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Jean Valjean

Books: Les Miserables

Genres: Novel

Authors: Hugo, Victor


Set in 19th century France, Victor Hugo's historical novel, Les Miserables, portrays the protagonist, Jean Valjean, in his struggle with his past. Even in the face of societal condemnation, he sacrifices himself repeatedly for his loved ones as well for his moral and political convictions. Throughout the novel, Jean must redeem his character proving his ability to be trustworthy, selfless, and loyal.


Jean Valjean was an alluring hero of Les Miserables for many reasons, one of which was his drastic conversion from a miserable criminal into a heroic, peaceful man. Jean Valjean seems like a three dimensional character at first. But deep inside his emotions he shows a defined viewpoint on life making him a flat character. One of the most compassionate things he did was guarding Cossette and treating her as if she were his own daughter. He is the main character, therefore there would essentially be no plot without him. His several journeys span across a length of twenty years. He is an extremely strong man. Sometimes his strength was a burden put upon him. His charisma and superhuman qualities make his character a figment of romanticism.

        Valjean was born a decent human being. Unfortunately he was born into poverty, which forced him to steal in order to survive. After getting caught stealing a loaf of bread he was imprisoned. A few years later he is caught after escaping, he is then sent to the galleys for 19 years. He later escapes from there to goto a town where he was not wanted. Still a criminal he steals some silverware from a kind priest who gave him shelter. When caught, the police ask the priest if Jean stole the silverware. To everyone's surprise the priest said it was a gift this started his conversion toward a good life. After this he tried to live a peaceful life. He started a new factory in a new town employing several. Then a man in a city nearby was arrested under the name Jean Valjean. Jean was faced with a tough choice. Rather than letting the other man take the wrap for him, he chose to admit his identity to save the innocent man. Later, he rescued Cossette from her harsh life with the Thenardiers. He acted as her father while she grew up. Throughout these years. Jean was faced with obstacles that made him choose between right and wrong. He always chose the right path. From this Jean expressed that he only saw right and wrong, black and white, which made him two dimensional.

        His life was lead one way, his personality proved to respond one way, and his relevance to the story was set out in one way. This way was the way that things were done justly in his mind. His relevence to the entire structure of the story set aside from being the main character was crucial. He was portrayed as both the hero and the miserable.

        Throughout this novel, Jean Valjean proves to himself and to his town that he is trustworthy. Jean Valjean promises a mother, Fatine, on her deathbed that he will bring her daughter back, and fulfills his promise:


        On the evening of the same day that Jean Valjean had rescued Cossete from the clutches of the Thenardiers.. (95)


The child is Cossete, she was given away to the Thenadiers, a family that deceives Fantine, and uses her daughter for labor and money. Later in the novel, Jean Valjean meets a family in poverty, by the name of the Jondrettes. He promises them that he will give them money for the payment of there house. He brings them money, and because of him, they have the fortunate opportunity to stay under a roof.


In another incident Jean Valjean, receives a exclusive letter from Marius, a young man that is in love with Cossete. The letter is addressed to Cossete, and even though Jean Valjean regrets the possibility of Cossete leaving him, he turns the letter over to her. Jan Valjean proves that he does not have a mind of a criminal and could be trustworthy.


        Jean Valjean shows that he does not care about himself, and that he has only a dedication on helping others. When Jean Valjean first enters the city of M____ sur M____ he goes to drastic measures by pulling two children from a burning house. Throughout the story Jean Valjean risks being identified by the officials and death by taking Cossete to better residences:


        Jean Valjean. when he fell into the sea or rather when he


threw himself into it.. He swam underwater to a ship anchor


to which a boat was fastened. concealed himself in the boat.


finally reached Paris. to resuce Cossete from the clutches of the


Theinardes. (95)


In another event, Jean Valjean puts his life in danger by saving Marius, in a battle that happened in the barricades. Valjean still risks his life to others, even though he went through the hardships during his prison sentence.


        The availability of Valjean's loyalty still exist. He regains this characteristic several times in the novel. When Valjean exists the dark doors of prison, he receives advice from a noble bishop. The bishop asks him to be honest and he is forever loyal to the bishops words :


Father Madeline employed everybody; he had only one


condition. 'Be a honest man' .. 'Be a honest woman'. (90)


In another occurrence Jan Valjean shows that he is loyal to his people and his community by investing all his fortunes in restoring it. In another occurrence, Jean Valjean is placed in a event which he can take the life of his foe, Javert. He shows that he is loyal to his word by not killing no man and he lets Javert go. Jan Valjean projects that he is loyal and not a criminal, with no morals.


        Throughout the novel, Jean must redeem his character proving his ability to be trustworthy, selfless, and loyal. . Within the story, Jean Valjean shows that the thoughts of the people and the government are against him, but during the story he proves them wrong. Jan Valjean shows that 19 years in prison, and that he can still be a good human being with characteristics of trustworthiness, selflessness, and loyalty.



Jean Valjean's basic instinct is to help others, before he helps himself. Since he promises the bishop that he will do good with the silver. He tries to fulfill his promise everyday of his life. When he hears father Fauchelevent moaning for help, because he is trapped underneath a wagon, Jean Valjean (in his early fifties) springs into action, "Then , without saying a word, he fell on his knees, and even before the crowd had time to utter a cry, he was under the cart"¦ The devotion of one man had given strength and courage to all." (190). In an atmosphere such as this, Jean Valjean's actions are heroic. He didn't stop to think of his own health, or of his own well being. Jean Valjean is concentrated on Fauchelevent; he reacted on his own judgement, knowing that he had to help. Later during the time that Marius is at the barricade, he is shot and badly wounded. Jean Valjean knows how much Cosette loves Marius, so Jean Valjean runs to Marius and rescues him. Hugo writes, "Jean Valjean, in the thick cloud of the combat, did not appear to see Marius; the fact is that he did not take his eyes from him. When a shot struck down Marius, Jean Valjean bounded with the agility of a tiger, dropped upon him as upon a prey, and carried him away," (389). Once again Jean Valjean risks his own life to save Marius for Cosette. He did not even hesitate and went through the line of fire to save Marius.

In desperate situations people make the right decisions, that more often than not, put others before themselves. Jean Valjean is an example of this, because he risks his life for Fauchelevent when he lifted the wagon off of him. Jean Valjean also rescues Marius from the barricade for Cosette's happiness. Javert always lives by the law, even though he knows Monsieur Madeleine is Jean Valjean, he asked Jean Valjean to denounce him as punishment, for his assumption. When Javert finally catches Jean Valjean, he decides to let him go, because he decides to stop living by the law and to do listen to his conscience. Marius displays his ability to make the right decisions by his bravery and cleverness. Marius' bravery displays his willingness to sacrifice himself for others; he volunteers to blow up the barricade and himself. Marius also encounters an odd situation between Thenadier and Monsieur LeBlanc and does not know what to do, so he devises a plan in which neither one of them will be punished by his actions. Further more, in life, people have a responsibility to help each other and unselfishness is the best way to do it. This is the most important of all of life's lessons; to be responsible in situations that can affect others as well as yourself, but to also remember to think of others before yourself.