Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Jean Valjean is the Most Dumbfoundingly Lucky Character Ever (Also, 100th Post! Hooray!)

Hey! So, happy 100th post, all ye viewers! According to the Stats button on my page, people have looked at my disconcertingly incoherent ramblings just over 5,700 times since this thing went up, and for that I can only (humbly) say, thank you kindly for reading.

For today's topic, we have one of the downright coolest characters from the most popular musical on Wooster campus, behind Rent anyway: Jean Valjean! It occurred to me not too long ago, that if you set aside the nineteen years he spends off-screen in a French jail, he might just be the luckiest goddamn character I have ever seen.

Just so we're clear, I'm not discounting the "nineteen years a slave of the law", or the years and years offscreen where he's presumably looking over his shoulder every five minutes for Javert. I get that part, and I get that it stinks. But if you shave off the pre-play, what you find is a staggeringly lucky man.

Consider the following:


At the beginning of the play, Valjean is paroled from prison and struggles to find work. But just when he's most desperate, a kindly bishop takes him in, feeds him and gives him a place to sleep. Valjean repays him by robbing the joint and escaping. He's subsequently caught by the French police and dragged in front of the bishop, who's in every position to press charges... but the bishop not only lets Valjean go, he gives him the stolen goods outright, plus extra silver candlesticks. (And converts him to Christianity to boot.)

Several years later, we run into Valjean again, who is now a wealthy factory owner and mayor, living the good life under an assumed name. (Presumably, his opponent in the mayoral election didn't think to ask where the hell this guy came from.) He only has one nagging problem: he's still wanted for parole-breaking, and somewhere out there, police inspector Javert is hunting him down. Lo and behold, he runs into Javert, who... doesn't even recognize him. And as if that weren't enough to tell Valjean he's safe, Javert then tells him that they've already 'caught' Valjean and are putting him on trial. Putting a patsy in jail in Valjean's place would clear his name permanently. Fate has given him a literal get-out-of-jail-free card.

Of course, Valjean is a principled man and rejects the offer. Fair enough. So what happens? Does he go to court? To prison? Are there any consequences for him? Nope; he overpowers Javert and gets away scot-free.

Much later, we meet Valjean again in Paris, who has apparently retained his wealth and raised Cosette to adulthood (the fact that his social class doesn't change after he reveals his identity is why I don't have "losing the factory and the mayoralty" under the 'consequences' thing up there. Clearly, it didn't affect his wealth that much). He runs into Javert again, but escapes again. Later, a band of vandals plan to rob his house, but their plans are thwarted by other characters without Valjean ever lifting a hand.

Now here's where it gets really interesting. Through a complicated series of events, Valjean ends up joining the student resistance in the streets of Paris. For some reason, he decides to go up and talk to them while wearing a French army uniform. Unknown to Valjean, they've just captured Javert (who was working as a spy inside their ranks) and are thus not in the best of moods. And he's walking right up to the barricade, bold as brass and wearing a French Army Uniform.

Somehow, not only do the students not shoot him dead in the street, they give him a rifle and a chance to fight on the barricade. He does, doesn't get hurt, earns the trust of Enjolras in the process, and as a reward receives custody of Javert. Here is another time where Fate has given Valjean a huge opportunity that he's too principled to take; instead of offing Javert, he sets him free.

In another, later, fight on the barricade, literally everyone there is killed--except Valjean and the person there who is most important to him, namely Marius, who he saves. An uninjured Valjean escapes with Marius, encounters Javert in the sewers, and once again avoids arrest or really any penalty at all. Moreover, Javert kills himself soon afterwards, removing any danger of arrest (because Valjean basically became Javert's obsession, and it seems like nobody else in the French police really cared about one parole-breaker from two decades ago). Valjean himself dies of old age soon afterwards, with his daughter and her fiancé by his side, safe in bed, with the knowledge that his greatest fear (that his past will rise up and taint his daughter's life) will not come to pass.

 (And they get to sing this song.)

Sounds like a pretty charmed life, wouldn't you say? Especially when you consider how many other characters in this play meet their death by violence.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yea, I would trade places with him, although, I would've fled to England and possibly America with his vast wealth.

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