Nov. 25th, 2012

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Circumstances compel me to note a few things about Les Miserables and what bothers me about it. Saltedpin and I had a conversation before where she pointed out that Jean Valjean and Javert are actually supposed to be morally complicated characters -- and they are, just not in the way I think Hugo intended.

Here is what annoys me about Jean Valjean. He gets out of prison and immediately recreates a similar environment for his workers (Saltedpin actually did I get this idea from you?). He pays them relatively well, but imposes overinvolved morality codes on their private lives, creating the workplace atmosphere that ends in Fantine getting fired for having a child out of wedlock. While he surely ends up very sorry for this tragic event, Fantine's situation inspires no reflection whatsoever on whether or not he should change things at the factory. What he gets from the situation is this: his moral standards are fine, but sometimes there are special people and they warrant special treatment.

Fantine dies and leaves Jean Valjean to take care of her daughter, Cosette. This time Jean Valjean creates the most prisonesque environment of all, controlling every aspect of her life. He enrolls her in a nunnery and limits her access to the outside world to supervised soup kitchen volunteering. He keeps her from her own past, as well as his. I don't know. The soup kitchen thing too seems so emblematic of his approach to social problems. He will feed people once they become poor, but these encounters with poverty don't leave him wondering about social change, even in the politically-charged atmosphere of a brewing revolution.

One scene really stands out to me, when Javert thinks that he has falsely denounced Valjean as a convict (in reality, he was correct). Javert asks for dismissal, and explains to Valjean that he expects upright behaviour from all police officers, himself no exception. Since he acted out of pettiness, he must be discharged. Valjean tells him he should go easy on himself, and this shocks Javert, who tries to explain that you just can't make an exception for someone because you personally have a good feeling for them: "if I were not severe towards myself, all the justice that I have done would become injustice." This is maybe my favourite line in the whole book, but it goes over Valjean's head -- he really does not see that selective pity (available only to those who catch the eye of power) makes those arrests which did go through arbitrary and unfair.

Dear God, I started this post full of self-righteousness and have no steam left to edit it to non-shitty, well-supported English, or to bring it to any sort of point. I have this whole other thing where Eponine and Javert are basically the same people who made the opposite decision at a critical moment in life...

Never mind, I'm tired and confused.

I also dreamt that I was chasing after my sister trying to tell her that cheetahs were going extinct, but she dismissed this as a "middle-class concern."

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this hill is far enough

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