Sunday, December 2, 2012

Day 2: Jean Valjean: A Slave

Now every door is closed to me
Another jail. Another key. Another chain
For when I come to any town
They check my papers
And they find the mark of Cain
In their eyes I see their fear
`We do not want you here.'
(Jean Valjean)

I wanted to do something different. Something other than chronological order. Les Misérables deserves different. Deserves spectacular and something that has never been done before.
            But it’s Les Miz’ sameness that makes it powerful. Instead of a story that has never been told, it tells the story that we all know so well. It tells our own story.
            It tells the story of bondage. Circumstances may change, but the feeling of being a prisoner can remain. Jean Valjean discovers after his release from prison that he’s the same prisoner he was before. Only this time, instead of being locked in, he’s being locked out. He was kept from society for nineteen years, unfit to be amongst honest, god-fearing people.
            Once released into the world, his curse remains. Unfit to be paid the same salary as other men. Unfit to sleep in the same hotel as other people. Unfit to be in the world.
            He has no place.
            The parting words of his fellow inmates prove to be prophetic.

Look down, look down
You'll always be a slave
Look down, look down
You're standing in your grave.

            Jean Valjean might as well be dead. He is no use to himself and no use to society. Slave or grave. It makes no difference. They are the same thing.
            Despair. Nowhere to turn. No way to rise above the circumstances. No possibility of improvement or making a change. Helpless and hopeless.
            I can’t say that I’ve never felt this way.
            I can’t say that there have never been times, even today, when death seems sweeter than life.
            In the times I’ve seen this play, I’ve been tempted to blame society for Jean Valjean’s depravity. But, let’s say for a moment that it’s not society that keeps Jean choking at the bottom of a very dried up well. What if that’s Jean’s own doing?
            What if Javert is right?
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way
(Javert, from Confrontation)
Can you blame Jean Valjean for trying to change his circumstances when an opportunity presents itself?
Would any of us run from an opportunity to save ourselves?

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