Monday, June 3, 2013

Why Les Miserables Matters

Les Miserables is about belief, faith, and conversion. It is about moments of Crisis that test us and try us.
Do you live what you profess? What would it take to change your mind? Can people change? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for?

These are the themes of Les Miserables. Each main character must face a moment when their view on life, their professed reason for happiness, is challenged.

The story begins with an old Bishop. He gives up the large church to make it a hospital, and moves his alter and house into the old small hospital. He helps the poor, the needy, and never keeps anything nice or expensive for himself, except a nice set of silver dinnerware.
Along comes a poor convict – fresh out of prison. The Bishop gives the man dinner on his silver, lets him sleep on a feather bed, and calls him “brother.”
The convict steals all the silverware from the cupboard. He runs away in the night and is caught by the gendarmes and brought back to the Bishop.

The bishop has always professed to be a forgiving man of God. He lives a poor simple life, but has somehow kept this silver all along. Will he still be forgiving to a man that betrayed his trust and mocked his hospitality? Will he still keep his little guilty pleasure – the silver, or will he give it up, and forgive the convict? Where does his happiness lie? Is it in Justice or Mercy?

She falls in love. She is in the prime of her youth and can’t imagine a better life. Then her wealthy boyfriend abandons her one day and she is left alone, pregnant, with no employment. She passes a woman on the street who had two daughters of her own. Those two little girls look happy and content. Her daughter could possibly have a better life living with them for a time. Will the mother give up her daughter to grant her the chance at a better life?
The mother attains work, but is eventually cast out because she has a child and no husband. She can’t find any good work and must decide between her pride and dignity, and supporting her daughter financially. Will she sell her locket, her hair, her teeth, her virtue? What can she sacrifice for the love of her daughter? Where does her happiness lie? Is it in her own life, or her daughters?

His father left when he was young, and never returned. His Grandfather is rich and wants to dictate how his grandson lives his life. Will this young man live a rich privileged life that he is entitled to? While he live poor? When he finds out his father was a good honest man, will he follow his footsteps?
The revolutionary believes in the people of France. He believes in the cause of freedom. His life is dedicated to the revolution. Then he falls in love - completely and absolutely head-over-heels in love. His love is leaving, going away to England forever. Will he follow her and find happiness in a life of love and happiness? Will he stay and fight at the barricades in the cause of freedom?

The revolutionary knows his father’s life was saved by a man named Thernardier. He swears to his father to help this “Thernardier” if they ever meet. He swears to help him anyway he can. When they do meet, Thernardier is a the worst and most vile of men. The revolutionary watches as his girlfriend and her father are threatened, kidnapped, and held hostage by Thernardier.
Should the Revolutionary save his girlfriend, or the man he swore to serve and protect? Is his happiness in love, or in honor?

(this story line is mostly in the musical, not the book)
She loves a young man. He is handsome; he is brave; he is rich but lives like he’s poor.; and… he is in love with someone else.

She would be his at any moment if he asked, but he sees them as “just friends.” He asks her to help him court his love. He asks her to find her, find her address, take him to her, deliver her love notes.
Where does the happiness of ”the other woman” lie? Is it in being with him, or in making him happy by helping him be with another?

When he breaks her heart over and over again, should she still defend and help him? When his life is in danger, will she sacrifice her life for his, even though he is in love with someone else?

Life is just. You reap what you sow. There are no hand-outs. There are no gray areas. There is hard work and honest living, and that’s the way to be happy.
He is just in all things. He gives people exactly what is required by law. He has no need to pass judgment because that is for God and the courts. He enforces.

Men are good, or men are bad. They choose, and they keep their course. He has seen it time and time again.
When Javert wrongly accuses a man, he asks for demotion and reprimand. He asks that justice be meted out on him as it is on everyone else.

What does he do when a convict, a man who broke his parole and is on the lam, appears to be good? The man helps others and lives a seemingly honest life. How can this be?
When a man he has hunted, chased, and found has a chance to kill the inspector, the convict instead lets him live. He lets him go.

When the convict should be running for his life, he stops to help an injured young man, to carry him to safety.
The convict never asks for help for himself, only to be allowed to help others. He needs an hour, a day, a short time to finish helping someone else, then he’ll turn himself in. Can he be believed?

The Inspector must decide: Is happiness found in never breaking a single rule? Is it found in justice? Is there room for mercy, and if so, how can he reconcile that in his mind?

He is the main character of the story. He has many of these moments of Crisis. When he is shown kindness and love, will he steal and be who he has become in Prison? Will he steal the silver from the Bishop?
When he is forgiven and given a new lease on life – will he change, will he become a better man?

When another man is accused in his place. When the convict could have someone else jailed in his place, will he let it happen and live a free man, or will he confess to save this stranger from a lifetime in Prison?
When the convict sees a prostitute being abused and mis-accused, while he stand up for her?

When he is asked to care for a little child, what will he do for her?
When she grows up and has become all he cares about in the world, can he let her go when it is her time to move on, marry, and live her own life?

When he is given a chance to exact punishment and vengeance on the officer who had been chasing him his entire adult life, will he take it.? When the officer has done “wrong” and the convict has ”the right” to kill him, will he?
When the convict realizes he is a liability to his daughter, will he exit her life for good, for her good?

This story speaks to us. It speaks to the very core of why we live. What makes us happy? What makes life worth living, and death worth dying? What is the ultimate goal? Where is the line between right and wrong, good and bad, justice and mercy?

This is about conversion – do we really believe that which we profess? When it’s all on the line, who are we?
Who Am I?

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