Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Les Misérables book cover
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What is the theme of Les Misérables?  

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The theme of Victor Hugo's novel is suggested by its title Les Miserables. If tells about the miserable lives of the poor. The thesis, however, is that one act of Christian kindness can change a man's character for the rest of his life. The entire novel illustrates this thesis. The remarkable kindness of Bishop Bienvenu when he saves Jean Valjean from returning to the galleys by giving him his silver candlesticks effects a transformation in the convict's character which transforms the lives of others, particularly that Cosette, the little girl he saves from the vicious Thenardiers, and that of Marius Pontmercy, the man Cosette ultimately marries. Valjean does good work wherever he goes. He sets up businesses which provide employment for many people. His nemesis Inspector Javert represents the antithesis in the story. His attitude must be that people cannot change. It is important to him to capture Jean Valjean and send him back to the galleys because it will validate his counter-thesis that men cannot be changed by the love and forgiveness taught by Christianity. In spite of its heavy romanticism, the novel is captivating because Victor Hugo was one of the greatest writers of all time.

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Gwen Lesch eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo explores many themes of social injustice--including class conflict, human rights, and the role of transformation in the course of a life--through the lens of the revolution in Paris of 1832.

The book follows Jean Valjean, a man who serves nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family; four of those are for the original crime, and the other fifteen are a result of an escape attempt he...

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