What examples of figurative language can be found in Victor Hugo's Les Misérables?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Similes are very abundant in Victor Hugo's writing. A simile is a type of analogy made by comparing two things to show a relationship. Similes always contain the words like or as. One simile can be found when Hugo is explaining Monseigneur Bienvenu's, the Bishop of Digne's characterization. Hugo goes to great lengths to describe Bienvenu as the most humble and generous man of his profession. Hugo shows us just how many great "sums of money passed through his hands" as he both collected alms and then immediately gave them all away to those in need. Hugo further describes that no matter how much money Bienvenu received, "he never had any," for it was all given immediately away and further characterizes him with the simile explaining that to Bienvenu, "[money] was like water on a dry soil"; no matter how much water you poor on dry soil, it still remains dry; no matter how much money Bienvenu was given, he personally still remained empty handed, accepting nothing for himself (Bk. 1, Ch. 2). Hence, since in this characterization of Bienvenu, Hugo likens money to water on dry soil, we see that this is a perfect example of a simile.

On occasion, Hugo also uses a figure of speech called an erotema. An erotema is when the writer asks the reader a rhetorical question, a question that does not really require or expect an answer. We see another example of this with respect to the Bishop of Digne. Hugo recounts a story of a moment when the Bishop realizes his prejudices and human failings with respect to a man who lived in his village that had been a member of the Convention. During the build up of the French Revolution, a National Convention was established that ruled for the abolishment King Louis XVI's reign. In retrospect, the people of France felt a great deal of hatred for the members of the Convention because they only voted to have the king abolished rather than to have him killed. However, on his death bed, the Convention member explains to the Bishop all of his beliefs and actions, humbling the Bishop and making him realize his prejudices and errors. However, while Hugo is characterizing the Convention member at the beginning of the chapter, he uses a series of erotema. Even when he characterizes the Bishop's hesitation to visit the Convention member, Hugo uses an erotema, saying, "Should the scab of the sheep cause the shepherd to recoil? No. But what a sheep!" (Bk. 1, Ch. 10). The reference to the scab is also a metaphor for what the Bishop believed the Convention member's sins to be, and the exclamation, "But what a sheep!" also metaphorically portrays the member as the horrible sinner the Bishop believed him to be at the time. 

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