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Jean Valjean | Les Misérables | Character Analysis

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1476 words Published: 17th May 2017

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The character I have chosen for study from Bille August’s film, Les Misérables, is Jean Valjean. As the main protagonist of the story, Valjean starts out as an ex-convict who went to prison for stealing bread, but after an encounter with a kind bishop, he makes important changes in his life. Jean Valjean went through many psychological changes throughout the movie Les Misérables which molded him into a better person because of the mercy that was extended to him by the Bishop of Digne at a time when Valjean was least deserving of it; from that point on, he became a morally upright citizen who showed compassion and mercy on others.

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Throughout the movie, Les Misérables, Jean Valjean goes through many distinct life-changing phases that permit him to grow from a loathsome of a man to a honorable man. Jean Valjean’s first psychological alteration took place during his nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He went in as a wholesome and straightforward man, but came out of jail showing hatred and scorn to society. While in prison, Valjean endured abuse and, in turn, dedicated himself to defeating related mistreatment in society. Because of cruelty shown to him there, Valjean discovered a new level of physical strength and, more-so, a new emotional concentration through his newly found cause of social justice. Whether Valjean knew it or not, he was about to undergo another big psychological transformation that would change his life forever.

The Bishop of Digne played a huge role in the psychological change of Jean Valjean, even though he was only in the film for the first couple minutes of the movie. Right off the bat, the humble bishop shows Jean something that he hasn’t experienced in a couple decades; the power of love and respect. When the bishop saved him from the authorities after escaping from prison, Valjean came to deeply respect his great kindness and assistance…so we thought. While the bishop and his wife are sleeping, Valjean, still stuck in his ruthless ways, starts stealing all of their silver utensils. At this point all I could think was, “how could he do this to such a nice family who gave him a place to stay?” But it gets crazier. The bishop hears the ruckus going on, so he goes to check it out only to find Jean Valjean stealing from him. Valjean ends up punching the bishop in the face, knocking him on the ground, unable to move as Valjean escapes. The next day, the police force caught Valjean with all the silver he had stolen, and brought him back to the bishop’s house; this was the turning point in Valjean.

The bishop shows an act of mercy on Valjean by telling the authorities that Jean didn’t steal any of that stuff, but he just simply gave it to him. This catches Valjean totally off guard; he doesn’t understand why the bishop would do this, so he questions him on why he saved him. The bishop responds by telling him something that would change his future forever: “And don’t forget–don’t ever forget, you’ve promised to become a new man. You no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I’ve bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred. And now I give you back to God”. It was then when Valjean finally saw the brute, vile of a man he was, and the honorable, self-giving man he could become if he puts the bishops moral fiber into action.

As nine years elapsed, Valjean was compelled towards a life of integrity, and consequently, he became a respected leader and prosperous businessman. After the city of Vigau bankrupted five years prior, Valjean decided to buy and refurbish the city’s brick factory. At the time of the purchase, Valjean had been named mayor of the city. Obviously Valjean wanted to make something of himself, and also wanted to help others make something of their own lives by buying, running, and offering jobs at the factory to the people of the town. This is the first, of many, psychological changes we see in Valjean since the promise he made with the bishop.

Additional evidence that further supports his transformation comes in the subsequent scene where Javert and Captain Beauvais are walking through Valjean’s factory. Javert asks the question, “The men and women work separately?” Captain Beauvais answers, “Yes. Monsieur le maire redesigned the factory in order to keep the sexes apart. He cares about honest working women and wants to protect their virtue.” Valjean had a high regard for women workers despite the fact that many men did not value woman as important parts in society. He says, “I don’t want our ladies to be exposed to corruption.” This is another moral transformation that Valjean has gone through.

There have been a plethora of characteristics that Valjean has adopted over the years. Another trait he embraces is compassion. Fantine, a worker in his factory who had to turn to prostitution to support her daughter after being fired without Valjean’s consent, was treated dissipatedly by men of the city and subsequently unjustly accused by Javert as he sentenced Fantine to six months in prison. When Valjean heard about this, he took time out of his night to make his way down to the police station to take care of the situation and set things straight. Not only does Jean set her free from jail, but he takes her into his home, just as the bishop had done for him, to care for her while she was very sick. He also paid to get Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, to be sent up to stay with him and Fantine. But before Fantine gets to see her daughter, she passes away from sickness. Valjean shows a further act of compassion by adopting Cosette and caring for her in place of her mother. These were just a few actions which demonstrated Valjean’s newfound mannerism of compassion, and yet another psychological alteration in Jean.

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And yet Jean Valjean was still ready for more change. One day Valjean learned that a man named Jean Valjean had been found guilty of a crime. He knew that this couldn’t be true because his name was Jean Valjean. After wrestling with his conscience, he decided to attend the court case where he revealed that he was the real Jean Valjean, thus releasing the indicted. Valjean says to the judge, “I am the man you want. I am Jean Valjean. I wish I could keep my mouth shut and let this poor wretch suffer for me, but continue with the investigation monsieur. You will find further proof that I am Valjean.” This was a huge decision that he made, since the authorities learn that he is an escape convict; forcing Valjean to, once again, to be an absconder from the law. This means that he would have to relinquish all the things that he had accomplished in his professional life, but by acceding to a standard of psychological integrity, by doing what is right and true, Valjean made one of the most affecting psychological changes in his life.

Sacrifice, what is it? According Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary sacrifice is defined as, “The surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” The ultimate sacrifice is shown towards the end of the movie which shows Valjean’s true character. After several years of running from Javert and the law, Valjean find himself in an intriguing situation. Valjean has Javert, who has been trying to end his life ever since he was in jail, with his hands tied, a gun to his head, and a chance for him to finally end his life. What does he do? He simply lets him go. Valjean spares Javert’s life for some very straightforward, but touching reasons. Valjean is nothing like Javert. He does not embrace the same abhorrence or the desire to win like Javert does. Jeans simply “wants to live in peace.” This audacious decision by Valjean exemplifies how far Jean has come since the beginning of the film. Just as the bishop showed mercy on Valjean, he also demonstrated that same act of mercy on Javert; even when he least deserved it.

Even today, people’s perspectives on life are changed for the better when they’ve been shown acts of love, compassion, and mercy. This is depicted in Les Misérables as Jean Valjean goes through many psychological changes which shape him into, literally, a totally different person for the good. He was extended mercy when he least deserved it, and in-turn, became a morally upright citizen who showed compassion and mercy on others. I hope that through this paper you’ve been inspired to overcome obstacles and hard times in your own lives and are able to use your difficulties to mold you into a better person.


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