Monday, April 11, 2011

Enjolras and Valjean are Kinda Jackasses

Whooo! Hello again, blogosphere, I survived the weekend. Among the many highlights of my Friday and Saturday was an epic production of Les Miserables in Cleveland's Playhouse Square theater. For a lot of the show, I was scribbling down random notes on paper I happened to have, and here's a couple things I came up with during the course of the show.

-I've always been fascinated by Enjolras. I've always been fascinated by characters that are one-dimensional just in general. I suppose that's because they're so patently unrealistic, but when you try to imagine meeting them in real life, it makes you wonder: what the hell happened in Enjolras's past that he so detests the regime? What exactly is it that drives him? We don't know, and that makes him kind of fascinating.

-Be that as it may, Enjolras is a jackass. So, to an extent, is Jean Valjean, and so is Javert. All of them seem to be engaged in a discussion of abstract moral ideals, and all of them seem forget about the people they're supposed to be fighting for or protecting. It's easy to see with Javert; he's committed to upholding the law, but not to protecting the people the law is meant to serve. But in the production I saw, Valjean is guilty of this as well. When a broken Fantine reveals her story after being beaten by Javert, instead of comforting her, Valjean's reaction is that he screwed up again. By ejecting Fantine from his factory, Valjean ruined her life, and he defaults to the thought "I have a duty to make up for this sin". He sort of forgets that Cosette is a person who needs rescuing, instead of just an animate way for him to redeem himself.

Meanwhile, Enjolras funnels everything that happens in the play into the revolution. When Lamarque's death is announced, there's no mourning or tears, for his death doesn't affect the upper-class revolutionaries. "Lamarque is dead/His death is the hour of fate", announces Enjolras, and the ABC Café boils. Eponine is even worse; shot by a police sniper, she was on a mission from Marius that had nothing to do with the revolution, but Enjolras turns her name into a battle cry. They never spoke while she was alive, but after her death, now she's important.

There's a rather obvious disconnect between the revolutionaries and the poor people that they claim to represent, and Enjolras is right in the middle of it. Marius speaks more truth than he knows when he says "Only one man, and that's Lamarque/Speaks for the people here below". The revolutionaries, privileged college students who have never known poverty, certainly don't speak for the poor. Instead of backing reforms, aid for the ill and sick, soup kitchens and the like, the denizens of the ABC Café turn to revolution and ultimately end up helping no one. There was a striking scene in this production during "Look Down", where several of the beggars gather around Enjolras. They're on their knees, looking up at him and waiting for some hope, and he's blathering on about "anger in the land" and "cut[ting] the fat ones down to size". You look at the beggars and it's perfectly obvious; they couldn't care less about his message, they want to eat!

It's telling that "Look Down" begins with the beggars' cry for someone to notice them--"Look down and see the beggars at your feet... Look down, look down, upon your fellow man", but ends the exact same way, even after the students have shown up and been duly appalled at the injustice. It just goes to show how little impact the students actually had on the 'squalid streets of Paris'. Taken in this context, it's hardly surprising that Enjolras's hoped-for revolution never came. The people never arose; the authorities were correct ("No one is coming to help you to fight/You're on your own"). Disconnected from the people they claimed to be fighting for, the students died alone on the barricade. Enjolras cries "Do you hear the people sing/Singing the song of angry men?", but the only people singing are the revolutionaries. "Finale" is where the true desire of the downtrodden-hope, and freedom, and spiritual salvation-finally comes through.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree about with you about Javert and Jean Valjean; however, Enjolras is a point of contention.

Enjolras understands the needs of the people better than the people understand their needs themselves. Charity, like the money that Jean Valjean gives to the poor, does little good. It will solve one problem for one family, maybe, but there are thousands more starving children. Until the people are well represented and have a government that truly looks out for their interests, nothing is going to change. The children that are fed one day will simply be hungry again tomorrow.
The novel, of course, expresses this better than the musical. In fact, in the novel, it shows how many of them lived in poverty--Courfeyrac and Marius share a squalid little flat.

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