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Other than the act of adultery, how is Fantine responsible for her own downfall?

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steve99 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:26 PM via web

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Other than the act of adultery, how is Fantine responsible for her own downfall?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 25, 2010 at 4:03 AM (Answer #1)

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Victor Hugo paints Fantine as far more of a victim of society rather than as the cause of her own downfall.  Fantine was an orphan found in the streets in Montreuil-sur-mer.  No one knew who her mother or father had been.  At the age of ten she started working for a farming family and then left for Paris at the age of fifteen “to seek her fortune,” where she became mistress to the wealthy student Felix Tholomyes.  She was far more naïve than the other mistresses in her group of friends and believed that she and Tholomyes were actually in love.  One can argue that it was, in part, her naivete that led to her downfall, for had she not been so naïve she would not have trusted and fallen in love with Tholomyes and conceived his child.  However, it is really her lack of upbringing that created her naivete, which is of course the product of cruel circumstance rather than a fault of Fantine’s.  Thus, Fantine gave birth to a child out of wedlock and became a “fallen woman of society.”

We see Fantine further being the victim of cruel circumstance and social injustice when we see her having to leave her child in the care of a cruel and corrupt family.  One can argue that Fantine could have chosen a better family with which to leave her child, but the truth is, as a fallen woman, her options were very limited.  Fantine was lucky enough to find even one family who would take in her bastard daughter and she had no choice other than to leave her daughter because if society found out that she had a child she would be forbidden to work.  Sadly, that’s precisely the next thing that did happen to her—the manager of her factory learned that she had a daughter out of wedlock and had her fired from the factory.  This again is another example of social cruelties that were inflicted on Fantine.

So, no, I don’t think that one really can argue that Fantine’s downfall was her own fault.  I think that Victor Hugo makes it very clear that Fantine’s demise was the product of social injustices.  Instead, Hugo seems to sympathize with the great French and English philosophers, such as Voltaire, Locke, and Moore, who spurred the American and French Revolutions and taught that it is the inadequacies of government and the suppression of civil rights that creates the thieves, the prostitutes, and other degenerates.

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mirnaguirguis | Student, Grade 9 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted January 25, 2010 at 4:09 AM (Answer #2)

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We see Fantine further being the victim of cruel circumstance and social injustice when we see her having to leave her child in the care of a cruel and corrupt family.  One can argue that Fantine could have chosen a better family with which to leave her child, but the truth is, as a fallen woman, her options were very limited.  Fantine was lucky enough to find even one family who would take in her bastard daughter and she had no choice other than to leave her daughter because if society found out that she had a child she would be forbidden to work.  Sadly, that’s precisely the next thing that did happen to her—the manager of her factory learned that she had a daughter out of wedlock and had her fired from the factory.  This again is another example of social cruelties that were inflicted on Fantine.

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