Jean Valjean and The Bishop

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Thematic Analysis
In Victor Hugo’s emotional excerpt, “Jean Valjean and the Bishop” from Les Miserables, he demonstrates the important effect that love and compassion can have on even the most hardened people. Set in nineteenth century France, the story is given a grim industrial tone that helps support the theme. Through the use of symbolism, strong character traits and well placed situational irony at the end of the story Hugo conveys the universal truth about life that love and compassion can greatly impact others.
The use of symbolism Hugo uses to expose his theme is the yellow papers that Valjean must display every time he encounters someone. These papers represent his dark past and restrain him from being the man he really is. Due to the papers everyone only sees him as his troublesome past. Valjean says, “This evening, when I entered town, I went to an inn; they turned me out, because of my yellow passport, which I had to show at the police station. I went to another inn and the landlord told me to ‘be off!’ No one would take me in” (Hugo, 16). The Bishop ignores the fact that Jean Valjean is a convict and is considered to be a dangerous man; the Bishop explains to Valjean that “You need not have told me who you were. This is not my house; it is the house of Christ. This door does not ask a man who enters whether he has a name, but if he has a sorrow” (Hugo 21). By accepting Jean with open arms, the Bishop shows him love and compassion is affecting him positively.
Another way Hugo validates his theme is by the dynamic character status of Jean Valjean. At the beginning of the story Jean has hardened from his time served and began to hate the world because it had always seemed to hate him as everyone always turned their backs on him and never accepted him. So when he finally found refuge at the “House of Christ” he was hesitant to accept his generosity. Nevertheless, he is selfish and steals silverware from the Bishop while he is asleep and he disappears

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