Monday, February 25, 2013

Integrity, forgiveness and change

I love finding stories where two characters complement each other. Like Sherlock and Watson, Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, Megamind and Metroman, etc. These stories fascinate me. Last month I saw Les Miserables and realized how much Javert and Jan Valjean follow this pattern. They are two amazing characters whose qualities complement each other and teach valuable lessons about forgiveness and integrity.

Both men do what they think is right and neither will give in. They are both willing to give their lives for what they believe in. The main difference between them is that Javert is a static character while Valjean is dynamic. Or in other words, Javert doesn't know how to change. Valjean does.

Every time the people sing "LOOK DOWN!!!" it seems to be a message to Javert, who ignores it as long as he can. He was born in the gutter, as he says, and he rose out of it and never looked back. He's a strong individual who was able to change his circumstances. He believes that because he has risen beyond his past by his own righteousness, others should be able to do the same, without breaking the law. His view of life is black-and-white, right-or-wrong, with no room for excuses or exceptions, even for himself.

When Valjean first leaves prison, he believes the world owes him something. He wants what he sees as rightfully his. He has a point; he has been treated unfairly. However, he soon learns that seeking revenge won't make him happy. He finds that there are good people in the world and he makes a conscious effort to become one of them. To do so, he breaks parole and must hide from the law. Valjean has integrity. He will not allow another man to go to prison in his place, and thus he reveals his identity. When Javert finds him, he is prepared to strictly enforce the law, but Valjean escapes in order to fulfill a promise.

Javert continues to chase Valjean and to fulfill his duties as an officer of the law. He never does anything to contradict the law, until the moment when he enounters Valjean for the last time. Valjean does not stop and Javert, contrary to his own instincts, does not shoot him.

This is the moment that Javert finally sees the need for change, in his own character and in the country he represents. And he can't do it. He has taught himself to obey the law and nothing else. To avoid his newly awakened conscience, he throws himself off a bridge. His death is one of the most tragic moments of the story, not least because he dies alone.

Valjean's death, on the other hand, is peaceful, after a loving reuinion with Cosette and Marius. They mourn his passing. He has learned to forgive and change without forgetting who he is. When he changed, he merely became a better version of himself. Javert could not forgive, could not change and did not know, at the end, who he was.