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Character Analysis – Les Miserables Essay

In the novel, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo, the protagonist, Jean Valjean changes throughout the course of the novel from a contemptible, conniving ex-convict to an noble, compassionate, and heroic man. During his time in jail, Jean Valjean’s heart becomes corrupted; he realizes the world detests him for who he is. However, a bishop named Myriel shows him great kindness and compassion for him, which transforms him forever. In a small town, Montreuil-sur-mer, Valjean restores economic and social balance as well as love and adopt an orphan girl. Because of one man’s simple acts of veneration, Jean Valjean vows to commit his life to goodness and vindicates himself and proving that he has truly changed. In the beginning of the novel, Valjean emerges from prison as a hardened criminal who hates society; Myriel, however, forever changes Valjean’s character, as Myriel compels him to become an noble person, which leads Valjean to support a town in need.

Myriel treats Valjean with kindness, and Valjean repays the bishop by stealing his silverware. When the bishop came to him, he said, “Do not forget, ever, that you have promised [him] to use this silver to become an honest man. Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly, ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good” (73).When the police arrest Valjean, Myriel covers for him, claiming that the silverware was a gift. The authorities release Valjean and Myriel makes him promise to become an honest man. Eager to fulfill his promise to his savior, Valjean masks his identity as Madeleine and brings the town of Montreuil-sur-mer prosperity and peace.

Under a new identity, Cosette, a young orphan who was abused, is a flesh manifestation of Jean Valjean’s love and compassion. He realizes not only is he capable of loving someone, but passing on love to others. When Valjean find out the Thenardier family, who supposedly took care of Cosette, only used her as their main source of income since they were paid to become caretakers and abused her, it only drove to become more indulgent. Although it is not his obligation to adopt Cosette, Valjean decides to do so anyway, “love came, and he again grew strong. Alas! he was no less feeble than Cosette. He protected her; and she gave strength to him. Thanks to him, she could walk upright in life; thanks to her, he could persist in virtuous deeds. He was the support of this child, and this child was his prop and staff” (383). Valjean’s unconditional love for his daughter changes the way he is throughout the novel. This is another way Valjean keeps his promises and repay what he had done in the past. Jean Valjean’s love is clearly shown through his adopted daughter, Cosette, whom he feels sympathy and cherishes.

He is exceptional in his mental strength and his willingness to discover what is good, and this earnestness is enough to make him the novel’s hero as well as a savior and a friend to a number of people who find themselves in danger. Though many are convinced of Jean Valjean’s change in personality, Javert the chief police, discovers Valjean’s criminal records and his real identity. The novel’s antagonist, Javert, is chasing after Valjean, only to arrest him for a fraud identity. In Javert’s point of view, “to owe life to a malefactor . . . to be, in spite of himself, on a level with a fugitive from justice . . . to betray society in order to be true to his own conscience; that all these absurdities . . . should accumulate on himself—this is what prostrated him” (457).

Javert is unable to comprehend his enemy’s love for humanity. Though his goals are evident to Valjean, he risks his life to save Javert. This is one of Valjean’s greatest conquest as the hero of the story: saving an enemy. Torn between the future and his mores, Valjean chooses to spare Javert’s life, who later grants Valjean’s freedom from prosecution. In Victor Hugo’s masterful, Les Miserables, an apathetic ex-convict, Jean Valjean, slowly molds into a noble, compassionate, and heroic man under various circumstances and his encounters.

Though his experiences in prison hardens his heart, Valjean transform into a completely different person because of one man’s doing: Monsieur Myriel, who shows him love and respect, despite his wicked nature. As a result, Valjean’s life is changed and gives others the same compassion that was given to him. As his life drastically changes, Jean Valjean becomes the central figure of this novel and becomes the moral hero of the story.


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