It takes a man with great courage to sacrifice his own happiness in order to ensure the happiness of others. In the novel, Les Miserables, Victor Hugo demonstrates the value of sacrifice through one of the prominent characters, Jean Valjean, an ex-convict on the run. Valjean is in prison for committing a petty crime and after escaping, makes a promise to God to become a good man. He makes a promise to Fantine, a dying woman, that he will rescue her daughter and finds himself dedicating his life to make sure she is happy.
Victor Hugo shows through Jean Valjean’s life the value of self-sacrifice and the positive effects it can have on the people in the world. Self-sacrifice and love go hand in hand. Most of the time people make sacrifices for the ones they love because seeing them happy is rewarding. Jean Valjean sees the link between sacrifice and love firsthand through the Bishop of Digne. Jean Jacque Rousseau’s “Noble Savages” asserts that, “man is by nature good; society is the cause of corruption and vice” (Rousseau 1). Jean Valjean ends up in jail after stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family.
Valjean finds himself wandering the streets, looking for shelter after getting out of prison, and the Bishop takes him in. After receiving a full meal and a place for rest, Valjean steals his silver, only to be caught by the police and taken back to the Bishop’s house. To save Valjean, the Bishop lies to the police saying he gave the silver to him, and tells him: Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man… Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you.
I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God! (Hugo 33) The Bishop explains how sacrifice and forgiveness can be used as a form of love to benefit two people and society, and after his spiel, Valjean vows to change himself for the better. In a similar novel, Jane Eyre, the author, Charlotte Bronte, shows the value of forgiveness through the main character who demonstrates that forgiving the ones who made someone’s childhood a living hell and even kept from them that which could alleviated their pain (Jeff).
Both of these novels show how forgiveness will shape a person, just like how, through the Bishop’s forgiveness, Jean Valjean is able to change his personality for the better. Throughout his life, he finds himself transformed through love and self-sacrifice all thanks to that one night he stayed at the Bishop’s house. Most people do not change over night, but over a long period of time. After leaving Digne, Valjean encounters a young boy, Petit Gervais, and steals his money because he is poor.
The little kid begs for his coin back, but Valjean yells at him to leave. After realizing what he had done and how he broke his promise, Valjean cried out: “Petit Gervais! ” His cries died away into the mist, without even awaking an echo… His knees suddenly bent under him, as if an invisible power suddenly overwhelmed him with the weight of his bad conscience; he fell exhausted and cried out, “I’m such a miserable man! ” (Hugo 38) Valjean’s inability to keep his promise to be a good man makes him finally realize how much of a bad person he has become.
Valjean finally acknowledges his wrongdoings. For once in his life, he feels bad for someone and recognizes his own unhappiness. This scene is a turning point for Valjean as he starts to transform from a backstabbing thief, into a self-sacrificing philanthropist. People should learn to appreciate the value of self-sacrifice when it is presented to them at the moment, instead of when they look back and see what others have done for them. Even though sacrifice is not easy, sometimes it must be done or else there will be terrible consequences.
Some people cannot even find the heart to sacrifice for the one’s they love, which means they will not self-sacrifice for people they do not even personally know. At this point in the novel, Jean Valjean has changed his whole life. He is a new man under the name of Monsieur Madeline who is the rich mayor of a city. No one knows he was once an ex convict but himself. Jean Valjean finds himself sitting in the courthouse listening in on a trial for a man who is going to be convicted for a heinous crime, a crime that he committed years ago.
Valjean finds himself contemplating whether he should turn himself in or keep quiet and protect his identity and life. Just as the judge and jury are about to convict Chapmathieu, Valjean steps forward gives himself up for the sake of the innocent man’s life: “I thank you, Monsieur Prosecuting Attorney, but I am not mad. You shall see. You were on the point of committing a great mistake; release that man. I am accomplishing a duty; I am the unhappy convict. I am the only one who sees clearly here, and I tell you the truth” (Hugo 119).
After speaking out and admitting he is the one who should be unished, the courtroom does not believe him. Valjean had many opportunities to leave a free man but he did everything he possibly could to convince them that he is the one who needs to be convicted, not Chapmathieu. It was not easy for Valjean to risk being thrown in jail again, and if he did not sacrifice himself, he would have ruined another man’s life. Self-sacrifice comes in many forms, either, in this case, because it is the right thing to do, or out of love. Fantine is a single mother who does absolutely everything she can for the sake of her daughter, Cosette.
She knows she cannot properly raise Cosette and work so she leaves Cosette at what she thinks is a foster home. Each month she sends money so they will continue to care for her daughter but when she gets fired from her job, she ruins herself in order to pay for Cosette’s health and shelter: “What beautiful hair! ” exclaimed the barber. “How much will you give me for it? ” said she [Fantine]. “Ten francs. ” “Cut it off. ” (Hugo 63) In the end Fantine ruins her whole image for Cosette. She cuts off her hair, gets her teeth pulled, and even tries prostitution all for her daughter.
She sacrifices her health and well being in order to provide and pay the monthly fee so her daughter can have a good life. Fantine never thought twice about doing any of these things, and made all of these sacrifices out of love. People should follow Fantine’s generous nature and learn to do things for others in their life even if there is no benefit for themself. Love and self-sacrifice are shown to be the pathways to moral regeneration in this novel, as exemplified by many characters. One of Hugo’s characters, Eponine is the eldest daughter of her family and helps her parents steal.
However, she is redeemed by her love for Marius, an innocent young man whom is raised by his grandfather. Eponine steps in front of an enemy’s musket in order to save Marius, the man she loves. Even though she is heartbroken that Marius heart belongs to Cosette, she risks her life for him anyways: “What is the matter with your hand? ” said Marius. “It is pierced… By a ball” “How? ” “Did you see the musket aimed at you? ” “Yes, and a hand which stopped it. ” “That was mine. ” (Hugo 288) As she is taking her final breath, she even delivers a letter from Cosette to Marius.
Even though Eponine knew Marius never loved her at all, she sacrifices her life in order to save her true love. Love is shown through self-sacrifice in this novel whether it be father-daughter, lover and lover, or even love for one’s people. Towards the end of the novel, a revolution is breaking out in Paris. The author of the novel, Victor Hugo, learned to love politics experienced a revolution during his life: As Hugo grew older, his politics became increasingly leftist, and he was forced to flee France in 1851 because of his opposition to the monarch Louis Napoleon.
Hugo remained in exile until 1870, when he returned to his home country as a national hero. (Editors) Victor Hugo’s political personality is shown through Marius Pontmercy. Marius starts out just reading about politics, but eventually became one of the many revolutionists who wants to fight against the unjust government. The night before the battle, Jean Valjean prays to God to have Marius live and he die instead. During the revolution, Marius ends up getting wounded by a bullet. Luckily for him, Jean Valjean is around and able to save him: Marius was in fact a prisoner.
Prisoner of Jean Valjean. The hand which had seized him from behind at the moment he was falling, and the grasp of which he had felt in losing consciousness, was the hand of Jean Valjean (Hugo 505). Jean Valjean is willing to trade his life for Marius’ because he knew that Marius would bring Cosette more happiness as her lover than he could as her father. He took the risk and sacrifices his life for Cosette. A critic of the novel, George Huang, explains in depth why Valjean would offer his life for Marius’: Why, then, would Valjean do that?
He thought he was old, and Marius had his whole life in front of him, and so it would have been a good trade if it were possible. He wanted to give Cosette as much happiness as he possibly could. (Huang) Jean Valjean dedicates his whole life to give Cosette as much happiness as he possibly could. Valjean demonstrates the principle of self-sacrifice many times after he met with the Bishop of Digne because he was taught by the bishop who sacrifices his belongings and lies to save Valjean. Even though he often hesitates, Jean Valjean always choses the difficult path of self-sacrifice.
He could have left Marius to die, but deep down inside knew he could not. He did not change into a good character, he was always one, and it finally showed. Over his lifetime, Valjean was transformed through love and was able to demonstrate different ways one can self-sacrifice. It would be hard to do as he did, and risk your life in a revolution to save someone but, we should all take after Jean Valjean’s example and sacrifice something of ours for the happiness of someone else. Self-sacrifice is known as when someone’s personal interests or well-being are sacrificed for the sake of others or even for a cause.
Through Jean Valjean’s example, Victor Hugo shows a lot of the different principles of self-sacrifice. Valjean not once asked for recognition for all the great things he had done, he put Cosette’s best interests before his own, and he kept a promise to make sure Cosette was happy despite great costs. Just like Jean Valjean, other people’s self-sacrifice commonly goes unrecognized, but just because someone does not get praised for their efforts does not mean they should not do it. The value of self-sacrifice should out weigh any reward. Hugo’s book should inspire those who read it to take the time to do good for the people around them.
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