Themes in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo include poverty and its impact on people, different treatments of people in various socio-economic classes and the lack of social mobility in 19th century France, as well as the lack of fairness in the justice system at the time. The story begins with the protagonist, Jean Valjean, who is imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his starving nieces and nephews. The theft of a basic food item under times of extreme economic depression leads to Jean Valjean spending time doing hard labor. This is intended to show the theme of how poverty pushed him to commit a theft, as well as of the horrible treatment of people from lower economic classes in France during this time. Not only is Valjean put in prison but after he escapes, but Inspector Javert then hounds him for about two decades.
Jean Valjean is able to create a new life for himself after he escapes. He climbs from poverty to become a land and business owner. The treatment he receives as someone from a higher socio-economic station contrasts markedly with the treatment he receives as a poor man and a convicted prisoner. His upward mobility is in direct contrast to most of the other poor people in the story who are trapped in their situations, reflecting the lack of upward economic or social mobility. In fact, Fantine ultimately becomes a prostitute after Valjean fires her from his factory; she cannot find any other legitimate work and needs to support her child.
In the story, Bishop Myriel is the antithesis of Javert. The Bishop wants to see the good in people and is willing to give Jean Valjean a second chance. By comparison, Javert, who represents French authority in power and the justice system, brands Jean Valjean as a criminal and would like to see that reputation overhang him for his entire life, just because he once stole a loaf of bread to feed for starving children.