Victor Hugo- Styles and Themes

Topics: Les Misérables, Victor Hugo, Jean Valjean Pages: 5 (1975 words) Published: April 26, 2008
Victor Hugo
Many critics would go as far as to say that Victor Hugo was and remains the Charles Dickens of France. Hugo is most well known for the writing of the famous Broadway show and book Les Misérables as well as what became the Disney Hit Hunchback of Notre Dame. A brilliant author, artist, and poet, Hugo is most recognized for his writing of government and revolution. But these themes that are common for many authors to write of have actually deemed Hugo quite unique, so much so that critics have deemed his writing “above any comprehendible human standards.” Edward Rothstein illustrates this in his essay Victor Hugo: A Theme of Good and Evil? Not So Fast. “We keep returning to the French romantic writer even as our films and entertainments keep trying to remake him in our own image, reduce him to our own size,” (par 6) he says. Rothstein describes just how powerful the writing of Hugo is. So powerful, that his readers have to reduce the writing’s power so that we can understand its significance.

Prior to understanding Hugo’s writing, one must first put it into context. Hugo lived from 1802 to 1885, meaning that he witnessed a period of oppression and war throughout his lifetime. Both oppression and war leave a permanent mark in a witness’s head, just as it did for Hugo. For Hugo however, the permanent mark was that of death. In his review Victor Hugo on the Universe within the Poet, Michael Riffaterre explores many of Hugo’s themes, especially death. "Death is ever present to his [Hugo’s] mind, hence a veritable fixation on the obvious symbol of the death's head : even objects only remotely similar, like a ruined tower or a submarine cave, will remind him of a skull-an inhabited one, so to say. Some poets see the inside of the head as a diminutive sky; Hugo sees the sky as a giant skull. (Par 2)"

Other than the common theme of death, switching sides is common in many of Hugo’s works. In Les Miserables, the most famous of Hugo’s works, the protagonist is Jean Valjean, an escaped parolee, who longed for the chance to start life over. The antagonist, Javert, is a French policeman who has known only two ideas his whole life, Law and Order. After years of chasing, Valjean is now a wealthy man who risks his life to fight for the revolutionaries during the French Revolution. Javert, fighting for the government, is captured by revolutionaries, and ultimately freed by Valjean, although it would mean Javert ratting him out to other authorities. Yet for reasons even he cannot fathom, Javert returns the favor to him, and does not report Valjean. After doing so, however, Javert cannot understand how a man can be so righteous while ignoring all standards that Javert has known for his entire life. This leads him to handcuff his hands and legs, and jump into the Seine. Edward Rothstein contends "This double turn is too much for Javert. All his life, he has followed every rule, exacted justice from every wrongdoer, refused to consider any authority but the letter of the law. Yet here are two acts of mercy -- one seemingly beyond common sense, the other certainly beyond legal propriety -- that upset all the premises of his life, leaving him without any solid ground to continue on his absolutist quest. He throws himself into the Seine. (Par 6)"

While he was born, lived, and died a man who knew only Law and Order, Javert clearly demonstrated changing sides in his act of mercy for Valjean, just as Hugo puts in many of his other works. While there are many examples, one sticks out more than anything the World has ever seen, a poem named La Fin De Satan. As stated by Margaret Haerens in her summary, “The Introduction to the Life of Victor Hugo,” La Fin De Satan was “Considered a theological epic poem, this volume depicts Satan accepting God's offer to return to heaven” (par 6). La Fin De Satan translates to “The end of Satan” in English. Yet according to Haerens’ interpretation, this is not the end of Satan, it is simply a chance...
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