Les Misérables Themes

Themes

The most important theme the novel examines is that of transformation, in the 240 Les Miserables individual and in society. Jean Valjean, the chief protagonist, is transformed from a misanthropic and potentially violent ex-convict to a man capable of heroic love and self-sacrifice. The force that transforms him is love. The Bishop of Digne offers Valjean unconditional love, trusting the former criminal with his life and giving him all he can. Valjean finds inspiration for an entirely new life from this example. He learns to put another person first when he raises Cosette as his own daughter, and he endures moral trials, such as risking his life to rescue Marius, who loves Cosette and whom Valjean hates. On the broader scale, the workers and students on the barricade fight for social transformation, to create a new France without injustice or poverty.

Closely related to the theme of transformation is that of human rights. This is what the barricade is about and what the students, workers, and downtrodden poor of Paris want. The novel offers many examples of the violation of human rights. Valjean steals a loaf of bread because he has hungry children to feed. The law punishes him for nineteen years because of this petty crime, and Valjean finds little peace at the end of his term. The police inspector Javert pursues him almost to the grave for the theft of a coin. Fantine loves a man who abandons her and she ends up as a prostitute. She sacrifices her child, her looks, and her body just to survive. Even worse, when she does defend her human dignity and accuses a bourgeois gentleman of assault, the police arrest her. As the novel presents it, the aim of revolution is to create a society in which all...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

Les Misérables Themes

Change and Transformation
The most important theme the novel examines is that of transformation, in the individual and in society. Jean Valjean, the chief protagonist, is transformed from a misanthropic and potentially violent ex-convict to a man capable of heroic love and self-sacrifice. The force that transforms him is love. The Bishop of Digne offers Valjean unconditional love, trusting the former criminal with his life and giving him all that he can. Valjean finds inspiration for an entirely new life from this example. He learns to put another person first when he raises Cosette as his own daughter, and he endures moral trials, such as risking his life to rescue Marius, who loves Cosette and whom Valjean hates. On a broader scale, the workers and students on the barricade fight for social transformation, to create a new France without injustice and poverty.

Human Rights
Closely related to the theme of transformation is that of human rights. This is what the barricade is about and what the students, workers, and downtrodden poor of Paris want. The novel offers many examples of the violation of human rights. Valjean steals a loaf of bread because he has hungry children to feed. The law punishes him for nineteen years because of this petty crime, and Valjean finds little peace at the end of his term. The police inspector Javert pursues him almost to the grave for the theft of a coin. Fantine loves a man who abandons her, and she ends up as a prostitute. She sacrifices her child, her looks, and her body just to survive. Even worse, when she does defend her human dignity and accuses a bourgeois gentleman of assault, the police arrest her. As the novel presents it, the aim of...

(The entire section is 699 words.)