About the Book

Book Protagonist: Jean Valjean
Publication Date: 1862
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes and Analysis

Les Misérables

By Victor Hugo

'Les Misérables' by Victor Hugo is a historical fiction novel written in 1862. It tells the story of the struggles of Jean Valjean, a man released from prison after 19 years of wrongful imprisonment.

The story contains powerful themes, complex characters, and interesting plot twists. Many readers will cite ‘Les Misérables‘ or ‘Les Mis,’ as it is lovingly referred to as one of the greatest books of all time. Its highly relatable themes and the character’s personality flaws/quirks mean that readers from all walks of life will find something to relate to in the book. 


There are several important themes in this novel. They include:

  • Redemption
  • Sacrifice
  • Love

We will discuss these and their importance in ‘Les Misérables‘ below.


Les Misérables‘ explores the idea of redemption and how even the most broken of souls can find hope and peace, specifically the protagonist Jean Valjean who ends the novel a happy older man. Hugo masterfully weaves this theme into his novel as Jean Valjean’s journey of self-transformation is chronicled. In many ways, he’s an example of a reformed sinner that has made up for his past misdeeds by becoming an exemplary citizen.


Sacrifice is another powerful theme in ‘Les Miserables.’ Hugo examines the concept through different characters and storylines, showing how much people are willing to give up for others. For instance, Jean Valjean gives up his newfound wealth to help Fantine and her daughter Cosette, while Marius renounces his privileged lifestyle to stand up for the poor and oppressed.


Love also plays an integral role in the novel. From Jean Valjean’s unwavering devotion to Cosette to Marius’ unconditional love for her, it’s clear that love is a powerful force that drives people to make incredible sacrifices. Hugo captures the beauty of love as it brings hope and joy to the lives of its characters. Despite the hurdles that get in their way, the characters in the novel find their way back to one another and can be with the people they love. 

Key Moments in Les Misérables 

  1. Jean Valjean is released from prison and steals a Bishop’s silver. 
  2. He determines to lead an honest life. 
  3. Jean Valjean becomes the mayor of Montreuil Sur Mer after changing his name. 
  4. He meets Fantine, she dies, and he swears to take care of Cosette. 
  5. He is arrested and escapes once more. 
  6. Jean Valjean rescues Cosette from the cruel Thénardiers. 
  7. Marius is forced to leave home and meets Cosette, with whom he begins a romance. 
  8. Cosette and Valjean decide to leave France after Javert finds them. 
  9. The French Revolution begins. 
  10. Javert is caught, and Valjean saves his life. 
  11. Javert commits suicide. 
  12. Cosette and Marius get married, and Valjean dies of old age, happy with his family. 

Tone and Style

Victor Hugo uses a sympathetic and sorrowful tone throughout ‘Les Misérables.’ Hugo was driven by a desire to expose the hardships of the lower class in 19th-century France, and his tone reflects this passion. He paints a vivid picture of the poverty and misery that many characters experience, often using both stark and poetic imagery. This is one of the reasons that the book’s popularity has lasted as long as it has. Despite the passage of time, people still connect to one or more of the characters suffering in ‘Les Misérables.’ 

The style of ‘Les Misérables‘ is both philosophical and literary. Hugo often employs elaborate metaphors to express his ideas and take readers into a deeper exploration of his themes. He also uses an omniscient point of view to guide readers through the story of ‘Les Misérables,’ providing insight into the characters’ minds. Hugo also utilizes shifting points of view to shift the novel’s focus, keeping readers engaged as they explore the various elements of his narrative. The novel is often difficult to read, with Hugo going off on shorter and longer tangents about various topics. But, at its heart, it’s a relatable narrative. 


The Barricades

One of the most iconic symbols of ‘Les Misérables‘ is the barricades. This symbolizes the struggle of the working class during the June Rebellion in Paris, and it acts as a reminder of the injustice and cruelty experienced by those living in poverty. Hugo often uses barricades to demonstrate how perseverance and solidarity can overcome human struggle and suffering.

The Bishop’s Silver Candlesticks

Another important symbol in ‘Les Misérables‘ is the silver candlesticks given to Jean Valjean by the Bishop. This symbolizes grace and salvation, as they represent Valjean’s redemption from his previous life of crime. In addition, the silver candlesticks also represent a moral responsibility to help those who are less fortunate.


Throughout the novel, Hugo returns again and again to animals as a source of inspiration for his descriptions of people and their character traits. Birds and snakes are reoccurring images in the novel. The former describes Cosette at more than one point in the book.


Why is Les Misérables an important book?

Les Misérables‘ is an important book because it tells the story of redemption and hope, making it timeless and relevant for all generations. It also has a complex and detailed plot that follows the lives of several characters, giving readers a multi-layered narrative in ‘Les Misérables.’

What is the most important theme in Les Misérables?

The most important theme in ‘Les Misérables‘ is the power of forgiveness and mercy. This theme is explored through the character of Jean Valjean, who is given a second chance at life despite his difficult past.

What kind of book is Les Misérables?

Les Misérables‘ is a classic novel by Victor Hugo, first published in 1862. It is an epic tale of human struggle and redemption set against post-Napoleonic France.

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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