How does the title fit into the overall themes of Les Misérables?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The title refers to the basic level of underclass and disenfranchised that exists in France.  Hugo's title takes the French word and apply it to the level of society that lacks power and a voice.  It is Hugo's hope that he is able to bring a voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless, and the acknowledgement to those who are invisible to the upper echelons of French society and to French government.  The title helps to bring to light the suffering of a group of people.  Their predicaments in living in the shadows of French life and how it feels to be marginalized is the primary purpose of the work.  In the process, it is important to understand that Hugo is deliberate in speaking the words of an entire group of people.  The violation of human rights to this group of people, the "miserables," is in fact "miserable."  It is something that need to be brought to the attention of the reader and in the process it is one that is explicated thoroughly in the course of the narrative.  The title is reflective of how those who are deemed as "miserable" have a narrative and possess a story to tell.  In making this his title and focus, Hugo feels comfortable enough to do so.

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