Eight Things I Learned from LES MISERABLES (Lessons 5-8)

As you may know, I started this two-part post a couple of days ago with the first four lessons I learned from Victor Hugo’s powerful Les Miserables. Well, today, I’m finishing up with lessons 5-8.

5. Ask more questions and listen to the answers. In a wrenching scene, a woman named Fantine, who has had a child out of wedlock with a heartless aristocrat who left her to raise the baby alone, has a job in Jean Valjean’s factory. Some of Fantine’s fellow workers find out that she has a baby and is paying people to take care of it. Being a single woman with a child is an offense worthy of firing. Rather than find out all the information and protect Fantine, Valjean leaves the matter to his heartless foreman (or, in the book, forewoman), who fires Fantine on the spot. She ends up being a prostitute, selling her hair, and, in a scene they leave out of the musical, even her front teeth in order to pay the despicable people who are taking care of her child. Eventually, just before she dies, Valjean finds out what he’s done, or, to be more accurate, not done. Had he stopped and listened to Fantine, Cosette would not have lost her mother. Valjean adopts the child, but only after it’s too late to save her mother.

6. Rules need to be balanced by mercy. The main antagonist in the story (aside from the Thenardiers) is Inspector Javert. He is symbolic of the law while Valjean is symbolic of mercy. Javert sees nothing but the law. He knows nothing of good or bad, only legal or illegal, so that when he catches up to Valjean, he doesn’t see all the good he’s done, instead viewing him as nothing but an outlaw. At one point, Valjean has the chance to kill Javert but shows mercy. It so rocks Javert’s view of the world that he can’t continue in his job as a policeman. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but Javert’s final encounter with Valjean is a truly life-altering event. Rules and laws are important, but the enforcement of those rules without any room for mercy makes for a dark, cold world.

headphones, music, hands, girl, woman, people, lifestyle, love7. Don’t assume people won’t understand; give them a chance to listen and decide for themselves. At the end of the story, Valjean doesn’t tell Cosette who he is, but instead hides away to shield her from the truth of her father being an outlaw. As a result, he misses her wedding and essentially wastes away due to a broken heart. When she finds out the truth, Cosette rushes to find her beloved father before he dies. Had he simply told her the truth, she would have understood and all would have been forgiven. People, at their best, are able to handle almost anything. You just need to give them all the facts.

8. To love another person is to see the face of God. This exact phrasing comes from the musical, though the concept is in the book as well. This lesson could be the ultimate lesson ever taught. It’s positively Biblical. It rings of inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you’ve done it unto me. Everytime I treat someone badly, I’m treating God badly. Everytime I show love and compassion, I’m doing the same to God. So I need to strive with everything I have to love everyone I encounter. Ever since I saw the musical for the first time, I have tried to make this concept my guiding life principle.

So these are the lessons I have taken from this immortal story. I hope you find them edifying.

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19 Responses to Eight Things I Learned from LES MISERABLES (Lessons 5-8)

  1. Doris says:

    Joe,
    I found the lessons very satisfying. You did a great job. There is so much we can learn from the classics and other works, if we just take the time to see them. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sstamm625 says:

    Wonderful! The scenes with Valjean & Javert are so powerful. Their musical dialogue in their confrontation is brilliantly done, and the repetition of motifs in some of this solo pieces heighten the similarity and contrast between them.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nancy Jardine says:

    Again I love the summarisation, Joe. The ‘lessons’ or ‘lifestyle traits’ you speak of can apply to all makind, whether a follower of a particular religion, or not.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Mike Staton says:

    Biblical lessons in a novel and a musical based on the novel. Another way to share the Sermon On The Mount, so to speak. Remember a campaign slogan from a decade or so back? Compassionate Conservatism. Rules need to be balanced against mercy. In novel writing, it shows why “showing” works better than ‘telling.” The scenes are powerful just because they are scenes complete with heart-wrench drama and stirring drama. Just think how boring it would be if all we read was a narrator telling us a story.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for this thought-provoking and powerful post!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. From a writer’s point of view, if anyone had listened to anyone else, there wouldn’t have been much of a story, would there?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Neva Bodin says:

    I wrote a reply yesterday and I don’t see it. Not sure where it went. Enjoyed your analytical summary and though I haven’t seen the muscial or read the book, I now want to. Great life lessons you have pointed out. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Neva Bodin says:

      Actually, I realize I wrote the reply on your first part! This part is just as fascinating. Thanks for the insights. And you have encouraged me to rent and watch the musical or read the book.

      Like

    • Joe Stephens says:

      I was about to say that I was sure you had written one because I had replied to it, but that must be it. 🙂

      Like

  8. Very moving, very powerful, Joe — thank you for sharing these 8 insights and for challenging us all to live more honorably.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. S. J. Brown says:

    We can all learn new lessons each day. Thanks for sharing these.

    Like

  10. Travis says:

    Great job with these lessons, Joe. I love how you extracted life affirming lessons from fiction. Fiction is a great way to show as opposed to preaching directly.

    Like

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