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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One lesser known type of figurative language that Victor Hugo sometimes makes use of is called an apostrophe, which is different from the punctuation mark. An apostrophe is a moment when an author or character addresses a person that is not actually present. Dr. Wheeler gives us an example from a John Donne poem, "Oh, Death, be not proud" ("Tropes"). In Les Misérables, we see the Bishop of Digne make use of an apostrophe when we see him sitting and meditating on Scripture and then exclaiming to his invisible God, "Oh, you who are!" (Bk. 1, Ch. 5). He then proceeds further to analyze the names of God, ending with, "But Solomon calls you Compassion, and that is the most beautiful of all your names," which further serves to characterize Bienvenu as the compassionate person we see him to be (Ch. 5). However, since in this exclamation and speech he is addressing a God that is spiritually there but not there in actuality, we see that both of these are examples of the type of figurative language called an apostrophe.

Another type of figurative language is a meiosis. A meiosis is an understatement, which is a way of stating the facts in a less striking way than they really are. We see the Bishop of Digne's sister, Mademoiselle Baptistine, make use of a meiosis. It is very clear that Mlle Baptistine does not completely enjoy living the same lifestyle of self-inflicted poverty that her brother does. Yet she lives with him and helps him keep house. There are several places where Hugo makes it apparent that she longs for a bit more luxury. One of these places is in a letter she writes to her friend Madame the Vicomtess de Boischevron. She begins the letter by describing treasures that are hidden in the Bishop's house, which was refurnished as a hospital before he began residing there. For instance, she has discovered underneath the wallpaper of one room that the room was painted and gilded. She also discovered paintings hidden beneath the wallpaper of her own room. After describing these new-found treasures, she also assures her friend that she is happy. However, she describes her happiness in the lines, "We are almost comfortably lighted and warmed. You see that these are great treats" (Bk. 1, Ch. 9). The important word in those lines is almost. Since they almost have enough light and heat to be comfortable, the real truth is that she is very much uncomfortable. Therefore to say that she is "almost comfortably lighted and warmed," which are "great treats" and that she is happy in this almost condition, is actually very much an understatement, otherwise called a meisosis. The truth is that she is unhappy and uncomfortable and trying to make it look like she is happy and comfortable.

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haleysmilie15's profile pic

haleysmilie15 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

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thanks! what are some more examples of figurative language in this novel?

 

devpriyaponnu's profile pic

devpriyaponnu | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

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" Such is the indifference of heaven". Here Hugo wasn't saying that the sky was actually indifference itself.The sky actually possessed indifference as a characteristic. This is an example of personification.

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