Les Miserables and the True Tragedy (and a Poll)

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Yes, my Les Miserables kick is back, courtesy (as always) of my lovely boyfriend! He posed a funny little question today on Facebook, and I just couldn’t help but really start thinking about it today.

I know I’m behind the curve posting a status about a movie that was popular over 6 months ago, but i feel slightly justified on this one.

What’s with the chicks who are themselves obliviously friend-zoning guys, but as soon as they see Eponine’s story in Les Miserables, it’s the most tragic f@#$ing thing ever!?

eponine-les-miserablesI completely agree with him on this. Keep in mind, I love Eponine, I really do. I sympathize with friend-zoned people, as most women do, and I can understand the heartbreak of not being able to have someone you truly love. Her situation, however, is self-encouraged. She lingers around the man she knows she cannot and will never have. Now, devotion to that person to the point of being happy for him or her despite your own pains does happen. In this case, it doesn’t seem to. Eponine wallows in her misery, in the fact she can’t have him. Although she says, “Why regret what can never be?” she still dwells on what she wants – Marius. There’s really nothing wrong with this in principal, but at the end, she makes a choice which seems to break my sympathy for her, and the tragedy of her. When she sees Marius on the front lines, about to be shot, with the position to save his life. Her choice is to move the musket positioned at him. Where does she move it? Right at her own chest. Basically, she commits suicide. In front of her best friend, in place of his own life, when she had the option of pushing the musket away from them both.

She could have done it on impulse, not on purpose, but in stories like this, that’s usually not the case. The more plausible idea is that she wanted to die instead of live without him. This, to me, destroys this character. She had courage to stand with her love, despite his rejection, and proves she is willing to die for him. But to die for him on purpose takes away the meaning of personal sacrifice. Eponine was courageous and strong right up until this moment, and then abandoned all her strength and decides to throw it all away needlessly.

I could keep going with Eponine, but I think something more important is to emphasize that there are so many who find her story so tragic. I want to show just how little of a tragedy her story is compared to the other characters in this story. First, we’ll begin with the most obvious characters, Val Jean and Fantine.

Val Jean and FantineFilm Title: Les Misérables

Val Jean is the focal tragedy of this story, a man condemned by society for one misdeed which was committed as an act of love and survival. His life goes from the frying pan into the fire as it were, making it through exile only to be shunned by his countrymen and left as a beggar on the street. Even when he is given another chance, and crawls his way to a better life, his unfair past haunts him continuously through an officer of the law determined to put him away again. To add to all this, Val Jean unknowingly brings the tragedy of Fantine into the story. Fantine, as a repercussion of Val Jean’s authority, loses her only job and is labeled a harlot because of her daughter, Cosette. Fantine falls much farther into the darkness of the world than Val Jean, and has no possibility of getting out on her own. She experiences all the hell of the world, and falls into the deepest despair you will ever witness in film or stage. Val Jean manages to reconnect and bring Fantine out of the ‘pit’ only to be there when she dies. As atonement and as a personal dedication, Val Jean takes on Cosette as his own, which brings more stress and wracking of nerves for Val Jean, as he tries to protect her from his own chasing miseries.

These two encompass the most prominent tragedies of Les Miserables, but they certainly aren’t the only tragic characters.

Enjolras and the Boys of the Barricadeles-miserables-movie-les-miserables-2012-movie-33362068-1600-1000

The short tragedies of the Boys of the Barricade are so numerous, from the death of Gavroche to the locking of the doors when the soldiers come to clean up the last of the barricades. To me, the height of these tragic characters is Enjolras, the leader. Not only does he witness his friends dying around him, but must come to the realization that his prediction of the rise of the people to their cause was wrong during that death. Despite this, he stands strong (a contrast to Eponine) and accepts his failure, standing for his beliefs until the end. For him to cling to his morals, his foundation, and stare his death in the eye with no regret, to me, makes his death one of the greatest tragedies of the story. But not the most tragic. That spot is not held by the Boys, nor by Val Jean or even Fantine to me. The greatest tragedy of Les Miserables in my view is Javert.

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Javert

Yes, Javert. Lets begin with who he is: this is a man who was born in the lowest of low places, in a prison. He claws and climbs and makes his way out of that life, in accordance with the French law of the time, and escapes the fate of misery in the slums. Not too tragic, right? Perhaps not, but that is before he meets Val Jean. In Val Jean, Javert not only sees who he could have been (a sad, pathetic man fighting against the law to survive), but who he could have aspired to be (a forgiving, kind person who lives by his heart and the will of God, answering to nothing else and no one else). The person Val Jean becomes contradicts all of what Javert has come to stand for. It destroys Javert’s foundation of his own life and where he stands. He says it himself, “And must I now begin to doubt,/Who never doubted all these years?/My heart is stone and still it trembles…” Val Jean’s love and kindness, even in the face of his enemy, shake Javert to his core, the core he built for himself. The meaning of everything he has stood for in his life is torn down, and additionally is proven to be the opposite of what Javert meant to represent. Val Jean shows true Christ-like dedication to good, despite the law, while Javert made the law his god and fooled himself into thinking the law was God. In the end, Javert has nothing. There is nothing left of the moral grounding he created for himself, his debt to Val Jean for not killing him when he had the chance nullifies Javert’s drive to capture him, and all that is left to Javert is darkness, and his life is left as nothing.

This, to me, is the greatest tragedy. A person who got themselves out of the worst of the world and still crumbles into nothing after all that effort. And I don’t find it to be Javert’s fault in any way. If you’re left to teach yourself your own morals and you base those morals on the only sources you have at your disposal, a combination of religion and politically accepted principals, how can you be blamed for trusting such sources? Although I find the final fall of Fantine (I Dreamed a Dream) to be extremely moving, and more emotionally evoking than The Suicide of Javert, his death, as whole for the character, is truly more tragic to me, and the ending to the most tragic character I have ever known.

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6 thoughts on “Les Miserables and the True Tragedy (and a Poll)

  1. I still want to write an alternate history version of Les Miz in whch Eponine and Javert run away together to America and get married (he’s not that much older than she is… well, okay, he is, but I still think they’d make a cute couple).

    • Haha! I quite like it! I’ve always had a ‘fan-fiction’ style deviation of the story in my mind so that Javert doesn’t die. It usually involves an original character (OC) I develop for the part, but thinking about it, that space could easily be filled by Eponine, if she were only wounded and not killed in the battle. Javert, as he prepared to die, sees the girl (Eponine) injured and weeping. In my version, my OC was in love with Enjolras, and she weeps over his death and that she is not dead yet. Javert remembers the lined up dead boys and takes pity on her, realizing he is her only hope for survival, as she passes out from weeping and blood loss. He rushes her to the nearest home with lights on, and it turns out to be Val Jean. Javert, in saving the girl and re-encountering Val Jean, realizes it’s okay for him to change his ways even now, as Val Jean did, and moves on with his life. I never really thought of the girl and Javert being together, but perhaps if it were Eponine it would work out well. 🙂

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