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Essay On "Les Miserables" By Victor Hugo And Whether Or Not It Should Be Included On A Summer Reading List

1204 words - 5 pages

"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age-the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night-are not solved; so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."-Victor HugoLes Misérables was written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862. It is a historically pertinent novel which while maintaining a largely humanitarian feeling, also provides abundant information of nineteenth-century French politics and society.A concise and total plot summary of Les Misérables is difficult due to the sheer multitude of sub-plots running in undercurrents throughout the novel and intimidating size of the book. The unabridged copy I had read was about 1500 pages long. However, I will attempt to cover the main points of interest.Structurally, Les Misérables is divided into five volumes, each containing at least eight “books”, further divided into a number of chapters. The first volume, ‘Fantine’, introduces convict, and main focus of the novel, Jean Valjean to us. Jean Valjean is the thread that binds the numerous plots together and a truly dynamic character. Valjean entered prison sentenced to five years of hard labor for breaking into a bakery and stealing a loaf of bread, a crime which he committed in order to feed his starving sister and her seven children. Ultimately, he serves nineteen years, having received three additional years for each of four escape attempts, and two more for resisting arrest following the second attempt. After his release, and what he believes to be his freedom, Valjean discovers that his yellow ex-convict's passport makes him a social outsider; he is not able to find decent work or accommodation. In Digne, he is offered a meal and a room for the night by a certain bishop known as Monsieur Myriel. In the night, Valjean succumbs to the temptation to steal the bishop's silverware; the bishop saves him from the authorities by claiming that he gave the silverware to Valjean as a gift, and gives him the candlesticks as well. The bishop tells Valjean to remain an honest man henceforth. This marks the first of Valjean’s many struggles with himself. The overwhelming goodness of this man of god is the decisive moment in which Valjean becomes a morally upright and righteous person.The rest of this volume serves to introduce Fantine, a fallen woman to whom Valjean has promised to take her only daughter in his keeping, and give further evidence of Valjean’s virtue; he gives up the position of mayor he has attained in a small town and casts off his new security and identity by revealing his true name and saving a poor man from the wheels of a false justice.The second volume,...

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