Victor Hugo

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In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo explodes right-wing political myths used for justification of "conservative" anti-christian behavior towards the poor. Such myths are always touting the English bloodless "Glorious Revolution" and finger pointing shame at the French Revolution, but never acknowledging the conditions that led to it, nor offering criticism of monarchy or any significant, effective alternatives for monarchal reform that would prevent such bloody revolution.
Furthermore, the English shift of power from monarchy to Parliament did little to nothing as far as addressing poverty. This is attested to by the horrible conditions several centuries later which were the subject of writings by Charles Dickens.

Literary Analysis of Les Misérables
In narrating the troubled stories of Jean Valjean, Fantine, and Cossette, Victor Hugo leads us to see the desperate plight of the needy that ultimately led to the [French] Revolution. Scores of men were given overly harsh, ruinous sentences for crimes committed so that their families could eat, and many women were faced with seemingly impossible family situations and suffered at the workplace because of it. Meanwhile, children went completely unprotected from the wrath of cruel adults. The following quote from the first volume, in which Jean Valjean agonizes over the many injustices that have been served to him and his peers, is representative of the call to action that Hugo incites in writing his masterpiece, Les Misérables: “He asked himself... whether it was not outrageous for society to treat thus precisely those of its members who were the least well endowed in the division of goods made by chance, and consequently the most deserving of consideration.”

“Les Miserables”: A Christian reflection

Curriculum Units by Fellows of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute 1987 
Volume II: Epic, Romance and the American Dream
Les Misérables
   As historical fiction, Les Misérables entwines the fictive and the factual to offer an explanation for the turbulence of the age. Though Valjean is named mayor under the pseudonym Monsieur Madeleine, he is anti-political in his role and quickly drops into hiding, relinquishing his office. He remains outside of politics. Political views are instead expressed through Gillenormand, Pontmercy, and Marius. Gillenormand, Marius’s grandfather represents the royalists who tried to deny the revolution, a denial symbolized by Gillenormand’s attempt to raise Marius as a royalist, unaware of his father’s existence. When Marius discovers his father he discovers the value of revolution as a necessary part of progress.
   In the criticized and misunderstood Waterloo digression, Hugo links the fictional, symbolic characters with the factual. The digression is a lengthy description of the battle that marked Napoleon’s defeat. Hugo saw history as God’s action and text, which man need only read and interpret. The Waterloo digression is his interpretation. His strong belief in God and need for comfort from his life’s tragedies forced him to conclude that all is working universally toward the Infinite, which is in control. This progression toward the Infinite is more than a forward movement of events; it is also a fluctuation of revolution and relapse into seemingly defeated states. Hence, the French Revolution was followed by reinstatement of the Bourbons, followed by Napoleon’s reign, followed again by reinstatement of the Bourbons, and so on. The Bourbons were not just rulers, and therefore, revolution was necessary. But neither was Napoleon a just leader. Waterloo was to have ended France’s tyranny, but liberation under Napoleon was impossible because Napoleon was himself tyrannical.
   Hugo uses the laughter motif to illustrate the ironies of Truth. In the Waterloo digression, he shows Napoleon on the battlefield laughing at his presumed victory. Napoleon fails to take into account the Infinite; however, for as the narrator states, “The perfect smile belongs to God alone.” God is Waterloo s victor. Later in the novel Gavroche dies amid a burst of laughter, laughter that represents the young, passionate, emerging Paris. Hugo uses Napoleon to show that God controls even the political world.
   Though less obviously than in the Waterloo chapter, Napoleon’s influence runs throughout Les Misérables. The date Valjean is imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread coincides with Napoleon’s rise. Conversely, Valjean returns from prison on the same road Napoleon used to return from Elba for the Hundred Days, after which he was defeated at Waterloo. Valjean’s imprisonment from 1796-1815 corresponds to the climax of Napoleon’s reign—from the Italian campaign to the Hundred Days. In Digne, where Valjean meets the bishop, were first printed Napoleon’s proclamations brought from Elba. Valjean, entirely removed from politics, is Napoleon’s antithesis.
   Hugo stresses his disapproval of Napoleon by paralleling Valjean with Christ. The Christ parallels and allusions are numerous. After the bishop buys Valjean’s soul, in effect, Valjean assumes a new name, Monsieur Madeleine, his Christian name, referencing Mary Magdalene. He spends the rest of his life helping the poor and downtrodden. After much mental anguish, Valjean gives up his life for Champmathieu, who would otherwise go to the galleys in his place. Here he realizes that he can “only enter into holiness in God’s eyes, by returning to infamy in men’s!” Again a prisoner he breaks his chain to save a sailor on the Orion and then leaps overboard in a sort of baptism. In the law’s eyes he dies, but in reality he is resurrected. He becomes an intercessor for Gosette, teaching her to pray and becoming her “father.” When Javert chases him, he falls into the garden of a convent, where he and Gosette are sheltered for years, protected from all evil. When he contemplates risking his own life for Marius’s, he parallels Christ praying on the Mount of Olives; when he carries Marius on his back through the Parisian sewers, he parallels Christ carrying the cross. In addition Hugo associates Valjean in the sewers with Jonah in the belly of the whale. Chapter titles clearly advance his point: “Man of Sorrows,” “The Last Drop in the Chalice,” “The Intestine of the Leviathan,” and “He Also Bears His Cross.”
   The Christ parallels illustrate Hugo’s theme that it is necessary to descend in order to ascend, and that one must descend willingly, just as Christ did. Though he often hesitates, as Christ once did, Valjean always chooses the difficult path of self-sacrifice. It is when he is helping other that he gains the impetus to progress. Only when he is struggling in the mire of the fontis at the sewer’s lowest point does his foot catch the upward slope, enabling him to ascend with Marius to safety.
   To advance the idea of descent, Hugo uses two unusual motifs: slang and excrement. He depicts slang as poetry of the masses because it uses metaphors and concealed meanings. He saw slang as the language of revolution, the Word which would eventually rise out of the underworld into revolution and rebirth. He also likened the mud and mire of the battlefield to that of the sewers. Both at Waterloo and in the sewers came rebirth. The gang of criminals, Patron-Minette, symbolizes the paradox of salvation from below. “Minette” suggests early morning and birth, as well as a mine and the dregs of the city. The revolution at the barricades draws together the users of slang, including Patron-Minette, in the mire of battle for a noble cause; thus, motifs and characters associated with descent are entwined in rebirth and revolution.
   Salvation for Valjean, however, extends beyond ascension. He enters the novel as a nameless passerby, and throughout the novel he is hesitatingly named. His humility runs from beginning to end and is especially apparent when he refuses to identify himself as the man Who saved Marius. To the end he still sees himself as a convict, despite all his kind deeds. As the bishop mystically blesses Valjean above his deathbed, it would appear that he has ascended to the bishop’s holy status, when he has instead transcended it. In the opening chapters, the bishop visits a former deputy of the National Council, which voted to execute Louis XVI. Near death, the former deputy compares the revolution to the Advent of Christ and speaks of joining the Infinite. The bishop had originally intended to bless the former deputy, but he instead falls downs on his knees and asks this man, whom the town considers evil, to bless him. The bishop recognizes his own shortcoming: he has not risen from below as the former deputy has. He has not descended and therefore cannot ascend to the former deputy’s height. Unlike the bishop, Valjean, the convict-turned-saint, has descended, and it is he who transcends.
   For Valjean the ultimate honor is dishonor; the ultimate renown is self-effacement. Valjean is no longer necessary in Cosette’s life, and so he dies. Marius replaces Valjean, a mere passerby. The last chapter, “Grass Conceals and Rain Blots 0ut,” recalls the Waterloo digression in which water is a dominant symbol. Hugo compares the battlefield to a wave, details the well as a mass grave, and portrays water constructing as well as destroying. Later he again uses water and the fluidity of land to describe the sewers. Finally, water blots out any mark of Valjean’s existence. In his digression on convents, the narrator states, “This is a book whose first character is the Infinite . . . .we meet the Infinite in man.” In the final chapter, Valjean, the passerby, has merged with the Infinite.