What are the main themes in “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo?

I'm looking to understand the primary themes explored in Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables". What are they and how are they illustrated throughout the novel?

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"Les Misérables," published in 1862, is one of Victor Hugo's most renowned works and is celebrated for its in-depth exploration of numerous perennial themes. The main themes in this epic novel include: 1. The Struggle for Redemption: The central character, Jean Valjean, embodies the theme of redemption. Initially a prisoner convicted for stealing a loaf of bread, his journey through the novel is a constant battle to overcome his past and become a better person, driven by his commitment to righteousness and the influence of the benevolent Bishop Myriel. 2. Social Injustice and Class Warfare: Hugo vividly portrays the disparity between different social classes, critiquing the societal structures that perpetuate poverty and injustice. Characters like Fantine and the Thenardiers demonstrate the extremes of this spectrum, revealing how both the destitute and the exploiters are products of the same flawed system. 3. The Law and Morality: Inspector Javert represents the rigid application of law and order, which is often depicted as being at odds with the greater moral good. The conflict between Javert’s strict adherence to the law and Valjean’s morally driven disobedience raises questions about what is truly just. 4. The Power of Love and Compassion: Love is portrayed as transformative and redemptive, from Valjean's paternal love for Cosette to Marius and Cosette’s romantic love. Moreover, the Bishop's compassion initiates Valjean's journey of redemption, and the solidarity among the students during the June Rebellion demonstrates love for country and freedom. 5. The Impact of History and War on Society: Hugo sets his characters against the backdrop of political turmoil, specifically the French Revolution and the June Rebellion of 1832. The novel examines how these historical events affect the lives of characters from all walks of society and how the characters themselves are part of the larger tapestry of historical change. 6. The Role of Fate and Free Will: Hugo often explores whether the characters are subject to fate or whether they exercise free will. Valjean's transformation and choices illustrate this theme, suggesting that while circumstances heavily influence lives, individuals can also shape their destinies through their actions. 7. The Nature of Humanity and Altruism: Through the diverse cast of characters, Hugo delves into the human capacity for both good and evil. He suggests that people are inherently capable of altruism, as embodied by Valjean and the Bishop, but also susceptible to degradation in the face of hardship and temptation, as seen in characters like the Thenardiers. "Les Misérables" is a rich and multifaceted novel that delves deeply into the human condition, ethics, and society. Its enduring power lies in Victor Hugo's incisive exploration of these universal themes, which remain as relevant today as they were in the 19th century. Each theme is intricately woven into the plot and character development, providing a comprehensive view of the moral and social challenges of the time, many of which still resonate in contemporary discourse.
Answered on June 19, 2024.
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