Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

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

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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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Another example of the relationship between love and self-sacrifice seen in Les Miserables involves Eponine, Marius, and Cosette. Marius instantly falls in love with Cosette when he sees her; however, it turns out to be a bit of a missed connection because Valjean takes her to another house. On the other hand, Eponine is in love with Marius as well, but it is not reciprocal. Not only does Eponine give Marius Cosette's address, but once Marius is able to locate Cosette, he is told that her and her father are leaving for England, and Marius rushes in order to get permission to marry her. However, when he returns to her house, she is gone. He then goes to the barricade with Eponine to try and find Javert, where Marius is shot at, and Eponine protects him, dying herself. However, as she dies, she gives Marius a note from Cosette that tells him where to find her. This is an incredible sacrifice from Eponine and also shows the depth of her love for Marius. It also shows that she wants him to be happy and find Cosette.

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