Quality Work Essay
Jean Valjean’s Moral Development
In the novel Les Miserables, the author Victor Hugo takes us on a journey of moral development through the character Jean Valjean. Hugo starts Jean Valjean out very low and he builds him up to the point of saint hood. This journey through morals and life are based upon four stages—criminal, a rising conscience, empathy and selflessness, and sacrifice for the greater good; leading to sainthood and perfection.
Knowing that in order to grow morally in life, you have to start somewhere; Jean Valjean starts out as criminal. Being a galley slave for 19 years, Jean Valjean developed no feeling for others and became careless. Valjean shows this when he steals the candlesticks from the bishop who had just welcomed him into his home. Hugo shows contrast between Valjean and the Bishop Myriel when the bishop gives Valjean the silver that he had stolen. This is where the bishop starts Jean Valjean’s development by buying his soul, “withdrawing it from dark thoughts”, and “giving it to God” (63). After the bishop started Jean’s journey, Jean runs into his first encounter of having to choose between living like his past or taking on his new life, when he runs into Petit Gervais. His choice that he made to steal the coin from Petit Gervais shows that he was still criminal. Although Jean Valjean took over his criminal ways once again, “the hell from which [he] ha[d] come out from, [was] the first step towards heaven’ (131).
After Jean Valjean shows his criminal habits, he starts to grow morally and his conscience begins to accumulat. When Jean Valjean stole the coin from Petit Gervais, his conscience got the best of him. He began to realize that what he did was more than wrong while “an invisible power overwhelmed him at a blow”, which was evidently the “weight of his bad conscience” (67). Once Jean Valjean’s morals began torise, they did not stop. It was only months before he had risen from a...