Monday, May 13, 2013

A Reflection on Les Miserable

I am sitting in my office listening to the Les Miserable’s soundtrack, specifically the song “I Dreamed a Dream,” I cannot help but wonder at the loss of hope and desolation the lyrics bring to mind.
I keep reflecting back onto the story of Les Mis and one thing comes to mind: the depth of desolation of the women in this movie. Perhaps while meaning to or without meaning to, Les Mis gives an astounding portrayal of the struggles women live with each and every day throughout the world. While men can hit rock bottom and work hard to make it back to the top, women often have no other future than to sell their bodies, clothing, or hair just to support themselves or their children. Jean Valjean is not only able to support himself, but live a well off life after spending time in a prison camp that nearly killed him. After one priests offer of mercy, Valjean is transformed into a man willing to live his life in the grace of God and offer that to others. This is no small thing.
And yet the stories of the women in the movie and theater production are much different. Although Fantine attempts to live a good life and work hard, her beauty sets her apart from the rest of the women in the factory where she works. She quickly gets picked on and hated by the other women, while the boss sexually harasses her while she tries to refuse him. It comes to a head when she gets fired for refusing him.

I do not want to spoil the story if you have not watched the film or seen the production, but to say the least, there is no grace or mercy given to Fantine until the last moments of her life. Jean Valjean happens upon her, broken, bleeding, and used up, and takes her to the hospital. He tries to save her, but at this point there is nothing that can be done. She asks him to care for her daughter, Cosette, and then dies shortly after.

Cosette had been sent to live at a less than reputable hotel type establishment, and was being emotionally and physically abused. Valjean lives up to his word and takes her in as his daughter, and through him she is able to live a happy and care for life. Yet, what irritates me about this story is that Cossette’s only hope for redemption is through Valjean. Her life is hopeless, most assuredly set on the track of her mother’s life, and Valjean (thankfully) comes to the rescue. But without him, would her life had amounted to much? Most likely not.

Through these women’s lives, I see a picture of true poverty. Most middle class Americans assume that if you work hard enough, pray hard enough, and do the right things; it will all work out in the end. We will all end up with the big house, shiny car, and food to feed our children. But this is not always the case. There are the “Fantines” in the world whose dreams get broken; dashed upon the rocks like so many broken pieces of glass. For these people, there is no way out. There are no job opportunities, warm beds, or places to be able to “work hard enough.” There comes a point when they are ready to give up, and hit the lowest of the low places in their lives. Just as Fantine does in this lyric from “I Dreamed a Dream:”

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in times gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night

With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he'll come to me
That we'll live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So much different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed
The dream I dreamed.

Fantine's dream changed, to the dream that one day her daughter would be able to choose not to live the life she had lived. Her brokenness brought a simple dream to her, and without the aid of Jean Valjean, Cossette had no hope, either.

Once Valjean takes Cosette in, it changes her whole life. She is loved, cared for, fed, and clothed. But without his help, Cosette would have been destined to a life of poverty just as her mother was. The sad part of this story comes when I realize that without the aid of Valjean, Cosette had no hope. She had no future, and she had few dreams. But this man came along and affirmed her life, her heart, and her call to a future in his life. How many men are doing this for their daughters, wives, and women in their lives?
This is not a feminist rant against Les Mis, it is a plea to men in this world to stand up for what is right. To begin valuing women for their God-createdness, the intrinsic value that God has placed in them as their Creator. Women need men to rally behind them, so they can work hard and live lives that are free from the poverty that Fantine experienced.

How can we help women worldwide? There are amazing organizations out there helping women become educated, make money, and pass that education and funds on to their own children. This work is not done for just the good of the woman, but for the good of her children, her children’s children, and their children. When we help change the life of one woman, we can help change the future of all her offspring. Men and women need to stand up and help people live better lives, ebbing the flood of poverty that saturates this world.

 Visit to find ways to help women all over the world gain opportunities to educate and feed their families. 

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