Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
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How good is the good Bishop of Digne and how bad is the bad character Jean Valjean in Les Miserables?

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The Bishop of Digne represents the height of humility, mercy, compassion, generosity, love, and kindness.  If, to Victor Hugo, the French government represents arrogance, suppression, and mercilessness, than The Bishop of Digne is the exact opposite.  We see these things in how the Bishop tended to the poor, the ill, and the needy of his diocese and how he takes in Jean Valjean and gives him the gift of his silver to become a new man.  This one little act of mercy is essential because it gives Valjean the forgiveness he has never had, the mercy he has never had, and finally gives him the money he needs to lift himself out of poverty.


Jean Valjean is not at all a bad character.  It is true he is dubbed a thief, but he is called a thief because he stole bread to feed his many starving nephews and nieces.  For his petty crime he was put in prison and treated like an animal.  Hugo argues in many places throughout the book that the type of treatment Valjean received virtually kills a person’s humanity and likens them to animals.  It was out of these animalistic instincts—this drive to survive—that Valjean stole the silver from the Bishop of Digne.  The Bishop’s forgiveness and gift redeemed Valjean and gave him the strength he needed to finally live a new life.  In his new life, Valjean sacrificed his life throughout the book on many occasions for several different characters.  Valjean became exactly like the good Bishop of Digne.

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