Monday, February 2, 2009

"Les Miserables" - Why Gavroche Is My Favorite Character and What Grantaire Believes In (Warning: Spoiler)

I have not actually finished reading Les Miserables, but after my favorite character died I took a long break. I have read 822 pages of the 981 pages in the book and so I guess you could say I am making progress :) (If you haven't read Les Miserables, let me just warn you: I am not going to summarize the storyline for you in this post, or explain anything, because the story is way too long and too complicated)

I actually surprised myself when I decided that Gavroche was my favorite character. For one, I have no idea how to pronounce his name, and then, of course, in the long run, he barely even enters into the story:) There are a lot of reasons why I like him. To be honest, the first reason is probably just because I like street-kids. Gavroche seems to be Victor Hugo's "average" street-kid. Even though Les Miserables is a rough book, Hugo is a gentle author and he wants very badly to redeem certain undesirable people-groups. Of course, the average street-kid isn't like Gavroche, but it makes a good story.

Gavroche is a rough little boy with a good heart. He hangs out with the worst and most despicable criminals but doesn't lose his "character" if you could even call it that. (The author apparently holds to the belief that humans are born with good hearts and that children are innocent. And, of course, that is not true- but it makes a good story.) Despite having a good heart, Gavroche is wild, rebellious, and disrespectful. But perhaps Hugo wanted us to wonder, "Does he owe the world anything? What has anyone ever done for him?" And if that is so, it is something to think about.

The thing that made me love Gavroche the most, though, was the scene in volume two, when he takes charge of two lost little boys he finds abandoned in the street. He never finds out that they are his little brothers. He did it just because. Just because. This is a boy who has probably never in his life heard anything but threats and hard words and never felt anything but the cold and hard hands. But he knew. In this pathetic situation, he knew right from wrong like light from dark. You can't take that away from people. You can't delete the knowledge of good and evil.

Another thing about the book that really caught my attention was Grantaire's relationship with Enjolras. Grantaire and Enjolras are both members of the group, "Friends of The ABC." Enjolras is the leader, a visionary, an absolute champion, the perfect symbol of chastity, purity, honesty and perfection. But he is cold. He abhors impurity and apparently has no concept of love. Grantaire is a decided agnostic (if that's possible:). His only interests are alcohol and girls. Enjolras greatly dislikes Grantaire, and this, again, is such beautiful writing, I think. The author has created a "perfect" character (Enjolras) but he "has not love," and so he is nothing.

At one point in the story, Enjolras is appointing different people to act as spokesmen for the group - to rouse the young men of Paris and invite them to join in the rebellion against tyranny. He runs out of volunteers and is looking around for someone else when,

' "I," said Grantaire, "am here."


"You to indoctrinate republicans! You, to warm up, in the name of principles, hearts that have gone cold!"

Why not?"
"Is it possible that you can be good for anything?"

"Yes. I have a vague ambition for it," said Grantaire.

"You don't believe in anything."

"I believe in you."

That line blew me away. "I believe in you." Because he knew. He knew right from wrong like light from dark. Of course he knew! From the middle of his empty, dark, destructive lifestyle, he caught a glimpse of light, and knew it was good. If Enjolras perhaps had known the least thing about love, he might have saved Grantaire, but there is such a thing as empty morality. I don't know how far it goes and, naturally, these are fictional characters so it's pretty irrelevant to them, but the way Victor Hugo delves into these things and creates these fantastic, thought-provoking situations just gets me excited :) The way Enjolras and Grantaire die together was just an extension of an already fascinating and intricate relationship.

To conclude, Victor Hugo seems to have caught a glimpse of part of the big picture. I'm afraid he missed most of it, and that's what makes Les Miserables such a sad book. However, one of the things Hugo captured VERY well is the concept of radical love. It's all throughout the book, from the bishop at the very beginning of the story to the street-kid Gavroche, to the convict JeanValjean. In a nutshell, this book is well worth the time it takes to read it. It's thought-provoking, educational, well-written and full of surprises.

Seize The Day!


Lucie said...

What a great post! It really is great to find instances that reflect that people do have an inherent knowledge of right and wrong!

I began Les Miserables....but got no farther than *the first chapter*. I guess that I should practice my own preaching and get past that to get to the good parts. :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks again, StrongJoy! That was a very good post... I'm so glad you're back up on the blog again. That was really a thought provoking quote... and it sounds like reading the whole book would be an interesting experience, to say the least.


Anonymous said...

Hello! Let me introduce myself, StrongJoy. I found your blog through Everly's and find your blog title very unique (I like it.)

Re: This post. I have read the book (Les Miserables)myself. I drank it; it was so real, thought provoking, and beautiful. You are right though; Hugo introduced and portrayed so feelingly much of real truth and Love, but he didn't quite sum it all up in the end. But I guess that's what makes the work itself, right?

My personally most-moving character was Jean Valjean himself. He (and Les Miserables) reminded me of Anna Karenia, by Tolstoy.

So keep reading it; you'll enjoy it thoroughly.