Les Misérables: Critique of a Servant-Leader
Stacey L. Jones
Gonzaga University – ORGL530, Section B1 – Servant Leadership [Spring 2013]
April 20, 2013
The story of Les Misérables has been told many times and in many ways, including a novel by Victor Hugo, the Broadway production, and on the big screen in 2012. The story centers around Jean Valjean, a man who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing bread for his sister and her family who were starving; Fantine, an unwed working-class mother who has traveled to Paris after leaving her daughter in the care of unscrupulous innkeepers, so that Fantine can earn enough money to provide for her daughter; Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, who goes to live with Valjean after her mother dies; and Javert, a police inspector who believes in the letter of the law and will stop at nothing to enforce the laws of France. The film is set during the French Revolution. The concept of the film is to show that the “miserables,” the people who have been driven to lives of thievery and ill-repute, aren’t inherently bad; but instead, the world they live in has forced them to do bad things in order to survive. The film opens with Valjean being released from prison, as mentioned before, after spending nineteen years performing hard labor. Because of France’s harsh laws, Valjean is required, for the rest of his life, to provide papers showing he is an ex-convict. This marks Valjean and causes most people he comes into contact with not to trust him. Rejected by innkeepers who do not want to take in a convict, Valjean sleeps wherever he can. Eventually a Catholic Bishop takes him in and gives him shelter. In the middle of the night, Valjean steals the Bishop’s solid silverware. As Valjean is about to take the Bishop’s candlesticks as well, the Bishop discovers him. Valjean hits the Bishop in the head, fleeing as he leaves behind the candlesticks. Valjean is caught quickly, but the bishop tells the police that the silverware was a gift, and then gives Valjean the two silver candlesticks, chastising him in front of the officers for leaving in such a rush and forgetting them. The Bishop’s act of protecting Valjean shows Valjean the love of God, the power of grace and forgiveness, and teaches him the power to serve. Valjean adopts a new identity and goes on to lead a life of services to others, which brings him wealth and prosperity, and raises him to a level of respect, trust-worthiness and leadership in the town he lives in. Several years later, Valjean meets Fantine, who is a worker in Valjean’s factory. Through a series of events, Fantine loses her job and is thrown into a desperate life of prostitution in order to provide money to the inn keepers who are taking care of her daughter. Ultimately Valjean becomes aware of Fantine’s predicament and feels responsible for where her life has led her. Fantine becomes very ill, and on her deathbed Valjean promises to take care of her daughter, Cosette, which allowed Fantine to die in peace. Throughout the years Valjean is pursued veraciously by Javert, who has no compassion or pity and can only see that Valjean had broken the law and deserves to be imprisoned again. Several times throughout the story Valjean and Cosette must escape in order to avoid Valjean’s incarceration. The Human Development of Jean Valjean
To observe Jean Valjean’s whole contributions and human interactions, especially those after the Bishop saved Valjean from the police, one would generally conclude he was an exemplary example of the model of servant-leadership. Valjean’s goal was constantly to serve others and to help them attain their highest priority needs first (Spears & Lawrence, 2002, p.24). Even before the incident with the Bishop, one could argue Valjean was serving others as he was imprisoned for stealing bread to save his starving family. After being released from his past by the Bishop, Valjean committed himself to helping others. This is evident...
References: Bevan, T., Fellner, E., Hayward, D., Mackintosh, C. (Producers), and Hooper, T. (Director). (2012). Les Misérables [Motion picture]. USA: Universal.
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Horsman, J. (2013). Foundations of servant-leadership: Human development theory and leadership. ORGL 530 Course Notes. Retrieved from https://learn.gonzaga.edu.
Spears, L. C. & Lawrence, M. (2002). Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the twenty-first century. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
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