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Les Miserables was set in a period of economic strife, social inequality, and a number of other societal disadvantages. Originally a tedious 1,400 page novel written by Victor Hugo, the book explores many themes that correlate to the social class differences post French Revolution. It also focuses on one man, and his journey to salvation. The book has been turned into many adaptations over the years; including the critically acclaimed broadway musical, and the beautifully made 2012 movie rendition directed by Tom Hooper.
The primary protagonist in the story is a man named Jean Valjean (24601), who was forced to serve 19 years in a manual labor camp for stealing a loaf of bread. The men were treated worse than animals, and the way the inspectors addressed the inmates by using no more than numbers, represents how meager and insignificant society thought of those people.
Fantine, another significant character, represented the lower class as a whole. She was a single mother, whose child was being taken care of by an abusive innkeeper and his wife. After the discovery of her child, she was stripped of her job, and forced to sell her hair, teeth, and body, in order to sustain her and her child. She became so weak and damaged that she eventually suffered a tragic death, and asked Jean Valjean to adopt her child. Prior to these events, Jean valjean had violated his parole, and became a beloved mayer, and owner of a factory. Cosette, the daughter of Fantine, further inspired change in Jean Valjean as the story progresses, and illustrates how much a person can transform in their life.
All throughout the story, Jean Valjean is pursued by a comptemptable inspector from the prison camp named Javert, who sees Jean Valjean as nothing more than danger to society. Despite Javert’s hostility toward him, Jean Valjean saves the inspector’s life at one point; resulting in Javert’s sanity to falter. His inability to see past the black and white pushes him to the brink, and he eventually commits suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.
The whole story is also blanketed by an impending battle, and the love interests of two young adults; Marius and Cosette. The two star crossed lovers are young and naive, and their innocence, along with the innocence of the other young men in the book, correlates to the corruption of the government, and how abhorrent many of the events were of the time.
By the end of the book, many of the characters had suffered tragic deaths, that could have been avoided if it was not for the extreme economic complications, and the corruption of the government. Overall, the story is somber and unsettling, but it also brings up many provocative themes and ideologies.
In the musical version, the concepts are presented through heart wrenching songs, and impeccable acting.
Though the book version goes into extreme detail, and fully and completely develops the characters, it is lacking in its vehemence and emotion. The book seems to drag on for prolonged periods and goes into such detail, that some key ideas are drowned out. Themes are seemingly lost in the pages of description and narration. On the other hand, the musical/movie accurately displays the despair and passion of the story in just over two and a half hours.
Many of the songs help to engage and captivate the audience, and helps people gain an appreciation for the events that unfolded during the time period.
This is especially displayed in the song, “I dreamed a dream,” sung by Fantine about all the disappointments in her life. Along with that, many of the other songs help bring the story to life, and do a good job of showing the different views and societal differences between the characters. For example, “One day more”, is able to simultaneously display seven people’s reactions to the impending battle. It really captivates the essence of the story, and how everyone endures hardships in their life.
Overall, Les Miserables is a beautiful story, that explores many themes of redemption, equality, and the rights and wrongs in society. Victor Hugo did an amazing job at the end, when all of the interlocking stories are finally connected together, leaving the audience satisfied and contented.