Les Miserables Book 5: Jean Valjean

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The last epic section in a book of epic sections, culminating with the pivotal character in the whole cast of dynamic characters. This write-up will have spoilers and will be an analysis and then next week I will write a final review. Book 5 begins where Book 4 leaves off, in the midst of the drama among the barricades. Jean Valjean joins the students as they pit their last defenses against the National Guard and go down in a blaze of glory and martyrdom. This occurs after discovering that Cosette is in love and, to his singularly loving mind, losing her. He decides to save the wounded Marius and transports him through a complicated web of sewers, saving Javert's life and running into Thernardier in the process. Marius is reunited with his grandfather, who, once Marius is healed, permits him to marry Cosette. Jean Valjean is also invited to live in the house, but shamed at his status as ex-convict, he confesses his past to Marius and visits Cosette each evening, slowly decreasing the visits. Near his death, Thenardier reveals the truth of Valjean's saintly actions to Marius. As a result, Cosette visits him, learns the truth of who he is, and Jean Valjean dies.

So, in effect, a very action-packed last section of the book. Jean Valjean is the only character that stays with us throughout the entire book, and is a metaphor for how the human spirit can rise above misery and triumph. He is a Christ-figure, despised by the man who owes him most, but never acting in selfishness after he is redeemed by the love of the bishop of Digne. Jean Valjean's final trials are the hardest to read about because his confessions lead Marius to believe the worst of him. True to his nature, Jean Valjean only reveals the dark parts of his past with none of the redeeming qualities. While Cosette knows nothing of her father's past and is puzzled by his growing distance from her, she is so blinded by her happiness at being married to Marius that she doesn't think much of it. Meanwhile, Marius is distrusting of Jean Valjean and makes him as unwelcome as possible, not lighting the fire and removing the armchairs from the room in which they sit. Once Marius finally learns the truth about Jean Valjean, he is absolutely mortified and crestfallen at how he treated his savior.

The other part of this section that was especially poignant for me was the wedding scene between Marius and Cosette. Their happiness was described as being the most transcendent possible because of the purity with which Marius and Cosette had treated their relationship and their absolute commitment to each other. The description of their joy was so gorgeously written and moving that it brought me to tears. I don't think their relationship was idealized because of the era -- I think it was just treated with care that we seldom see in modern-day relationships. It was inspiring and beautiful.

The last section of Les Miserables is a beautiful ending to a stunning book. I'll post my full review next week.

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