Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Day 11 of 25 Days of Les Misérables: Oh, Javert

In the previous post, we talked a little about Javert. We talked about how the best villains in literature are the ones that provoke both sympathy and disgust. Javert fits the description perfectly. He disgusts you by his hypocrisy. He shows no mercy. No mercy to Fantine, to Valjean, or to anyone. He is chained to his duty to uphold the law and see that those who don’t are punished.
At the same time, Javert’s blindness is a burden. He is not a happy character. He is compelled to follow the law and fears falling, believing that once you fall from grace you can never return.
How sad it is that Javert’s misconceptions keep him in bondage. He wears chains of his own making. His righteousness is found in his own ability to keep the law. He contradicts himself. In one song he speaks of how every man is born in sin. In the next, he speaks of falling from grace as if sinfulness is something you achieve later in life when you make wrong choices.
Somehow, Javert is convinced of his own righteousness. He is also convinced of Valjean’s sinfulness. He believes that you must pay the price for your sin and no amount of repentance can cleanse you from it.
I wish I were graphic savy. I’d love to draw some sort of diagram that shows each scripture verse that Javert believes and each one he doesn’t seem to pay attention to. He’s got some things right, just like the Pharisees did. In life he probably is a really good person with fewer big mistakes on his record than Valjean. He doesn’t have to run from the law or look back at a dark past with regret.
            I can relate with Javert in this. When you’re over all a “good” person with few big, black sins in your life, you can find it hard to notice your need for a savior. When you think you are close to being a perfect person, it gives you more incentive to strive for that high mark of perfection that the law reveals is the standard. When you think you’re pretty close to the target, it’s easier to be disappointed in yourself when you miss. When you think you’ve made the perfect choice, it’s easy to take pride in yourself and easy to overlook any higher power that may be giving you the ability to achieve goodness in the first place.
            The song “Stars” is such a beautiful and haunting song. Like “I Dreamed a Dream” its beauty is a contrast to the information the words are revealing. “Stars” reveals Javert’s determination to find and punish Valjean. Javert’s own sense of justice is bound up in the justice due Valjean. He cannot rest while he knows this sinner is free.
            It is the song that makes you pity Javert. It’s the song that makes you long for him to be free, even as you watch him wallow in his own blind bondage.
            The clip below is from the 25th anniversary concert. Norm Lewis sings “Stars” in this clip. I also watched Phillip Quast from the 10th Anniversary concert and couldn’t decide which one I liked better. They are very different. If you want to watch Phillip Quast, click here


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