Monday, October 15, 2012

In 2012, The Issues of "Les Miserables" Live

I had a Les Miserables moment last week when my husband and I volunteered at our synagogue’s soup kitchen. As I helped to cook and serve over 100 of my hungry neighbors, I mused about whether or not we had progressed since the time that Jean Valjean was sentenced to prison for breaking into a bakery to steal a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s children. Yes, we have some social safety net programs in place but due to their inadequacy, soup kitchens are still necessary. And yet, many in our country resent the tax dollars that are spent on feeding the poor. In fact, Congress has failed to pass a law to extend food stamps because Republicans want to cut down on the amount being spent and can’t agree on how little to spend.

But I was digressing there. My task is to discuss the Cosette section of Les Miserables that my friend Tien has put together so that all of us from around the world can have this online discussion. Thank you, Tien for doing this. As sadly relevant as the book is to today’s American issues, I would never have read it if not for your invitation to participate in this read-along.

Before answering Tien’s discussion questions, I have to say that I unwittingly bought an abridged copy of Les Miserables. It is edited and abridged by Laurence M. Porter and translated by C. E. Wilbur. The part about the battle at Waterloo was severely cut and so, I won’t comment about that question.

As for Cosette, I feel that everyone is born with some personality traits and each person reacts differently to trauma and hardship. Evidently, Cosette was endowed with a sweet nature. When she meets Jean Valjean, she senses immediately that he is there to rescue her from the degradation in which she’s been living. Not remembering her mother, all she remembers is being abused. This would make most people bitter and angry, but why isn't she? In the my version of the book, that question isn't explained. Maybe we should keep in mind that his book was written way before Freud or any psychological studies as we now know them. Perhaps, Hugo didn’t consider that question. Or perhaps Les Miserables was meant to be a larger than life study of the plight of the poor and Hugo didn’t want to delve into the psychological makeup of each character.

What do I think that life in a convent would be like for Cosette? I can only project on the basis of what I’ve read thus far. After life with the Thenardiers, Cosette may find the convent a haven. After all, her savior and protector Jean Valjean is there with her. At the end of the story, Hugo suggests that Fauchelevant paves her way with the Mother Superior pointing out Cosette’s homeliness. If the nuns like Cosette and treat her as equal to the other girls in the school, she may feel sheltered in the convent. It may prove to be the most peaceful years of her tumultuous life. This remains to be seen and I look forward to reading the next section of Les Miserables. Good reading, my fellow read-alongers.  



Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa, sorry about all the difficulties you're having! I've added your link to the linky and that should work ;)

We are, indeed, better off in the sense that there are many welfare organisations and that govt do spend some budgets there but it's never enough, is it? Whilst I do believe some people are honestly in need, there are those who took advantage and they are the ones who rorts the systems. Therefore, people do resent this extra tax they had to pay. Seeing that humans are sinful (corrupt) beings though, it's really not surprising that any systems cannot provide full benefits as they meant to.

Lisa Sachs said...

Thanks for linking me, Tien and thanks for your comment. Here in America, I don't think they ever meant to provide full benefits. We still have an attitude of blaming people for their poverty assuming that if they are poor, somehow it's their own fault. While in a few cases this is true, there are many causes of poverty and many people are poor due to reasons beyond their control.