Throughout the novel Les Miserables, Jean Valjean serves as Victor Hugo’s epitome of a repentant prisoner. Valjean goes through a stark transformation from the first time we meet him to seeing him on his deathbed at the end of the novel. He came out of the galleys a bitter, hardened man and died a happy, loving one. At a glance, this might confuse a reader. Upon closer inspection, it can be seen that a few different factors aided in Valjean’s journey from criminal to loving father.
One of these factors is his dedication to repenting and reentering God’s light. Light is something that is mentioned a few too many times to have been accidentally implanted by Victor Hugo. In the novel Les Miserables, the presence of light is used to represent the watchful eye of God during times when Jean Valjean is in need of His guidance. Shortly after his release from the galleys, Valjean seeks residence in the house of a Bishop who kindly offered to feed him and provide him with a place to sleep, despite having the knowledge that Valjean was an ex-convict. Jean Valjean, still a spiteful man, takes notice of the Bishop’s silver and, in the middle of the night, decides that he is going to rob the servant of God. Not only does he decide to commit this sin, but he contemplates harming the Bishop as well.
Just before Valjean is going to act on his thoughts of harming the Bishop, the cloud that had been covering the moon for nearly thirty minutes moved out of the way and then “a ray of moonlight crossing the high window, suddenly lit up the Bishop’s pale face” (Hugo 29). This is a direct action from God. Seeing the peaceful face of the sleeping Bishop makes Jean Valjean question what he wants to do: does he harm the Bishop to ensure that he escapes with the silver, or should he leave him be and merely steal his precious silver? His answer comes to him through another spectacle of light. “The crucifix above the mantelpiece was dimly visible in the moonlight, apparently extending its arms towards both, with a benediction for one and a pardon for the other…” (Hugo 30). Something about this strange light and obvious sign of the presence of God helps Valjean make up his mind. Valjean sees the message God is sending to him: if he saves the Bishop, he will be pardoned for his previous sins and will be given a second chance.
Promptly following this light, Valjean rushes out of the Bishop’s chamber, steals his silver, and escapes. Another obvious mention of light comes with the candlesticks the Bishop gives Valjean after he is brought back to the church and accused of stealing the silver. The candlesticks are a way for the Bishop to pass the influence of God onto Jean Valjean. The Bishop reminds Valjean that he must become an honest man with the money he would earn from selling the silver and the candlesticks.
By giving Valjean the silver, the Bishop had saved his soul from damnation and brought it into the light of God. “It is your soul that 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). Knowing that his life was saved by a servant of the deity that he had so long resented changed his opinions of God forever, and Valjean decides to dedicate his life to entering the light of God. The candlesticks and the promise he made to the Bishop serve as guides of light and plans for paths forward that he can utilize on his journey through repent. Another example of the theme of light comes shortly after the death of Fantine.
When she passes, Javert and Valjean are the only people there to witness her horrifying death. Valjean requests that he fix the appearance of Fantine before he goes with Javert, who is there to take him away and into custody for breaking his parole and stealing a coin. Valjean fixes her hair, the hat that she has covering her hair, and closes her eyes. “The face of Fantine, at this instant, seemed strangely illuminated. Death is the entrance into the great light” (Hugo 104). The light on the face of the late Fantine is a way of showing the reader that she is going into the realm of God.
But, the overarching theme of light is touched upon here in showing that Fantine went to heaven when she passed, despite being a sinner for part of her life. Valjean is in need of comfort in this scene, and the light signifying entering a better place puts his worries to rest. During the following scenes, Jean Valjean escapes prison and goes to save Cosette. He has been living in the Gorbeau house with Cosette for some time now, and he has been giving money to the same beggar for a while.
One night, he sees the face of this beggar and swears that it is Javert. The theme of light saves Jean Valjean from capture during the events that follow seeing the face of the beggar. One night, a few days later, Jean Valjean hears someone come into the Gorbeau house and thinks it odd.
A few minutes pass, and when Valjean looked through the keyhole, he sees the light of a candle. “This ray of light was an evil star in the black background of the door and wall. There was, evidently, somebody outside with a candle who was listening” (Hugo 128).
The light of the candle alerted Valjean to the presence of a person when there was no other indication, such as footsteps, thus saving him from being captured or detected. After a few minutes, the light disappears, and Valjean knows it is safe again. But as the light disappears, there are no footsteps.
The light of the candle was the only thing that could have alerted Jean Valjean to the stalker in the night, and coincidentally, the stalker had a candle with him. It can be extrapolated from this that it was divine intervention that saved Jean Valjean and the young Cosette from capture. In an attempt to escape from Javert and his soldiers, Valjean is in need of a rope to get over a wall. A lamppost draws his attention, and nearby said lamppost is a rope that he can use in his grand escape. “All extreme situations have their flashes which sometimes make us blind, sometimes illuminate us.
The despairing gaze of Jean Valjean encountered the lamppost in the Cul-de-sac Genrot” (Hugo 135). The lit post attracted his stare, and there was the solution to his seemingly unsolvable problem. Highly coincidental, unless it is considered that God intervened and wanted to aid Jean Valjean in his plans to help Cosette and run from Javert. Upon scaling the wall and eluding Javert, light is momentarily mentioned. When Valjean hears the tinkling of a bell, he sees a man who recognizes him, but it is too dark for Valjean to see the figure, which makes Valjean nervous. He turns around and “a ray of the moon lightened up his side face…” and Valjean recognizes him as Fauchelevent, the old man whom he had sent to work in a convent after his accident years prior (Hugo 142). This ray of light shows Valjean that the man talking to him is an ally and someone he can trust, thus helping him on his journey.
Obviously, God is watching Valjean and helping him in his times of desperate need or very worried. After a brief interlude to learn about Marius and his past, the book is brought back to Jean Valjean and Cosette. Cosette is older now, and more beautiful than ever. Jean Valjean fears that she is growing so beautiful that she will attract the attention of men. “.
.. This unexpected light which slowly rose by degrees enveloped the young girl’s whole person, wounded Jean Valjean’s gloomy eyes” (Hugo 251). This quote about light is comparing Cosette’s beauty to a bright light that physically harms Jean Valjean.
Here, God is trying to tell Valjean that Cosette’s beauty, since it is apparent to him, is also obvious to other people. The pain that her beauty causes him is a way for God to teach Valjean that he will need to let go of Cosette, even if it hurts him to do so.Following the bloody horror at the barricade, Jean Valjean rushes in and saves Marius just as he is passing out.
Valjean manages to escape to the sewers, where he travels around the dingy underground to get Marius away from the bloodstained barricade. Suddenly, in the darkness, Valjean sees a light shining in his direction, which causes him to hide from the light. He then finds out that “it was the gloomy star of the police which was rising in the sewer. Behind this star were moving without order eight or ten black, straight, indistinct, terrible” (Hugo 319). The light that the police shine down the corridor alerts Jean Valjean that someone is there and that he should be wary of them for fear of being caught red-handed with a suspicious looking body. This is an obvious sign of God’s presence, as Valjean would have been caught with a half-dead man on his shoulder if not to the alerting and obvious lights that the police happened to be using. After Jean Valjean is caught by Javert, they deliver Marius to his grandfather’s house. Valjean tells Javert that he will go willingly into his custody if they deliver Marius and go back to his residence first.
Though Javert is hesitant at first, he surprisingly agrees to allow Valjean to go the places he wishes. After Javert and Valjean arrive at the Rue de l’Homme Armé, Jean Valjean goes into his apartment and comes out of it expecting the see Javert, ready to take him back to prison. Shockingly, Javert is not there. “He leaned over the street.
It is short, and the lamp lighted it from one end to the other. Jean Valjean was bewildered with amazement; there was nobody there” (Hugo 332). The light from the lamps on the street show Valjean that Javert is gone, and provide a sense of relief to Valjean, who sees no one and realizes that Javert has decided to cease his relentless hunt for the ex-convict. This light on the street is to be interpreted as God helping Valjean figure out that he is a free man at last. At the end of the novel, as Valjean is on his deathbed, there is another sign of God in the form of a light. As Valjean is dying, “the light from the candlesticks fell upon him; his white face towards heaven…” (Hugo 399).
This light from the candlesticks is a sign that Valjean is going to heaven and that he had accomplished the goal of his life: to re-enter the light of God. The candlesticks have always served as a representation of God, but here is the most prevalent and important example, as they provide proof to Cosette and Marius that the old man is going to a better place. This is also the final example of God making a change to Valjean’s long life. He changes his future by allowing him to enter heaven with no catches or sins to be wary of. As is apparent by all of the examples provided in this essay, light is a prevalent theme that appears numerous times throughout the novel Les Miserables. Victor Hugo uses this theme to represent the careful eye of God, who is always watching and guiding the main character, Jean Valjean, on his journey from a criminal to an honest man. This is made obvious by all of the many instances in which Jean Valjean in aided by a sudden and oddly – timed spectacle of light. The coincidental instances where light appears are bountiful in the novel and can be found quite often within the pages without needing to search for them like a bloodhound searching for a convict.
The existence of God cannot be questioned, and his ability to manipulate light to aid Jean Valjean on his journey cannot be questioned either. Light is a crucial theme in the novel Les Miserables, and Jean Valjean would not have been able to succeed in his repentance without the guidance that God provides him through said light.