Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
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In Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, why does Jean Valjean tell Cosette that she must forgive the Thenardiers towards the end of the novel?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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By this late stage in the story, Jean Valjean has become a Christ-like figure who's put aside all his bitterness and righteous anger to embrace forgiveness. As he lays dying, he wants to pass on the Christian message to those he cares about most, so that they might learn from his mistakes and realize that life's too short to be spent hating those who've caused us harm.

Like Valjean, Cosette has every right to be bitter given the many privations she's has to endure in her short life. Most of the problems she's encountered over the years have been in some way related to the greedy, callous Thenardiers, who neglected her when she was younger, preferring to spend money on themselves instead of her upkeep.

But as he lays upon his deathbed, Valjean urges Cosette to forgive them for their wickedness. He knows from personal experience that this is a prerequisite to moving on. So long as Cosette is eaten up by bitterness and hate, she will be unable to do this and so will remain stuck in her unhappy past. And this is the very last thing that Valjean wants for someone he cares for so deeply.

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William Delaney eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Victor Hugo's novel demonstrates how one man's life is changed by an act of Christian charity. Valjean was a dangerous ex-convict who stole some silver from the Bishop who had sheltered him for the night and then saved him from being taken back to the galleys by giving him even more silver in the form of candlesticks. For the rest of his life Valjean follows the teachings of Jesus as illustrated by the generosity of the Bishop. When Valjean tells Cossette, daughter of Fantine, that she should forgive the Thenardiers for cheating her mother and abusing her for years, he is passing on precepts he has lived by all his life, based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazarath. Many of these teachings are to be found in The Book of Matthew in The Bible, beginning with Chapter 5, the so-called "Sermon on the Mount." For example:

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." (Matthew 5:44)


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