Author's Note: The reason I like this story so much could possibly be because of the symbolism within it. (And the music in the musical too of course.) This story has such a deeper meaning which makes it so different from any other story of it's kind. For my DWA, I wrote, in best form that I could, the symbolism within the characters of Les Miserables. Thank you and enjoy.
Think of a story you know that creates many images of symbolism. Now think of a story that every word within it has meaning and is something to think about. This fits the characteristics of the story of Les Miserables. We all know “Les Mis”; takes place in France, a bunch of characters, they all sing, and are very dramatic, but have you ever looked at the real symbolism of this heartfelt story? Now there are many versions of this story, its world famous book, movie, and musical. I want to show you some differences in symbolism between the book and the newest movie version. Les Miserables has the most in depth symbolism connections that are very hard to find in any other story of this nature.
24601 is the number they gave Jean Valjean when he became a slave. As he was quoted in the movie, “They gave me a number and they MURDERED VALJEAN! When they chained me and left me for dead! Just for stealing a mouthful of bread.” He was locked away after he stole bread to save his sister’s child who was near death’s door. You could say he is the main character in this ever so spiritual story. Who does Jean represent? In both the movie and the book alike, just like how Jesus Christ was found carrying the cross, Jean is forced to carry the flag of France as a request of Javert, who is a man of the law. Jean has always had a good heart and cares for everyone like Jesus has.
Jean is released from 19 years as a prisoner of the law and is offered shelter from a bishop. When the bishop saved him, he let Valjean make a fresh new start; he claimed his soul for God. The bishop gives Jean two silver candlesticks and tells him to use it to become a lawless man. As you see older Valjean in other scenes, he still has those candlesticks even within the book as well. This is a symbol of his respect for the bishop and a symbol of God’s forgiveness towards Valjean. Jean has now turned his life around that is now a life full of God and the Christian religion.
Jean Valjean goes by the name Monsieur Madeleine as a cover-up name but is often called “Monsieur le Mayor” because of his new title after he starts his new life. After Cosette’s mother, Fantine, dies, Jean takes the liberty of raising Cosette which represents Jean’s good heart and loving soul. When Valjean takes Cosette under his wing, she becomes this new burst of light within his life. She makes him want to be a better man and be the father Cosette so rightfully deserves.
Fantine represents how cruel the society was to lower class women of that time period. After she was left with a child by her lover, she tries to make money anyway she can. She works in a factory and after she is fired she resorts to selling herself to other people, like her hair, teeth, and prostitution. In the book as well as the movie, she leaves her child, Cosette, with the Thenardier’s. This is a family she thought would be loving to her child. As a result of Fantine’s absents, they treat Cosette like a slave and make her work for them. This shows just how low the lower classes of Paris at this time were treated and how they resorted to do such risky and willing things just to try to stay alive.
When they cut Fantine’s hair, it symbolizes her pride being cut right out of her. That’s when she lost all respect for herself. Fantine realizes at this moment that she doesn’t have control of her life and she will let people take advantage of her. She believes it all is in the interest of Cosette and that’s what she keeps telling herself. When Fantine stopped respecting herself, this is symbolizing that she already feels dead and has no control of herself anymore.
Jean Valjean wants to do all he can for Fantine after he finds her cold and alone in the scum of the town. On Fantine’s death bed, Jean tells this poor woman that he will take care of her child and everything will be alright. Jean takes Cosette and raises her to be a loving, caring young woman. Fantine and Cosette is a sign to Valjean that shows him the sorrow of losing life, but also receiving new life.
Before meeting Fantine or Cosette, Jean breaks his parole and now is a wanted man. A man who is named, Javert, is a police for the law. He searches everywhere to find Jean so he can capture him. Even though Javert may seem mean and cruel on the outside, he is a very deep and hurting person on the inside. In the movie he sings the song, “Stars” which is him praying to God about himself being full or worry and sadness. The thought of a thief having more over him was too much for Javert to bear. Fatally, his worry of being indebted to Jean leads him to plummet into the Paris Seine from a very high bridge. Javert committed suicide to get rid of the worries and the fears in his life. His suicide represents that even though a person may seem cruel and powerful on the outside, they are longing for some power and compassion on the inside. Javert’s character really makes you think about what you do or what you say to people because you have no idea what they may be going through.
The adults in the story aren’t the only characters that have struggles to face within the story. Les Miserables takes place post-French Revolution and the people are still revolting to the king for the poor order of society. In this story, we follow the “Barricade Boys” and how they revolt against the Paris Government. The main characters from the barricade are Enjolras, Marius, Eponine, Gavroche, and Grantaire.
Enjolras is the leader of the ABC or “The Friends of the Oppressed” which basically was a group of the lower class who wanted to return France to be under the rule of the republic in their area of Paris. Enjolras supposedly was the last one to die in the battle between them and in the movie he holds up a red flag and as he is shot, he falls of the railing of the place where they held their ABC meetings and is left dead hanging over the railing while still holding the flag. The flag is the color of the French republic which it symbolizes. Enjolras and one of his best friends, Grantaire both share a last glance before they are both assassinated. While in the book, Enjolras quickly retreats to the wine shop where he finds a drunken Grantaire. Enjolras is surrounded by soldiers as the buzzed Grantaire yells, “Long live the Revolution! I am one of them!” He wishes to die with Enjolras and has been granted that wish by his opponents. Enjolras was shot eight times as they both fell to their death.
As they build the barricade, there is a big red coffin and a little blue coffin in the front. The red one represents, Enjolras who is always wearing red and the little blue one represents Gavroche who is always wearing blue. Before Gavroche is killed, they shot the little blue coffin as a warning shot. They were basically telling them that they were going to kill Gavroche before he was even dead.
Enjolras is one of those characters that can be easy to relate to because of his passion and leadership within all that he does. The things he believes in are not hidden within his life, he puts his heart and soul into everything that he does which makes me compare him to myself. In my life, I try to place my whole effort into the things I do and the things I accomplish. If you’re not going to give 110% into something, why do it? Personally, I relate myself to Enjolras because not only his stride to get things done, but to get them done right.
Eponine and Gavroche
Eponine was the daughter of the Thenardier parents and was envied by Cosette while growing up because of how well she was treated. When Cosette left the house and Eponine grew up, Monsieur Thenardier abused her and treated her and her siblings like nothing. Even though it never is told that Eponine even has siblings in the movie, in the book it names her siblings Azelma and Gavroche. Éponine’s character is a symbol of another famous, religious life, Mary Magdalene. They both represent fallen, broken, and ragged women who fall desperately in love. Eponine is a character that shows her emotion, but never receives sympathy for her tragedies.
Eponine and Gavroche were siblings. As it was never revealed in the movie, it is explained thoroughly through the book. In the movie, Eponine’s last word was “grow” and Gavroche’s was “up”. Both of them never got to grow up. In the movie as Eponine takes her last breath, the camera closes up of Gavroche’s face as a single tear is shed from his watery eyes. Most movie goers may have thought it was just because of the heat of the moment, but the real symbolism was that they were siblings who really and honestly never got to grow up with each other because of how their parent’s treated them.
Marius represents a young Victor Hugo who fell in love as a young man same as Marius. Marius, who is just a lonely boy at the barricade, spots in the square the most beautiful women he ever laid his eyes on, her name was Cosette. Cosette and Marius represent young love and that there still is hope for both in their tragic stories. With all that happens within the story, you can always depend on the love between Marius and Cosette that just keeps growing stronger. What Marius never realized though, was that Eponine has been in love with him ever since the beginning. In the battle between the French Government and the “Barricade Boys”, Eponine takes a bullet for Marius and dies in his arms. This is when Marius realizes that Eponine has always loved him and that he will love her like a sister for the rest of his days. Marius is rescued from the barricade during the last battle from Jean Valjean and is brought back to Cosette. All of Marius’ friends die in the barricade battle. This only makes him want to love and respect what he has with Cosette even more as he has no more friendships left to cherish. Marius is a representation of a young boy who was once lost, but now is found.
There are many forms of symbolism and so many characters which make this book/movie a good one to follow and it really makes you think. Les Miserables has been one of those stories that have been passed down for generations and generations to come because of its symbolic nature that is so hard to find in other tales of this decade. This story has taught us a lot about how we see the world, our relationships, and our life. Les Miserables shows us a new sense of hope that can be found within all of us, we just have to open our heart to find it.
Sources: Les Miserables By: Victor Hugo
"Les Miserables" The Motion Picture, Directed: Tom Hooper 2012