Les Miserables Essay
“So long as the three problems of the age- the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night- are not solved… books like this cannot be useless,” (Hugo Preface). In his novel, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo illustrates these problems throughout the plot, adding to the public obsession over the book. Most went crazy over the light he shone on the struggles of France in the late 1800s, instead of the happy love stories many authors were writing about at that time. Through Les Miserables, Hugo ties the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of women by starvation, or the dwarfing of childhood into almost all of the characters introduced.
The degradation of man by poverty is one of the first themes shown in the novel. Hugo used this to illustrate the turnaround the protagonist, Jean Valjean, would eventually make. In the beginning of the book, Jean Valjean was forced to steal bread in order to feed his sister and her seven children. Hugo explained, “There was a very sever winter; Jean had no work, the family had no bread; literally, no bread, and seven children… The arm seized a loaf of bread and took it out… The thief had thrown away the bread, but his arm was still bleeding. It was Jean Valjean,” (23). Valjean had no choice, due to his poverty, but to steal the bread for the eight people he was supporting. The Thernardiers, although choosing to be degrading, are still considered degraded by poverty. Monsieur Thernardier was a greedy and selfish man, but was this way because how poverty-stricken he was. One example of this is how he would make Fantine keep paying more and more money by threatening that he would kick Fantine’s daughter out of the house and stop caring for her. Monsieur Thernardier was not able to choose if he was rich or poor but he could choose how he would deal with it, and degrading himself and others was his choice. Eponine was Thernardier’s...
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