Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The first and most dominant theme [of Les Miserables]is that of redemption. The word “redeem” means “to buy back,” and much of the plot turns on this issue of “buying.” The most notable passage in this regard is the one, early in the novel, where Jean Valjean, the paroled convict, robs the saintly bishop of Digne and is brought back to him under arrest in order to confess to the crime and make restitution. Instead, the bishop gives Valjean the stolen silverware and, in addition, the two candlesticks which he had not stolen.

Then turning to the gendarmes, [the bishop] said, “Messieurs, you may go.” The gendarmes left.

Jean Valjean felt like a man about to faint.

The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, “Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.”

Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued, solemnly, “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”
--Addison Hart

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