This human fragility is what makes stories so beautiful: beautiful not because they are flawless, but because they are so real, like a work of art that strikes a chord.
Les Misérables, with its ensemble of characters — the rebellious criminal Jean Valjean, the austere police chief Javert, the revolutionary Friends of the ABC, and the lowly street urchins Éponine and Gavroche — is not merely a touching story of revolution, a dichotomous struggle between the good guys and the bad guys. It paints a picture encompassing the full spectrum of human experience, of individual stories, dreams, resolutions, choices, and regrets.
There’s a Chinese saying that goes, ‘To avoid regret, rather than envy others, cultivate yourself.’ We are often quick to point blaming fingers at people, without stopping to understand the reasons behind their errors. Everyone pities Valjean and Fantine after reading their stories. But maybe if we didn’t read their story, we would criticize them like the workers in Valjean’s factory. My point is this: that in this dizzying pull between right and wrong, one must keep a heart of mercy.
It is mercy that gives Valjean a chance to redeem himself from his sins and walk a righteous path; it is mercy that connects us all and builds a bridge between polar opposites. Indeed, in a world full of hatred, forgiveness is an indispensable skill, and one that we must continue to hone throughout our lives. That is the purpose of art: to arouse in us through storytelling a sense of sympathy that enables us to forgive others, and perhaps forgive ourselves, too.
But of course, even mercy might not be enough to convert those who are incapable of self-reflection or devoid of humanity altogether.
A common Chinese title for Les Misérables can be literally rendered ‘Tears of the Solitary Star’. This translation focuses on the experience of a single character, while the original French title, meaning ‘The Wretched Ones’, offers a wider view. One is micro, and one is macro; and both are valid views we can take in our pursuit to better ourselves and the world.
In any case, here is a quote from Hugo that I hope you will enjoy:
Toute la loi d’en haut est dans ce mot : aimer. ‘All the law from above is in this word: love.’