Les Mis – Acts II and III
The Sinner – Fantine – She is the female version of the main character – her and Jean Valjean are two sides of the same person. Valjean represents action and providing, and his fall was when he went outside of God’s will (stealing) to provide. Fantine represents trust and enjoyment, and her fall was when she trusted and enjoyed a man outside of God’s will (marriage).
The Future – Cosette – Fantine’s future self.
Acts II & III – The Mask & The Sinner
The reason that I combine act II and act III here is that they take place simultaneously. Yet, act II ends with Jean Valjean taking off the mask and declaring his identity, and act III ends slightly after, after Jean Valjean leaves Javert after the confrontation in the hospital.
At the end of the day you’re another day older
And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor
It’s a struggle, it’s a war
And there’s nothing that anyone’s giving
One more day standing about, what is it for?
One day less to be living.
The song, “At the end of the day,” raises questions: How come the end happens near the beginning? And why does the end of the day look so much like miserable poverty? Why are those who are “counting their blessings” also the most harsh, lying, and graceless characters?
Notes on Act II, the Mask:
The main male character has physical riches but these riches are going to waste and are not be used to provide (the dream). He has spiritual riches and grace, but it’s not being shown to anyone. Under his watch, his other half (the main female character) is thrown into the street to starve – no riches. Her dream is also being killed. A serious separation is still happening here – between the provider and those under his jurisdiction (which, as you recall, represents his soul). So, yes, riches are there, but no, he is not benefited from them yet. Why?
The basic problem is that there is a definite lack of transparency. Jean Valjean (the redeemed) lives under the name Madeleine instead, so that the law will not recognize him as Jean Valjean the sinner – he has not yet experienced forgiveness from the law even though God has forgiven him previously. As he talks about how the factory is supposed to be one of “good repute,” he gets distracted by seeing Javert (the law) and then leaves the situation in the hand of the foreman – it is because of his maskiness (concern with alias and repute, avoiding transparency and honesty) that she gets mistreated by HIS jurisdiction.
The whole factory there was a place where sin (the foreman) reigned, and the women did one thing (sleeping with him) while verbally judging and condemning Fantine for sleeping with a man outside of marriage. A very hypocritical (masky) place. Why did the women try to get Fantine fired? In their words, “there’s trouble for all when there’s trouble for one;” this is very reminiscent of the attitude of the pharisees when they chose to crucify Christ because “the death of one man is preferable to the death of the nation.” The bottom line is this: maskiness breeds Pharisaical attitude, and as long as we live in that attitude, we will be avoiding guilt/blame/law by sending the dogs to attack someone else instead. Fantine is left paying a constant ransom to the Inn keepers, when it is killing her.
For this part of the story, Valjean’s main question is “How do I maintain repute and keep Condemnation away from me? The cry of his heart is to be hidden from condemnation. Yet, after another man is condemned instead of him in the court of law he faces the problem eye-to-eye: Will he consent to avoid guilt/blame/law by allowing the dogs to attack someone else instead? He realized that a lack of mercy is the same as a lack of love, and without love, we are without God – “If I stay silent, I am damned.” So at the end of this stage, the closing decision is to finally be transparent and real about who he is and what his past holds.
Act II is the stage when we try to be a better person by pretending that we are not a sinner – wearing a mask. The end of the stage is when we embrace love of others by embracing transparency for ourselves.
Notes on Act III, the Sinner:
After Jean Valjean owns up to his own identity as a sinner, he is freed up to see and to have compassion on Fantine. The story started with Valjean already a slave to sin. This part of the story gives a little more backstory on how we come to be sinners. We have a dream – we pursue that dream in ignorance and outside of the will of God – and then our dream gets squashed beyond all recognition and our hopes are turned to shame. Fantine predicts the death of her character by explaining that “there are storms we cannot weather.” Once sin enters our life, it is “the hell we’re living in” until the old man dies. With Valjean, we can also see the theme that the world takes advantage of us, and then his sin was in lashing out in response. With Fantine, we can see that she wanted to marry the man and be forever by his side, but he sinned by betraying her truth and abandoning her to misery and death, and then she sins by selling her soul in continuation of that pattern (sleeping with men who then leave) to pay off the random of sin.
So, the scene goes down like this: After being discovered and kicked out, Fantine has nothing but transparency. After someone tried to mistreat her, though, she faces condemnation (Javert) directly, but Valjean steps in to show grace instead – mercy and practical help (takes her to hospital). She experiences forgiveness from the law through receiving grace from Valjean. Her dream had been for a man to never leave her side, and that dream lives on in Cosette as Valjean (having transparency now that he admitted aloud that he is 24601) promises to take care of the girl and to pay whatever ransom must be paid to take her back from the Inn keepers. His physical richeswill now be used to provide, and she now has a man she can trust.
Characters who come to Rest In Peace:
The Sinner – Fantine
Why does Fantine die? Well, sin is a seed that grows into death. Just as Valjean will die later, so Fantine finds peace (sleep/death until the later resurrection) now. They are both “the old man” that dies after salvation, while the reborn selves will live on. Cosette is the future self of Fantine, and Fantine finally finds rest when she knows that her baby will be taken care of. While it is true that in Fantine, life has killed the dream in her, the dream she dreamed, it is equally true that the dream is reborn in Cosette and will live on!
The main question of this stage is: “How did this tragedy happen?” And the answer of course is the dream, the dream pursued apart from God, the dream being killed, and finally Fantine needing to die off to make way for a future reborn self to take the stage. “If there’s a God above, He’d let me die instead!” The cry of her heart is for grace, forgiveness, and provision – even deeper than that, she mourns the death of the dream, and wishes that the dream would not be dead forever. The final decision that ends this stage is her decision to trust Valjean + Valjean’s decision to care for Cosette (even though it means rebelling against condemnation (Javert) directly.
I am warning you Javert
I’m a stronger man by far
There is power in me yet
My race is not yet run
Act III is the stage when we learn how we became sinners, and have compassion/desire to help instead of condemnation. This is the part of our lives where we start using our spiritual riches to provide for others (and to provide for ourselves, and our future selves). Transparency allows for connection, relationship, and giving/receiving. Act III is when our heart’s sad song about our own broken dreams finds peace and rest in the hope of future dreams – ones that will not be killed.
CLICK HERE to continue to Act IV