“Look down and see the beggars at your feet. Look down and show some mercy if you can.
Look down and see the sweepings of the street. Look down, look down upon your fellow man”
In these short, desperate lines, viewers of the musical Les Miserables are shown the world of the beggars of Paris in 1832. The musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables has made an lasting impact on its followers since it’s opening nearly 30 years ago (Les Miserables: Creation of the Musical). By introducing music to an already remarkable story, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg reveal the social injustice of nineteenth century France to the modern world. In doing this, viewers are welcomed into the world created within the pages of Les Miserables. Bringing this story into the twenty-first century allows for comparison between today’s social injustices and those of 200 years ago. The characters created by Hugo provide a bridge between modern day and a time filled with pain and inequity, particularly for the poor. This is especially evident in the section of the novel centered on the young revolutionaries. Contrary to popular belief, Les Miserables does not chronicle the French Revolution of 1789, but rather the events leading up to the June Rebellion of 1832 (Gossard). Nineteenth century France was a period marked by “political and social unrest” (Les Miserables Historical Context). Laced throughout the novel is Hugo’s commentary on the actions and events of this period, although he is not blatant about his ideas. Through the use of archetypal symbols and characters as well as an emphasis on class conflict, Hugo develops themes of injustice and redemption in his novel Les Miserables.
The archetypal symbolism of lig…
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