VICTOR HUGO AND THE PROLETARIAT
by Lara Ceppi

“Regarder ŕ travers le people et vous aperceverez la vérité.”  (II. 135)
[Look to the people and you will see the truth.]

Victor Hugo began writing Les Misérables in 1845 and did not publish it until April 3rd, 1862 (Book One), May 15th, 1862 (Books Two and Three), and June 30th 1862 (Books Four and Five).  It was a huge success among the masses, as well as among his contemporaries.  Cuvillier-Fleury, author of Journal des Débats, wrote that “M. Hugo did not write a socialist treaty.  He did something that experience has shown us is much more dangerous… he put social reform into a book; he gave it a life which it did not have in the fastidious treaties […]”

-         He sees the collective mass as being the center of truth.  This proletariat is the victim of spiritual and economic problems.

-         He believed that salary should be adjusted to labor.  Although he was a little older than Frederic Taylor (1856-1915), he shared the view that the more you produce, the more you should make.  Hypothetically this avoided laziness.  He said division killed production.  This is also a concept often associated to Taylor.  There is a distinction between horizontal (decomposition of a complex job into several simple tasks) and vertical (distinction between execution and conception) divisions of labor.  In Taylorism (as with Hugo), the cause of these two theories is the question of how much power the Proletariat (the masses) have.  Taylorism allows for a bigger work force.

-         Justice is a very big issue in Les Misérables.  Javert is the character who represents justice, in its perfect form without regard to personal interest.  Yet, justice can contradict itself by placing its interest above its purpose.  In the end, Javert commits suicide.  Hugo focuses on society’s poor and weak in order to magnify the injustice of justice.  He thinks that justice punishes the Proletariat for being the lower class and serves the Bourgeoisie for being rich and powerful.


Unlike Marx, Hugo was opposed to a call to arms.  He was against violence, and saw it as evil.  He believed there had been too much destruction.  He was more spiritually oriented and encouraged love as a source of answers
   
   

-         As opposed to Marx, Hugo believed that history could be changed by the will of an individual.  He does not focus on the relation between different groups in society.

-         The book was a huge success among the Proletariat.  Hugo had hoped that they would see themselves as having not only an individual responsibility, but also a collective one.  Hugo tries to create a social conscience; he wanted it to lead to political change.  He believed thought, that salvation would come from the lowest ranks in society. 

-The Ideas of salvation and redemption were very important.

-Liam Neeson as Jean Valjean in 1998’s Les Misérables.


-         In Hugo’s mind, revolutions spring not from accident, but from necessity.

-         He believed that property should be rendered democratic so that every citizen could be a proprietor.

-         Money is a driving factor throughout the book.  He shows how unequally it is shared between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie, as well as how each character suffers from the lack of.