Love Conquers All: The Central Theme of Les Miserables
Love is one of the fundamental principles of humanity. It is what ties humans together as a people, and is vital to society. As such, it has influenced the world in countless ways, just one of which being through literature. Les Misèrables tells the tale of Jean Valjean, a convicted criminal who must escape his past and reclaim his humanity in a world gripped by poverty and oppression. Though he faces many obstacles, he is eventually able to redeem himself through the love of those around him, and is, for the first time in years, able to return that love. Throughout Victor Hugo’s classic French novel Les Misèrables, several themes appear, and yet none are as influential as love, whether it be religious, romantic, or parental.
Jean Valjean’s life was first changed by religious, spiritual love. When he entered the town of Digne, nobody would accept him into their homes on account of his criminal past. For hours, he wandered the town, searching for a place to spend the night until the Bishop took him in. Though this alone was significant, the Bishop didn’t stop there. His love was repeated soon after Jean Valjean attempted to rob him of his silver. Instead of allowing him to be thrown back into the galleys, the Bishop forgave him instantly, even going as far as allowing him to keep the silver. Though Jean Valjean left Digne soon after, he never forgot the love that the Bishop had shown him. In fact, this love is what led to his redemption. As the Bishop tells Jean Valjean, “My brother; you belong no longer to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God” (Hugo 33). Spiritual love is so powerful, it has the ability to save a man’s soul, as is seen in the relationship of Jean Valjean and the Bishop.
Another variety of love to have a great impact within the story is parental. One example of this is in the relationship between Jean Valjean and Cosette. Though Jean Valjean is not Cosette’s true Father, the two form a strong bond after Cosette’s true mother dies. This bond is so strong, it allows both of them to love each other; extremely significant, as both of them have had exceptionally dark, difficult pasts. Shortly after Jean Valjean rescues Cosette, it is said that “Something new was entering his soul. Jean Valjean had never loved anything… but… when he saw Cosette.. He felt his heart moved” (Hugo 123). Cosette has this dramatic shift as well; “Cosette, too, unconsciously underwent a change… she had tried to love, yet… she had not been able to succeed… and so all that thought and felt in her began to love this kind old friend” (Hugo 124). This love between them, while remarkable in itself, is able to produce several great things later in the story.
Yet another type of love to impact the story is romantic, and the main relationship containing this love is between Marius and Cosette. The two glimpse each other during their daily walks in the park, and those mere glances are enough to make them fall deeply in love. Indeed, before Cosette even knows Marius’ name, it is stated that “[Cosette] had always loved [Marius], always adored him” (Hugo 265). However, this deep love doesn’t stop there. Marius and Cosette come from drastically classes, with enormously different pasts. This alone should be enough to keep them from being married, and yet their relationship is made all the more impossible in the fact that their parents don’t approve. Despite all of this, the two fight off all of the odds and are able to get married, in just one of the many examples throughout Les Misèrables of the power of love.
Over the course of history, humanity has seen what love can do time and time again, and in no other novel is this as apparent as in Victor Hugo’s Les Misèrables. Though many themes are woven throughout the enticing tale, the main theme is clearly love. This can be seen in the relationships of Jean Valjean and the Bishop, Marius and Cosette, and Cosette and Jean Valjean. Through his novel, Victor Hugo demonstrates the immense power that love holds. It can redeem even the most evil man’s soul, form a bond between a broken man and a neglected child, and fight off all of the odds to bring two people together. Victor Hugo’s Les Misèrables demonstrates the power of love, whether it be spiritual, parental, or romantic.
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