Les Miserables : A Musical Republican Utopia
Jean Valjean is serves nineteen years of hard labor on a chain gang for the petty crime of stealing food for his hungry family. Not exactly the crime of the century; not in 1700s France and not now. Upon being paroled he is branded a dangerous criminal. As such, he can’t find work or shelter. He’s publicly beaten and humiliated. There is no redemption. This is considered just.
Fantine works in what amounts to a sweatshop. As a single woman she is expected to put out for the boss, and when she won’t he gets pissed. When her colleagues find out that Fantine sends her wages to a family that takes care of her daughter, whose father norotiously abandoned them leaving them flat, they viciously turn on her. She has a child she can’t care for so, in essence, she gives her child, Cosette, up for adoption. Having been braned a slut she is publicly lambasted and fired from her job. Homeless, penniless, and now jobless, she sells her posessions, her hair, and her teeth before finally becoming a sex worker living and working on the streets. She gets sick and dies. And that’s all you can say for the life of the poor.
In Javert, the dogged police officer, we have the quintessential law enforcement officer: he’s hard-hearted and abuses his power over an obsession with one petty thief. He’s all about god and the most rigid definition of justice imaginable. When he faces what a shitheel he’s become, his conscience takes over and he kills himsels, though. So there’s that.
The Thernardiers are the hustlers, an illustration of how working people in poverty are thieves. They could work, but they’d rather steal and make everyone else’s lives difficult. They drink too much, they hate each other, they’re filty, and they use their small business to bilk their customers. We get the biggest laugh of the night their expense. Ha!! The working poor. Hilarious!!
In Cosette we have the pretty, sheltered white girl whose innocence must be guarded at all costs. She’s generous and charming and good-natured; and she has absolutely no idea about her past or what goes on outside her garden gate. Naturally, when pretty much everyone else dies fighting for freedom in the streets, she lives. Of course she does.
None of the young men notice Eponine until she’s dying in the street after having been shot by the bougeoirsie. Stick to your own. Know your place. And never get too close to anyone not of your station. And the only reason she got involved in the revolution in the first place was to get a dude’s attention. Girls are brave for boys.
Young, idealistic, liberal, educated, and privileged, the students take notice of the terrible quality of life for the people out in the streets, they resist and are mostly wiped out by the the army.
At the end of the day, the impoverished dwell in the dirty streets. Their children don’t go to school. They either work or they hustle. They fight in wars. No matter how hard they grind, they die unpeaceful deaths.
The title Les Miserables translates to “the miserable people.” That sounds about accurate in this American political climate where austerity is gaining on progressive ideas.
But . . .
Do you hear the people sing??