Les Mis – Act I
Translation: The Miserables
Translation: All Humans Born into this Sin-drenched World
The first time I watched Les Miserables, I was confused by the lack of a “main character.” That is, at first Jean Valjean seemed to be the primary focus, but then it switched to the Revolutionaries and the main couple (Marius and Cosette), before it finally concluded with Jean Valjean’s death and welcome into paradise. The connections escaped me.
But recently, I watched it again, and I started to have this theory that the story is really about the journey of just one person – and that the internal workings of that one person is represented by a slew of characters. It’s like a better version of “Pilgrim’s Progress,” I think, because it more accurately pictures what the Christian journey is like. France is your own heart – that’s why spiritual poverty, when it happens, is pictured in all of the supporting characters, and when paradise is reached, it is France at peace.
The journey, the story, goes from slavery to sin to salvation to final peace in heaven. It’s the path of maturity, from spiritual poverty to spiritual riches. But what does that look like? I noticed another set of variables in the story. There is a journey from less transparency (Valjean living under an alias) to more and more transparency, and to feeling haunted/hunted by the law less and less until forgiveness is all we feel. As we learn to be genuine, we internalize the concept that the law’s dominion over us has ended.
At the end of the story is the marriage of the young male character and the young female character – masculine together with feminine – while the beginning is Jean Valjean falling into sin (stealing bread) and slavery because of law without love, while Fantine falls into sin because of love without law (without covenant or commitment).
Suppose that the story is about one person, who has a masculine side and a feminine side (law and love, giving and receiving) progressing through time:
|The Dream||Slavery to Sin||The Rescue||The New Dreamers||Deaths||The Dream Fulfilled|
|(Chronological||development||forward||through||time, until finally ->||Resurrections)|
|PROVIDER||Javier||Jean Valjean||Gavroche||Javier dies with Gavroche||Marcus|
|LOVED||Lovely Ladies||Fantine||Eponine||The Lovely Ladies theme dies after Eponine dies in the revolution||Cosette|
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone.” – Jesus
The Bishop – represents Christ – The one who sacrifices to ransom Valjean from the law(police) and from the power of sin.
“The Law” – Javert – The internalization of condemnation, the law without love or grace.
The Sinner/Slave – 24601/Jean Valjean – The condemned sinner/the slave who is given grace and provision so that he can become an honest man.
Act I – A Story of Redemption
The story starts with Jean Valjean a slave because of a past crime – he wanted to protect his sister’s son from death, chose to steal, and then experienced the merciless and dehumaning force of the law against him for the next 18 years.
He finally is released, but is rejected everywhere he goes because of being an ex-con. This continues until the bishop, representing God and grace, opens his doors in love to Valjean. Valjean then trespasses against the bishop by stealing from him – and the melody of the law is introduced as the police drag him back to the bishop’s place. The bishop shows grace by sacrificing (silver) to provide for Valjean (“I have bought your soul for God”), protecting him from the law, and making it clear that the gift was for the purpose of making him into an honest man (grace never bids us to continue in sin). He introduces a melody line of grace that is picked up later in the story
Jean Valjean contemplates it very carefully. He confesses that the world has sin (“They are the guilty, every one”), and then confesses that he himself had become sinful (“What have I done? Sweet Jesus, what have I done? Become a thief in the night, Become a dog on the run”).
“The one unequivocal sin that Valjean commits in stealing the bishop’s silver is actually done out of a sense of retribution at the injustice with which he feels the world has treated him:
‘They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
When they chained me and left me for dead
Just for stealing a mouthful of bread …
Take an eye for an eye! Turn your heart into stone!
This is all I have lived for! This is all I have known!’
Valjean’s actions follow the logic of an ‘eye for an eye’ in the sense that Valjean justifies stealing the silver as retribution for the world’s cruel injustice of locking him up “for stealing a mouthful of bread.” It is retributive ‘justice’ measured from the perspective of particularity rather than universality and perversely ‘paid forward’ to an undeserving recipient.” – Morgan Guyton
Jean Valjean, though, chooses to accept grace and “escape from the world of Jean Valjean.” That is, to escape the world of the sinner under condemnation. Then he tears up the law’s handwritings against him (in the movie, he does this next to a cross).
“I’ll escape now from the world
From the world of Jean Valjean
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Another story must begin”
This part of the story is where our Christian journey begins – we are enslaved and while we beg for mercy (“Look down!!”) we think that God doesn’t care (“Sweet Jesus doesn’t care”) until we meet grace for ourselves in response to our sin. Then we choose to accept the lovingly-offered free gift of grace – provision and forgiveness. We are no longer slaves, and we also are reborn – another story must begin! Stage 1 is conversion.
We start to see some themes that will run through the whole story. First of all, physical riches in this story seem to stand for spiritual riches – in the first part here, Valjean goes from complete poverty to riches (all the silver given), which he uses to become a successful factory owner (ongoing income has been provided). Secondly, one main theme is the the dream that was killed; this segment gives us a glimpse of what Valjean’s dream had been – being a provider – yet we also see why that dream had to die eventually – he provided by stealing.
The issue of transparency comes into existence at this point in the story – a rift is created between the old Valjean (the slave to sin) and the new Valjean (servant of God). Full forgiveness from the law is received when grace protects Valjean from the police, and the parole documents are ripped up and thrown away. Similarly, the bishop (representing Christ) sacrifices to ransom Valjean from the law(police) and from the power of sin.
The main question of this stage is this: Does God hear my prayer / does he care? The cry of the heart is “Look down!” (Show mercy)! Now, mercy is given, and grace is shown, and Act I draws to a close as the decision is made: To accept grace when it is shown.
Act II: CLICK HERE to read