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Archetypal Characters In Les Miserables Psychology Essay

The purpose of this study will be to offer psychotherapists working with young men an imaginal way of seeing the therapy process as informed by archetypal characters in Les Miserables. The soul is the central concept in imaginal psychology whereby it expresses itself in images or archetypes and this is what psychotherapists engaged in depth psychology have to deal with. This images or archetypes inhabit in us and therefore we need to pay attention to these images in order to take good care of our souls and by doing so we may find the answers that lie within us. These images may present themselves in form of archetypes or what psychologists refer to as psychopomps. The soul or the psyche is important for psychologists engaging in depth psychology. The soul is very complex but it is as important as matter and mind as recognised by Jung. As psychotherapists, depth psychology which takes us away from our egos and humbles us plays an important role in imaginal psychology. Imaginal therapy enables us as psychotherapists to embody the archetypes that inhabit our souls and find answers through them when we delve into our unconsciousness. We are humbled and our egos are taken away in order for us to realise that we are out to find answers for others other than our selves despite the wounds we may harbour. The imaginal approach will therefore be helpful for those psychotherapists dealing with young men.

A psychopomp according to Greek mythology refers to a guide tasked with guiding souls to the underworld (Franz, 1998). The underworld in this sense means the other world where the soul goes after death. Psychology has borrowed greatly from Greek mythology but has given the term ‘underworld’ a totally different meaning. Underworld as put across by Jung refers to the world we shift to through images or archetypes in our dreams or fantasies. Most times the underworld is a state of what we feel and that which leaves us feeling like we have lost all sense of living for instance when we are depressed. In a way we feel like our souls no longer exist. The Greek use of the term underworld in their myths is conveyed in a manner in which the soul can easily leave that world and come back implying that the tales are not necessarily connected with death even though this is what it appears to be (Franz, 1998). This is the perception psychology has chosen to follow in choosing to view the underworld as a place where one can go and come back as a renewed being. The term is used widely in depth psychology especially when the psychologist is dealing with matters related to the soul or the psyche. Psychology simply defines psychopomp as a soul guide.

The psychopomps in Les Miserables

In Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables one character emerges as a prominent psychopomp and this is the Bishop of Digne, Myriel (Hugo, 1866). This character can be considered as Jean Valjeans’s psychopomp because through his persistent faith that Jean can be good, enables Valjean to try and change his ways for the better. However depending on the case they are faced with, all characters can act as references for psychologists in helping their patients deal with the issues in their lives. Psychologists dealing with young men can refer to this soul guides in the novels to enable them in guiding the young men during periods when they seem to have lost all hope. The following characters could be useful as a reference of psychopomps to aid the young men into the underworld; Jean Valjean, M.Myriel, Fantine, Cosette, Marius and Javert (Hugo, 1866). Young men especially in the society today find themselves experiencing the underworld more than those before the post industrial era. Embodying masculinity is proving to be a challenge for many of these young men who most times feel out of touch with the male figures in their lives, most cases their fathers. However we cannot entirely place the blame on the fathers because it could be they also lacked masculine figures to look up to. Masculine here does not imply the physical aspect of the word only but also the embracement and acceptance of the term. The result is that masculinity seems to have disappeared especially after the post war generation and this gives the modern male a fragility in what the conventional images of masculinity are (Corneau, 1991). The result as described by Corneau is that males in their bid to become more masculine or what Corneau refers to as a second birth of manhood, delve into fatherhood with the hopes that by doing so they will fathers to themselves (Corneau, 1991).

Males find it difficult to establish and maintain their identity without the help of other males. The reason given for this could be because males are born by an individual whose body is different from theirs as opposed to the females (Corneau, 1991). Males therefore have to learn how to be male in order for them to accept and embrace masculinity. This is when a fathers role is needed if a son is to embrace being male. For a son to develop a positive sense of himself and what being male entails, the presence of a father is required (Corneau, 1991). Failure to this the son may end up despising his body and in the end despising all body forms. In traditional societies initiation played a role in initiating young men into manhood and this gave older men the chance to teach their sons what masculinity entails. Initiation also helped strengthen the bond between father and son. However, the modern society views initiations as rites that are not only sexist and misogynistic but also passed by time (Frankel, 1998). Young men in their bid to try and bond with their fathers and become more masculine are out seeking initiation. However the result is not always good as many of these young men have abusive fathers or have been violated in some way which makes them resent the male form and masculinity at large. In one way or the other this young men are caught up in an underworld where they are harbour resentment or are depressed. A psychologist faced with such a case should find a way in which they can enable the young man emerge from this world of self loathing, hatred for others or depression by embodying the soul guides in the novel Les Miserables and trying to find solutions to the problems of the patients.

How this soul guides can help psychologists dealing with young men

Psychotherapists can embody any of the characters that are in Les Miserables and use them to each out to the young men they are dealing with. Psychotherapists have to understand that most of these men come from very complicated backgrounds and are reaching out for help. Some of these men may be violent and in such instances psychotherapists have to embody Myriel and instead of turning the young men away, opt to give them a second chance and hear them out. As psychotherapists we may find that some of our patient’s problems resemble our own, this should not be the time to cry over the problems we experienced instead we should learn from hose experiences and try to help others. This is the same as embodying Jean Valjean who just like Cosette, had experienced a troublesome life riddled with poverty but through the help of the Bishop he made something of himself. This might be any psychotherapist’s life story whom after suffering through life has turned out working in a profession aimed at helping others. Jeans life changed after meeting the Bishop and he embarked on a mission to help others for instance Fantine and Cosette. He adopted Cosette as one of his own and tried to give her a better life. This is the character psychotherapists should embody the most especially if their life is similar to that of their patients lives.

Personal experience

As a senior in high school, I was assigned to read Les Miserables and was deeply touched by the characters in the novel. I identified with Jean Valjean, the criminal who had survived abusive treatment as a result of the negative patriarchal system that oppressed and cast him away which I think is embodied by the character Javert in Les Miserables. I was wounded as a result of an abusive father and I too was often treated as a criminal in school and in my neighbourhood. My emotional state was a mess which I think is perfectly symbolized in the character of Fantine (the wounded neglected anima of a man). My high school instructor, Mr. C (an embodiment of the priest in Les Miserables) was however very supportive of me and did not treat me as a reject. He was unconditional. Despite this I was still lost and could not find my way out of my depression and the hatred I harboured toward others. This lingered on until I underwent a spiritual initiation by a female meditation master, C H (an embodiment of Myriel the Bishop in Les Miserables). It was then that my heart opened up and I was able to change my ways and connect and pay more attention to my feelings which is what I think Cosette embodies for Jean Valjean. Throughout the novel, Marius and Cosette fall in love and get married. This to me is the expression of the inner marriage between the feminity and masculinity in a man. 

With the adolescent males that I’ve worked with in therapy, each of these archetypal figures is prominent in the therapy sessions as well as for healthy male development and individuation. Too often, working with these young men, I see how fragile their sense of male identity is and several times have experienced therapy as an initiation into a healthy patriarchal consciousness and male identity such as Jean Valjean from Les Miserables.


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