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Victor Hugo, in his french historical novel Les Miserables, somberly explores Jean Valjean’s dejected conflicts and amiable interactions with other characters in order to produce Jean Valjean’s love motivated character development.
Jean Valjean’s love motivated character development is presented through dejected conflicts. After Valjean’s encounter with the Bishop, he was driven to crime again, but upon stealing a coin from a young boy, he unexpectedly felt guilt. Valjean felt “the weight of his bad conscience” for the first time and started weeping, but after, he felt “an extraordinary light” (Hugo 38).
This internal conflict displays Valjean weeping out his past mistakes and transitioning to a brighter, purified version of himself. Through the kindness the bishop showed, it is visible that Valjean was able to gain faith in humanity again and promise to live life helping others in the same way. Hugo inhibits this internal conflict to emphasize benevolence sparking the beginning of a bright future. Later, Valjean has to choose between “happiness…by the side of [Cosette and Marius]” or returning to a life of “nothingness” (Hugo 555).
Valjean wishes to stay by Cosette because she brings him joy and light, but he knows that the correct choice is to free her from having connections with him. Hugo utilizes this conflict to emphasize Valjean’s internal battle between the righteous decision and his selfish wishes. By choosing to let go of Cosette, Valjean is sacrificing his love and affection towards her to protect her from getting tainted by association with his harrowing past.
This development invokes that his love for Cosette also brings him purpose therefore he must leave in order to protect her. His internal debates portray Valjean’s conscience growing with the introduction of Cosette’s love and the bishop’s kindness.
Jean Valjean’s love motivated character development is also displayed through amiable interactions with other characters. Bishop Myriel allowed Valjean to keep the stolen “silver to become an honest man” (Hugo 34). Myriel uses this interaction to release Valjean from his past actions that are tying him down. This interaction hints at Valjean’s previous, cynical and inconsiderate self getting cleansed. Valjean choosing to live a life of crime signifies that he was never given the chance to rebuild his character. With Valjean’s interaction with the bishop, he is able to take his first leap into virtue. Hugo incorporates this interaction to emphasize the bishop’s kindness catalyzing Valjean’s shift to becoming an honest man. After adopting Cosette, Valjean “felt his heart move” and “affection…like a mother” grow within him (Hugo 183). This suggests that Cosette is driving Valjean’s motivation because he finally found a purpose to keep striving. Hugo reveals this interaction to show Valjean’s transition from aimlessly living to wanting to protect Cosette. Valjean’s affection towards Cosette implies that his past lacked the presence of love, and the introduction of Cosette’s love in his life, sparked the final departure of his past self. Valjean’s kindness filled interactions allowed him to escape the gloomy past that lingered on with him and opened up a bright future on the correct path.
In his French historical novel Les Miserables, Victor Hugo bleakly displays Jean Valjean’s melancholic conflicts and cordial interactions with other characters in order to develop Jean Valjean’s character development that’s motivated by love. Is a bit of love enough to reform someone’s entire life? Victor Hugo would claim it is.
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