity that he got due to being rejected. The need to keep secrets and the inability to share and always rely only on yourself makes life really lonely. However, Cozette makes his life meaningful and worth fighting for her.
I believe that Victor Hugo hoped for huge changes in the law (to make have more justice and humanity) and for the decreasing abyss between the rich and the poor. Looking at the current situation, we definitely progressed but the desire for power, prestige, and money is still in the minds of people and ideally should be used for making this world a better place. The less separation we have, the more safety and certainty we have in the future, where everyone could happen to be on the wrong side of the wall.
P.S. The book for me is far beyond one aspect depicted here since Hugo made an epic novel covering the most crucial aspects of our life. Looking back now, I feel satisfied to devote several months to this book. In a similar way, huge and aspiring things take time, but with careful selection, it is definitely rewarding to go along this way, step by step, and eventually feeling satisfied with the journey, lessons, and the fact that something was changed inside.