Victor Hugo’s book “Les Miserables” was originally published in 1862. Although many publishers translated Hugo’s masterpiece in several different languages, people still refer to this acclaimed novel in its original French title, which translates to “the miserable ones.” On October 8, 1985, “Les Miserables” opened at the Barbican Theatre as a musical, based on Hugo’s book. Over 30 years, this musical phenomenon reached over 70 million people across the world in more than 300 cities. From Australia to New York, the story of Jean Valjean, which spans over a 15 year period, touches the hearts of youth and adults alike.
I recall my mother dragging me to watch the movie version of “Les Miserables” during my Christmas vacation in 2012. I walked into the movie theater not knowing what to expect, besides a bunch of miserable characters. When I exited the theater, I was awestruck by the many heartbreaking and inspiring scenes. The stories of Jean Valjean, Fantine and their companions taught me a variety of lessons about love, children and God. Here are 11 life lessons from the characters of “Les Miserables” to each of you.
1. Anyone can change their lifestyle.
Within the first three scenes, we see Jean Valjean’s need for transformation. The protagonist goes from lowly prisoner 24601 who stole a loaf of bread to feed his nephew to the factory owning mayor named Monsieur Madeleine. So if you wanna lose that extra weight or stop your smoking habit, look to Jean Valjean for inspo. If he can do it, so can you.
2. The past can creep up on you.
While learning how to change his life for the greater good, Valjean ran into a major problem. He broke his parole. So while Valjean keeps busy by saving a man from underneath broken carts, Inspector Javert still attempts to hunt him down. In later confrontations with Javert, Valjean forces himself to run away from the life he left behind. The lesson here is you need to learn from your mistakes and reconcile them. Don’t run away from your past. Instead, accept the past and put those mistakes to rest.
3. No matter what, God's got you.
In times of struggle, Valjean turns to the church. When no one accepted his papers and allowed him to stay under their roofs, Valjean found sustenance inside a church with Bishop Myriel. When he rescues Cosette and avoids the hands of Javert, Valjean escapes to the convent. In both cases, our hero hits rock bottom and must start anew. The moral of this is whenever you feel broken, scared or neglected, turn to your faith and religious communities for spiritual and physical healing. Whether you turn to a priest, rabbi or spiritual healer, the religious will always have their arms wide open to embrace you.
4. Don't give up on the male species.
Fantine’s relationship with the male species is far from perfect. The foreman at the factory she worked cannot seem to get his “terrible breath and wandering hands” away from her. He even fires her, leaving her to find employment at the docks as a prostitute. Fantine later reveals in "I Dreamed a Dream" that the father of her child “was gone when autumn came.” But there are really awesome men like Valjean, who rescued her sick child, and Enjolras, who willingly fought and died for the people of his country. So for those of you who feel the need to give up on men everywhere, fear not. Your very own Valjean awaits for you, too.
5. Forgive everyone – even your enemies.
Forgiveness is never an easy task. We all have that one person who did us wrong. You tell yourself “what she/he did was so unforgivable.” But one look at Javert and Valjean’s final confrontation will cause you to think otherwise. Even the biggest bullies deserve our compassion and forgiveness.
6. A mother will do anything to save her child.
Fantine sends her only daughter away in hopes she may have a better life, labors tirelessly in a factory to send her money, and sells her locket, hair and body to make enough money to send her sick child medicine. If this is not love, I do not know what is. Fantine teaches us that a mother’s love is endless and eternal. She shows us the harder side of being a mother and helps us appreciate how much our own moms do for us.
7. Scams still exist.
The Thernadier family shows us how simple it is for charming people to take advantage of us. You have to be conscious of how much money you invest in people and the quality of the goods people sell. You never know, you may get horse kidney and cat liver in your next meal if you’re not careful.
8. Children change your life.
Valjean’s soft ballad titled "Suddenly" warms hearts of audiences everywhere. He sings about how suddenly his life changes as soon as he takes to innocent Cosette into his care. He talks about how whole he feels and how light the world seems with this little girl beside him. Children really do change people’s lives for the better.
9. Dreams are not always reality.
Fantine’s heart-wrenching song "I Dreamed a Dream" shows the reality that dreams don’t always come true. Her lover did not stay, her child was sent away and she was forced to sell her body to make enough money to survive. Sometimes, life doesn’t always go the way you planned it and that is OK. Dreams can be great motivation, but obstacles get in the way. But eventually life will point you in the right direction.
10. Men can be sad, too.
Society tells us that men cannot cry or show emotion. In the case of Marius from “Les Miserables,” society is very wrong. In the song "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables," Marius shows his softer and somber side when he sees all of his comrades died in battle. Boys can cry at funerals, during chick flicks or when their girlfriend breaks up with them. To all the guys who hate hiding their tears and emotions, I invite you now to just let it all out.
11. There will always be a brighter tomorrow.
In the final scene of this musical, Fantine ushers Valjean into heaven. His suffering finally ended and his precious Cosette finally learned the truth about his life. Of course, I am not saying that if you feel alone that death is the answer. Instead, the lesson here is that tomorrow holds a new opportunity to get everything right. No matter how much you suffer or how heavy the world feels on your shoulders, there will always be a new day to feel light and whole again.
Of course, the ultimate lesson we can all learn is this: you can sing your way through any circumstance in life. I could go on and on about the many more morals and lessons everyone can learn from this outstanding musical, I would need one day more. (Did you catch that “Les Miserables” reference?) Whether you have not watched it yet, or you're like me and you have watched it over a dozen times, this musical sensation captures the hearts of millions and teaches us all key lessons. This is one of the greatest performances of our time and it holds so many lessons for our generation and the generations to come.