That said, I enjoyed reading the first section Fantine of Les Miserables more than I thought I would. Although the book describes the plight of the poor in France at that time, it is also a book about redemption. Although Jean Valjean’s desperation is a major factor in his decision to commit his crime, he had control over whether or not he did it. Evidently the view of Victor Hugo was that Jean Valjean had free will and used that free will to break the bakery’s window and steal the bread even though he was driven to this act to a large degree by the hunger of his sister’s children. We could argue that he, in fact, had few remaining opportunities and so he did what he did. Nevertheless, I don’t think that was the point Hugo was trying to make. The point was that after he was released from 19 years in prison, he was able to redeem himself by leading an exemplary life. In my view, becoming wealthy enough to have many more choices made it considerably easier to do so. I’ve never wholly subscribed to the adage that money cannot buy happiness. Although it can’t buy happiness, it can buy health care, an opportunity for a good education, and more alternatives in sticky situations which can aid us in reaching happiness. The converse is that not having money for the rent or food can lead to a lot of unhappiness. Hence, Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread.
Bishop Myriel comes across as a character in a fable. He is part allegory and part reality placed in the story to show how one can influence another to turn his life around. For the most part, he seemed to be too good to be true and maybe he was.
As we all are, Javert was a product of his socio-economic environment embittered by earlier injustices done to him. As it can make some more compassionate, it seemed to make him more rigid. Thus, he is the perfect counter-point to Jean Valjean. They are two sides of the same coin showing how people are affected by a life of poverty. It will be interesting to read how they each grow and change as the story unfolds. I look forward to finding out how Victor Hugo handles this unfortunately timeless topic.