Muddling Along With Les Miserables

Queen’s Theatre, February 14th 2018

We live in strange times as far as morality is concerned. People in America were willing to ignore all kinds of sleazy behaviour when they elected their president. On the other hand there is a definite hardening of lines with regard to behaviour generally.

After seeing Les Miserables recently, I was reminded how this spectacularly successful musical also portrays a world of conflicting moral extremes. There are appalling characters such as inn keeper Thénardier, who cheats his customers and gropes his staff. On the other hand there is Inspector Javert whose determination to follow the letter of the law, results in just as much misery and injustice as the behaviour of Thénardier. One side of the moral equation is a reflection of the other. The bulk of the story then focuses on people who try to get along in the grey area between extremes. Jean Valjean, the central character, spends nineteen years in forced labour – punishment for stealing a loaf of bread in a time of desperate poverty. On release he breaks his parole and goes on the run, eventually getting his life together and becoming a respected town mayor. As mayor he meets a character similar to himself, a young woman named Fantine, forced into prostitution in an effort to support her daughter. Like Valjean, this young woman is technically a criminal, even though we see the virtue of her struggle.

Inevitably, a group of students and radicals stage a rebellion against their unjust society. The rebels are sworn enemies of the government. However, the revolutionary views of rebel leader Enjolras mirror that of Inspector Javert – in the sense that they both hold to their principles regardless of circumstance. And while rebels and government inspectors are similar in their extremism, as usual we have ordinary people in between. Valjean joins the rebels on their makeshift barricade, raising initial suspicion, since he is an establishment figure as far as the youngsters are concerned. A student named Marius, is also in a somewhat ambiguous position. He has just fallen in love, a complication which the cause of revolution has no time for.

Following a government attack on the barricade, Valjean manages to carry an injured Marius to safety. Valjean lives long enough to see the young man he saved married to Cosette, the daughter for whom Fantine sacrificed everything.

At the end of the play there seems to be a place in heaven for everyone, which sort of makes sense in light of the suggestion that virtue and villainy are closer to each other than we might think. However, there is a special place in heaven not for the saints, but for ordinary people, neither saintly nor sinful, who have done their best. Maybe that is one of the reasons Les Miserables has been so successful. Les Miserables presents humanity’s extremes, only to celebrate the majority of people who muddle along in the middle.

5 thoughts on “Muddling Along With Les Miserables

  1. Les Mis represents the very worst and very best and those in between of humanity. The characters are so intertwined that they directly and indirectly impact each others live. This tragic but beautiful story has this wonderful underlying spirituality. The songs are so brilliant and fit perfectly with the characters and plot. There are many reasons why I love Les Mis but even that is hard to put into words.

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    1. Hello, Meg. Thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I agree, the characters of Les Mis run the gambit of good and bad, and combine these qualities in fascinating ways. I think Javert singing Stars was a high point. I felt sorry for him. He was trying to do his job to the best of his ability, but the world was too muddled for his systematic, conscientious approach. All in all, I found Les Mis a moving and complex look into human foibles. Best wishes

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      1. I saw Les Mis five times.

        3x at community college- I was an usher and saw it two times as an usher and once with family. 2013

        1x at the Queen’s Theatre- it was my dream to see it in London so glad that came true. 2015

        1x on tour- I saw it in Greenville.

        So in total see it 5x and still want to continue seeing it live

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      2. My visit to London was very short: only 4 and 1/2 days. Most of my England trip was in Bristol.

        The Choir at my church was invited to be in residence at Bristol Cathedral so a pilgrimage was planned out, which would start at Windsor Castle. So because the first 2 and 1/2 days of this pilgrimage was London-based, my family was able to go up early to experience more and that was when I saw Les Mis at the Queen’s Theatre. Our seats were in the orchestra, which were nine rows back and this production exceeded expectations.

        At this production, I ended up with an understudy as Jean Valjean. Coincidentally when I saw the show on tour last November I had an understudy, but this time for Eponine. So each time I have seen Les Mis with a professional company, I ended up with an understudy.

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