The literal meaning of les miserables is "the miserable ones." The characters are french and the book is centered around their lives. The time period is the early 1800's. The main character is known as Jean Valjean. He is an ex-convict who is struggling with sorting his life out. He has been imprisoned because he stole bread to feed his starving family. After he is released he is forced to carry a yellow badge that identifies him as being an ex-con. He is looked down upon because he is publicly known as a criminal. He later gets a new identity and raises a family. It has many themes in it such as love, religion, politics, and justice.
I think that this book was given this title because it focuses on the struggles that Jean had to endure throughout his life.