80 pages 2 hours read

Victor Hugo

Les Miserables

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1862

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Character Analysis

Jean Valjean

Jean Valjean is the primary protagonist in Les Misérables. The story of his post-prison life is that of a man searching for grace and redemption in a cruel and unforgiving world. Valjean is introduced to the plot at a moment when he has already learned the unfairness of the world. He was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's starving family. The act was in defiance of an unjust society: While the rich and powerful gorge themselves on anything they want, the poor and disenfranchised are forced to go without. Valjean did not steal bread for himself but to save his sister. Even when committing a crime on his own behalf, he did so out of desperation and selflessness. For this act, society punishes him for the rest of his life. Valjean is sent to prison, and when he tries to rebel against his unfair treatment by escaping, his sentence is extended. Once he is finally released, his criminal convictions make him a second-class citizen. Society's rules do not permit poor men like Valjean to achieve redemption. The goal of the criminal justice system depicted in the novel is to punish its victims permanently.