Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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How is Jean Valjean from Les Miserables like Jesus Christ, or can parallels between the two be formed?

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Abigail Lawrence eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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There are absolutely parallels that can be drawn between Jesus and Jean Valjean. The most obvious one is the merciful nature with which they both treat other people, particularly those who were mistreated or overlooked. Jean Valjean does this with Fontine. He takes care of her lavishly, despite her societal station.

Jesus shows his merciful nature constantly. Perhaps one of the best stories to illustrate this is when Jesus was brought a woman who had committed adultery. He showed her kindness and bid her to move forward with her life in purity.

Though there are significant differences between...

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whitneywaller | Student

Typically, when drawing parallels between the figure of Jesus Christ and literary characters, the juxtaposed literary subject is not a habitual thief, former prisoner, or wanderer who takes advantage of kind, elderly, clergy. Upon introduction, Jean Valjean does not evoke comparisons to Jesus Christ. Rather, Jean Valjean is portrayed more as a person who needs the compassion of Jesus Christ, which Bishop Myriel offers to him as an intercessor, praying on behalf of Jean Valjean, "You belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!"

Jean Valjean is convicted by these words that accompany Bishop Myriel's act of forgiveness and grace, the morning after Valjean stole the clergyman's finest silverware. This former prisoner becomes the formidable protagonist of Les Miserables. Jean Valjean reforms his life. Having adopted a new name, Monsieur Madeleine, we meet a man who is committed to the common good. In the town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, Madeleine revitalizes their manufacturing industry and becomes a generous benefactor who supports and sustains public work projects to create better hospitals, schools, and orphanages. Not only does the new Valjean demonstrate care for his wider community, he also invests in individuals and fosters personal relationships with people for whom he loves, like Fantine and Cosette.

The true identity of Jean Valjean shines in the person of Monsieur Madeleine. We encounter an individual who is generous, accepting, loving, and self-sacrificing. These are all traits that are considered Christlike. As the apostle Paul (the most prolific and earliest of Christian theologians) explains in Ephesians 5:1-2, followers of Jesus Christ are expected to be "imitators of God, as beloved children,and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us." The virtues within Jean Valjean may be extolled as Christlike and meet this theological mandate to embody Christ's love and self-sacrifice. While the conclusion of Les Miserables, in which Valjean ultimately dies to save the life of others, certainly highlights the Pauline description of what it is to be Christlike, there is a different biblical figure to whom Jean Valjean's entire story draws a more convicting and meaningful parallel.

Jean Valjean is more Paul-like than he is Christ-like. In the Book of Acts, readers are introduced to a man named Saul of Tarsus who dedicated his life to terrorizing and exploiting followers of Christ. Saul could not imagine any other way to live his life until one day while traveling in between Jerusalem and Damascus, Saul was blinded by a great light, and in this encounter he experienced a change in his very being. Three days later, he became a devout follower of Christ, changed his name to Paul, and began to work for the common good by living a life marked by generosity, acceptance, love, and self-sacrifice. Though Jean Valjean possesses some traits that may be identified as Christ-like, the complete arch of his character as a man who is redeemed, reformed, and renamed more closely relates to the character of Paul, Jesus' disciple.