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Free Study Guide-Les Miserables by Victor Hugo-Free Book Notes Summary
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THEMES ANALYSIS

Grandparent/Grandchild Relationships

This is present in duality as Valjean pretends to be a grandfather to Cosette and Gillenormand is a grandfather to Marius. Both grandfathers have to learn to let go.

Crime vs. Punishment

Valjean’s punishment certainly does not fit his crime, but neither did Fantine deserve the treatment she received in his factory. The 1830's in Paris are an age where the slightest error brings the same punishment as a serious malfeasance.

Truth vs. Survival

Valjean and Thenardier both use lies as a way to survive. Thenardier, however, uses the lie for evil.

Love and Forgiveness

A great deal of forgiveness takes place in the course of the multiple sub-plots. Valjean must forgive Javert for hounding him unjustly, Marius for taking Cosette away from him, Thenardier for trying to rob him, and himself for his own imperfections. Gillenormand and Marius must compromise and forgive each other for their mutual obstinacy; Eponine must forgive Marius for being unable to love her; and Javert (who is not successful) must forgive himself for putting kindness and decency ahead of the law.


Law vs. Humanity

The Biship Myriel is the first to exercise humanity among those who may not deserve it, both to his parishoners and then to Valjean. Valjean continues the thread when he rescues Fantine from Javert’s condemnation and instant sentencing. Later he has to choose whether to submit to the law or to carry out the wishes of the dying Fantine. Ultimately, he manages to do both. The old gardener Fauchelevant defies and manipulates the law by engineering Valjean’s and Cosette’s entrance into the convent. The nuns themselves turn a blind eye to the law and to their own disobedience to it when they wish to bury a departed sister within the walls of the convent. Enjolras, during the insurrection, defends and enacts the law when one of the insurgents fails to observe principles of humanity and shoots an innocent civilian. Finally, Javert himself commits suicide when faced with the idea that in certain situations humanity should take precedence over the law.

The Meaning of Debt

Many characters have debts to other characters in this story. The plot is partially driven by the means they choose to repay those debts. Valjean owes Bishop Myriel for his freedom and chance for a new life. In an indirect way, he also owes Cosette the protection he gives her, for it was in his own factory that her mother was abused and driven to desperate circumstances. Marius believes he owes a debt to Thenardier, but that debt is a result of Marius’ father misinterpreting Thenardier’s intentions. Marius actually does owe Valjean for his very life. Javert also owes Valjean for his life and pays it by releasing Valjean and then taking his own life. Gillenormand owes Valjean for rescuing and returning Marius. Both Marius and Valjean have debts to Eponine who delivers letters, messages, and traces addresses whenever needed. The gardener Fauchelevant feels that he owes his life to Valjean, whom he knew as Father Madeleine. Practically the only significant characters in the book who owe nothing to anyone are Father Myriel, Father Mabeuf and Gavroche.

Childhood Innocence and Courage

Little Gavroche, Eponine and their two little brothers (whom Gavroche protects but does not know) all portray the innocence and courage that children are capable of when plunged into a crisis situation.

Savior/Sacrifice

Valjean is a savior image throughout the story. Thenardier is falsely believed to be a savior by Marius and his father Pontmercy. Gavroche tries to act the role of a savior on several occasions, the final one costing him his life. Javert is an unwilling savior when he releases Valjean and drowns himself in the river.

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