A Love Story
| In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean rose
to the status of mayor. In real life, Victor
Hugo was an outspoken politician as well. He was elected to the
Legislative Assembly in 1849, and many of his political views
are reflected in his novel. When Napoleon III gained control
of France, he recognized the power of Hugo's pen. Hugo shared
his sentiments about France's
dire need for progress, and Napoleon III resented this, condemning
Hugo to exile. An exile mirrored in the life of Jean Valjean
in Les Miserables.
| Hugo the
exile. These photographs were taken by Charles Hugo and Auguste
Zachary in New Jersey.
Hugo addressed three main political themes
in Les Miserables: the need for social progress France and improvement
in her treatment of the poor, the abolishment of the death penalty,
and the fight for prison reform.
Hugo never shared Valjean^Òs poverty, but they were of
the same mind in that they both were dedicated to aiding the
poor. Valjean helped the poor in Les Mis, and Hugo gave speeches
about poverty during his time on the Legislative Assembly. Their
plight touched him, evident in their depiction in Les Miserables,
and again in Valjeans treatment and attitude towards them. He
never passed up a chance to help them, as seen in the instance
of Fantine, and even gave up comfort and status for them, as
when he could not allow an innocent man
to take his place in prison. Hugo even encouraged revolution
if it meant improving the harsh conditions of the poor. He was
of the thought that sometimes the ends do justify the means,
and in Les Miserables, Hugo uses Marius and the insurrection
that Marius was a part of to make this point clear. He saw the
poor not as a class, but as a people, and some of the most memorable
characters in his novel are of the poor: Epoinine, Gavroch, Fantine,
Cosette, and Jean Valjean himself.
Hugo was very much against the death penalty.
Examples of this as seen in Les Miserables would be the brutal
deaths of the rebels immediately following the insurrection.
Hugo implies throughout the rebellion that a pardon should be
invoked. This is Hugo's own personal conviction about how the
government should treat surrendered rebels after a civil revolt.
Hugo's disfavor towards the death penalty is perhaps best exemplified
in the person of Javert. This is the police inspector who relentlessly
hounds Valjean throughout the novel. But
in the end, with Valjean finally in his grasps, he does not kill
him, but lets him go. Also, during Hugo's seat in the Assemblee
Constituante he gave many speeches against the death penalty.
The conditions of Frances prison systems
disgusted Hugo, and he showed disdain towards the injustice of
the law enforcement system. While in power, Hugo also spoke about
prison conditions that were occurring in France. He also
used Les Miserables to show
his disapproval, and gave
examples of how the judicial system could be ludicrous at times.
This is evident in the arrest of Fantine after she struck a man
of a higher class after he fondled her and shoved snow down her
dress. Another example is Valjeans nineteen year sentence to
prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his Knowing the history
of a writer and the events that occurred during his lifetime
can oftentimes lend new insight into a novel. Les Miserables
is more than a masterpiece of the Romantic movement, or a magnificent
piece of literature, it was a tool Victor Hugo used to express
his political views. It is also a book that is very personal,
in that many of the events mirrored real happenings in Hugo's
life and many of the scenes were based on his own experiences.
Hugo's life, loves, experiences, thoughts and feelings are all
lightly bound within Les Miserables and hidden throughout
its paragraphs and chapters. It was a book about a country, a
perhaps, in the end, about one man.