Les Miserables, the miserable ones, is an archetypal story packed with the power and purpose of love and selfless devotion to others. Although every subplot is full of loss, pain, sadness and injustice, those starless black nights do not prevail. It is the costly blood-red sunrise of grace, forgiveness, hope and courage that wins out. In the epic novel, as in life, only through sacrifice can the evil of self-interest be defeated. Watching the 2012 movie rendition seemed like a fitting way to spend New Year’s Eve, although, even with his extraordinary acting talent, I did have trouble accepting Russell Crowe singing his lines.
The book was written some 40 years after the events, giving some historical perspective to the author who lived in Paris through the explosive days of the 1820s and 1830s. They must’ve been soul-searching times for Victor Hugo, challenging his worldview on topics from politics to the plight of the poor, religion to legalism, the coexistence of depravity and goodness in the heart of humanity. One feels the inward battle being fought daily behind the barricades thrown up in the alleys and avenues of life. All the while we echo the words of Fantine, mourning the loss of what could have been. “I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living!” Little wonder the book was written in 365 chapters, a type of devotional, giving us one reading for each day of the year.
Mine were not the only tears shed in that dark theater on the last day, the last hours of 2012. We all knew the story, but in some way, small or large, we were part of that narrative, we played the role of almost every character. We have been unjustly accused, angry and the victim of abuse. We may have been thieves or thugs at times delivering retribution and rebuke. And on occasion we may have played the selfless Samaritan, extending goodness and grace. Regardless, we understood the author’s words;
We are all prone to succumb to self-pity when called upon by life’s circumstances to suffer. And like ex-con 24601, Jean Valjean, we have a decision to make when faced with adversity, unfair, undeserved and unanticipated though it may be. We all must answer the question “Whom Am I?” We must choose. Will we be a number existing on paper or a person living with purpose?
“Life, misfortunes, isolation, abandonment, poverty, are battlefields that have their heroes; obscure heroes, sometimes greater than the illustrious heroes.” Victor Hugo, Les Miserables