Les Misérables Questions and Answers
by Victor Hugo

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In Les Miserables, how does Jean Valjean's life support the following theory? (The theory is in the explanation of my question.) The theory: men are essentially equal; the poor are crushed by the prejudice of organized society.

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Jean Valjean was a good man. As a young man, he helped to care for his sister and his sister's children. He was uneducated, however; he was a pruner as his father had been, and because of his poverty, was not able to see and know more of the world. Thus, when tragedy struck in the form of a bad winter, he could not find a solution in organized society. He stepped out, he stole, as millions have. He suffered for his hunger.

Only when benefitted by the gift of the Bishop's silver is Valjean able to rise above his desperation and seek new ways of doing things. As an ex-convict, poor, and mean in appearance, he is pushed away from every place, once again denied food because of society's prejudice. Once wealthy, however, he is accepted, embraced, and finally able to seek the education needed to not only excel personally but to benefit many others. As mayor, he provides stability to a town, and industry and charity to those less fortunate.

Javert and Valjean are intellectual equals. Javert lives within the organized society; Valjean lives on the edges. Javert suffers, having been poor as a child. He becomes cold and bitter in order to prosper in the world. Valjean flouts the rules, but he is more at peace, rising above prejudice.

In Valjean's life, he continually meets men and women who are his equal, but are struggling always against a society that restricts them.

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