Character Evaluations

Any discussion related to Victor's Hugo's Les Misérables, in any language.
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WhoIam
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Character Evaluations

Postby WhoIam » Sun Jun 23, 2013 6:55 pm

Basically this thread is made for people to evaluate Hugo's characterizations of different characters. And I thought this up because I believe that Hugo wrote Javert as the theme personification of the French judicial system at the time.

Hugo characterized Javert as having a "powerful foundation of rectitude, order, and honesty;" that is, he was based on the ideas of correction and truth. Additionally, he is very absolutist, seeing only right versus wrong and nothing past that. This, in my opinion, seems very similar to the correctional facilities of the time. They operated on the assumption that a man's morals are set in stone, and that people required a punishment, not reformation, to fix their illegal behavior. Rather than looking to the source of the problem, the prisons tried to correct the criminal habits by targeting the behavior itself - a temporary solution. Additionally, the judicial system did not take into account the outside circumstances of a crime, such as the perpetrator's financial situation, when they sentenced a criminal. This narrow black and white view was what Hugo was defining in the character of Javert.

Javert was literally born of crime; his father a convict, his mother in prison as well. Similarly, there can be no prison if there is no crime to punish. Javert believes that wrongs that have been done must be punished, as shown when he asks M. Madeleine for his dismissal, claiming that since wrong has been done, a punishment must be doled out, rather than seeking to confront his suspicions. Nor did Javert believe that a man can reform; he doesn't accept that Valjean is a changed man and assumes the worst of him. In arresting Fantine, he assumes that because she attacked a citizen, she must be punished, and does not release her upon hearing she was provoked, because she still acted on that provocation.

Therefore, I believe Hugo was actually using Javert as a caricature, if not an accurate representation, of the judicial system of the time.

What do you guys think? And what are your analyses of different characters?
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Acaila
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby Acaila » Sun Jun 23, 2013 7:07 pm

I think Javert definitely was a symbolic criticism of attitudes to crime and justice.
I don't know enough to say how specific a criticism he is, but it's always seemed to me like part of Hugo's message is that justice must be tempered with compassion and understanding, and that crime is not an issue of absolutes. I think the connection with the rest of the novel shows that, when thousands are oppressed by economic slavery, handing out unfair punishments rather than fixing the underlying problems is the wrong approach.
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby Gervais » Sun Jun 23, 2013 8:32 pm

It's been brought up by people who know more than I do that Javert is called Inspector, yes, but at some point has almost every job related to the police, not just an inspector. So I agree that he's a symbol of the judicial system and the law, who happens to have a good, if dry, sense of humor (because people seem to forget he has it sometimes; felt it could use some attention.).


And since I've already gone off on him before but still need to look at him a bit more for writing purposes, have some somewhat coherant thoughts on Valjean:

I noticed, during today's part of the read-through especially*, that Hugo makes a point that Valjean is a man. A common, not so special, man. Granted that the read-through is still on his Parole stage and hasn't gotten to his transformation yet, but it's still clear later on that he isn't a saint. The Bishop, he could be a saint. But not Valjean. No matter how much he tries to change, and does change, he can't do it alone; and even if he becomes Madeleine or Leblanc or Fauchelvaunt or whatever, he is still Jean Valjean, the common man, under all of that.

Does he learn to love God? Yes, but only with the help of the Bishop. Even once he loves God, it takes a good while before he learns to really love another person, and only learns that because of Cosette. He still has to make decisions, he hides even with a false name and face. He's on the run, always.

Valjean has his soft spots, though. He's extremely strong physically, and emotionally too I'd say, but losing the cause, source, and recipient of his love breaks him. Slowly, yes, but it does. His hamartia is his love for Cosette; once he loses that, it's only a matter of time.

So yeah, people talk about him being the everyman of the story all of the time.I mean, with a name like Jean Valjean, he kind of has to be. The thing is, though, is that he is Everyman, but on steroids. His decisions tend to be for the Really Big Things, like letting a man be imprisoned versus leaving his workers to suffer. Even his strength is almost steroid-worthy; the man could probably push a cannon around the street with one hand and load it with the other if he wanted. Okay, a short cannon so that he can reach to put the ball in, but still. Solid metal. On rusty wheels. So I guess you could say that, while he is Everyman, he's also, in a weird way, Superman (I promise that made more sense in my head and didn't sound near as cracky), and while he is supposed to be average, he is really remarkable.

*If you're not in the read-through, please feel free to join. It needs more love too, just like Javert's humor.
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby singingstar1216 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 4:12 am

I know that the characters Valjean and Javert were both inspired by the same person. I don't know how to spell the name of the person, but my best guess would be "Vudoque." Anyway, Vudoque was a man who went to prison for several years, but then later became a police inspector. Hugo basically split the personality in half to create Valjean and Javert.
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby WhoIam » Sun Sep 08, 2013 5:25 am

*Vidocq? :D
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby singingstar1216 » Sun Sep 08, 2013 5:34 am

Yes, thank you! I was on google trying to figure out how to spell it. I was obviously way off. XD
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Acaila
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby Acaila » Sun Sep 08, 2013 2:34 pm

Vidocq also founded the Sûreté, the plainclothes state police. And they were involved in trying to put down a certain revolt in June 1832!
http://www.janeausten.co.uk/eugene-fran ... spiration/

I've wondered actually, since the Sûreté made use of those with a criminal record in their work, and Le Cabuc was found with a police card on his body, if he was not perhaps intended as one of Vidocq's agents.
Revolution: like Christmas come early only with more death
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Re: Character Evaluations

Postby deHavilland » Sun Sep 08, 2013 5:04 pm

Acaila wrote:Vidocq also founded the Sûreté, the plainclothes state police. And they were involved in trying to put down a certain revolt in June 1832!
http://www.janeausten.co.uk/eugene-fran ... spiration/


However, for an interesting story of what exactly they did in 1832, which may or may not have involved building a fake barricade and luring deserters/escapees from the the real barricades to fight on it - lol, them's dirty tricks - check out Graham Robb's book, Parisians.
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