Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
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Describe the differences between Valjean's and Javert's perspectives in Les Misérables. How did these differences influence their behaviors and choices?

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In many ways, it is the tension between these two characters that creates much of the conflict of the story and outlines its message about the shortcomings of justice.

Valjean is a man who has always been at odds with the legal system. At an early age, the law punished him simply for attempting to feed his sister. Valjean has identified the law, and specifically the prison system, as openly antagonistic toward the human condition. He is sympathetic to the poor, often to a fault, and approaches human compassion from a somewhat anarchistic point of view.

Javert, on the other hand, found a surrogate family in the police after he was born to convicts. As a part of his core ideals, he must believe that the law is at least predominately just and that it serves to create a society that affords citizens the same stability that he was denied by the circumstances of his birth. Javert likely becomes obsessed with Valjean simply because he sees a man that he recognizes as virtuous at odds with the law that Javert deifies. Javert must capture Valjean to make him fit into an idea of the world that he finds acceptable.

In short, both men consider themselves to be virtuous and are to an extent. In fact, both have very similar outlooks, ideals, and shortcomings. It is their relationship with the law that creates the character traits that oppose each other so fanatically.

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