Les Misérables


Discussion Questions

Study Questions

1. Jean Valjean does not start out his life as a wicked or bitter man; rather, his experiences in prison turn him into the wicked and bitter man who first enters the town of Digne. Even after the Bishop gives him hospitality and shelter, Jean Valjean steals his silver. What, exactly, causes Valjean to turn his life around? What does Valjean’s transformation suggest about how our actions and attitudes affect others?

2. Describe the gradual series of events in Fantine’s life that lead to her final descent into prostitution. To what degree, if any, does it seem that Fantine is responsible for her own decline? What outside forces contribute to her situation going from bad to worse? What does this suggest about the society in which she lives?

3. Consider the events leading up to Javert’s decision to commit suicide. What exactly is his emotional dilemma? Why does he find it impossible to go on living?

Essay Topics

1. For a time, Marius occupies a room in the same tenement as the impoverished Thenardiers. Neither Marius nor the Thenardiers have money, yet their responses to poverty are quite different. Compare and contrast how Marius handles his poverty with how the Thenardiers deal with theirs.

2. Les Misérables is, overtly, a novel of social critique, and it advocates specific types of social reform. The novel was written in and about nineteenth-century France, but do you see any parallels to the modern world? What might Hugo suggest to us now if he were alive? Choose three types of social change Hugo advocates in the novel, and discuss whether they represent issues that still confront us today.

3. Both Fantine and Cosette fall in love during the course of the novel, yet they choose very different types of men. Whereas Tholomyes is wealthy and self-involved, Marius is idealistic and living in poverty. Tholomyes has no interest in taking a wife, and only wants a mistress; Marius is deeply offended at the idea of taking a mistress,...

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Essays About Les Misérables