What is the relationship between sacrifice and love in Les Miserables?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The thematic relationship between self sacrifice and love is best shown through the character of Jean Valjean in this novel. He is shown the link between sacrifice and love through the treatment he receives from the Bishop of Digne. Remember that after he has been given shelter from this individual, Valjean steals his silver, only to be caught and taken back to the Bishop's house. The Bishop then saves Valjean by saying he meant to give the silver to him, and in fact gives him more of his wealth, with the following words:

Forget not, never forget that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.... Jean Valjean, my brother: 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!

The Bishop models how sacrifice can be used as a form of love to benefit both individuals and society, and this is the moral creed that Valjean uses to shape the rest of his life. He is transformed through love and self sacrifice, adopting Cosette to all intents and purposes as his own daughter, risking his own life to save Marius even when he hates him, and finally giving up his claim to Cosette so she can have a life untainted by his criminal past. Love and self sacrifice are shown to be the pathways to moral regeneration in this novel, as exemplified by the character of Jean Valjean.

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