In his novel, Les Miserables, author Victor Hugo makes a strong statement about society being the cause for evil in man. Les Miserables is based on a poor man, Jean Valjean, who was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s starving baby. Valjean is sentenced to 20 years for his crime, and, when he is released, he is shunned for his past, which he has more than paid for. Society turns him out at every turn for his past crime, and will hear no excuses for his deed. With this scenario, Hugo shows the cruelty of a “civilized” world that would cause a man to suffer unending prejudice for stealing a single loaf of bread to feed a small child.
As the ill treatment continues, Valjean becomes more and more bitter toward society. He probably would have been pushed too far, and would have lashed out against his aggressors, if he had not been shown kindness by the church. Valjean was taken in by a kindly Bishop, who fed him and offered him a place to stay. Valjean, however, had already fallen partially from the light of reason and when all the others were asleep he stole the silver dinner ware and fled into the night. This act again can be blamed on society for Valjean, realizing that because of his criminal record he would probably never again be able to obtain a job and support himself, saw stealing the silverware as his only choice.
Had he not been caught and returned to the Bishop, Valjean probably would have been forced into a life of corruption. However, to his surprise, the priest told the police he had made a present of the silver to Valjean. He even gave Valjean the two silver candlesticks he had not taken. When the police left, the Bishop explained his action, saying that with his act of kindness, he had bought Valjean’s soul for god and that Valjean must now live a life of good in return. Valjean was saved from his downward spiral of decay, showing the author Hugo’s high regard for some parts of the Church. However, Valjean continually tried to turn his life around, and although many times it seemed as if he had succeeded, his past and an ignorant society always caught up with him, forcing him to once again flee to rebuild his life.
Hugo also uses the Thenardiers as an example of society’s corruption. They may even be Hugo’s ultimate view of society’s problems. They are a family of despicable thieves and con-artists. They first appear when they agree to take in Cosette, but only so that they can later force Fantine to pay them endless expenses for Cosette’s well-being. Of course, the Thenardiers never intended for any of the money to be used on Cosette. Instead, they spend it on themselves and their own daughters.
The endless bills sent by the...