Les Miserables

Les Miserables

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Themes and Colors
Love and Redemption Theme Icon
Mercy vs. Judgment Theme Icon
Justice and Injustice Theme Icon
History, Revolution, and Progress Theme Icon
Mystery and Knowledge in Paris Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Les Miserables, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean is transformed from a hardened criminal into a paragon of virtue. He ultimately sacrifices himself so that his adopted daughter Cosette might attain happiness with Marius, even as it devastates Valjean to “lose” her to the man she loves. In many ways, Jean Valjean is redeemed by his acts, which constitute penance for the wrongs he committed earlier in life. While generated and accelerated by love, redemption—according to the…

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The characters in the novel live in a world of consistently harsh judgment. Convicts and the poor are considered to be the dregs of society, while the rich, in turn, are assumed to be greedy and worth only as much as they can be tricked out of giving away. Women, especially, are subjected to difficult standards, placed on a pedestal of purity but easily and hastily condemned for diverging from this norm, while men who…

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Multiple systems of justice and injustice coexist in the novel. The characters—as well as the morally conscious narrator—must negotiate among all of them in attempting to assign responsibility to certain characters, and in determining how the ethical choices of each one of them compares to the others. No one system of justice triumphs for good in the novel. This is a somewhat radical move for Hugo, who, while embracing a Christian worldview, is less interested…

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Les Misérables is saturated with French history, and a reader not already knowledgeable about the historical figures of Charles X or Louis-Philippe, for example, can easily get lost in all the detail. But this kind of detail plays a larger purpose in the novel. It is telling that Hugo sets his book in the context of a relatively minor revolt, the riots of July 1832, rather than the massive revolutions of 1789 or 1848. Hugo…

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The novel is full of masks, costumes, mistaken identity, and concealment. Much of this mystery takes place in and is enabled by the winding streets of Paris, a city where characters can find anonymity and escape their pasts. Paris in the period of Les Misérables was not the city of wide-open boulevards that tourists know today. Before the 1850s, it was a largely medieval city of unknown alleys, an old, dank sewer system, and ancient…

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