Les Misérables


Jean Valjean

Jean Valjean is the protagonist and central figure of Les Misérables. Arrested as a young man for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s hungry children, he is hardened into an antisocial criminal from nineteen years as a prisoner on the galleys. Valjean is redeemed by the Bishop’s faith in him, and is transformed into a compassionate and, ultimately, Christ-like figure. Valjean’s transformation embodies the incredible healing power of love and compassion. Because the Bishop sees Valjean as human, Valjean is able to see himself as human for the first time. This allows him to behave with dignity, self-respect, and ingenuity. He goes on to educate himself, to become a successful entrepreneur, and to use his resources to help others. Even in the face of terrible injustice and fear, Valjean will not permit himself to be degraded again once he has been redeemed. He will not allow Champmathieu to be sent to the galleys in his name; he will not kill Javert when he has the chance because his soul is more important to him than his freedom. As the novel evolves, Jean Valjean becomes more and more saintly. The ultimate test for Valjean is in letting Cosette go. For a man who has only really loved one person and whose life is desperately lonely and dark without her, this amounts to a Christ-like sacrifice. Ultimately, Jean Valjean’s love is selfless, and this allows him to die with enormous dignity, his face bathed in a heavenly light.

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Essays About Les Misérables