The Importance of Love and Compassion

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In Les Misérables, Hugo asserts that love and compassion are the most important gifts one person can give another and that always displaying these qualities should be the most important goal in life. Valjean’s transformation from a hate-filled and hardened criminal into a well-respected philanthropist epitomizes Hugo’s emphasis on love, for it is only by learning to love others that Valjean is able to improve himself. While Valjean’s efforts on behalf of others inevitably cause him problems, they also give him a sense of happiness and fulfillment that he has never before felt. Valjean’s love for others—in particular, for Cosette—is what keeps him going in desperate times. Hugo also makes clear that loving others, while difficult, is not always a thankless task, and he uses Valjean and Fauchelevent to show that love begets love, and compassion begets compassion. Valjean jumps out of a crowd of onlookers to rescue Fauchelevent; years later, Fauchelevent repays Valjean’s bravery by offering him refuge in the convent of Petit-Picpus. In Hugo’s novel, love and compassion are nearly infectious, passed on from one person to another. After M. Myriel transforms Valjean with acts of trust and affection, Valjean, in turn, is able to impart this compassion to Cosette, rescuing her from the corrupting cruelty of the Thénardiers. Cosette’s love then reaches fulfillment through her marriage to Marius, and their love for each other leads them both to forgive Valjean for his criminal past.
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