"Mommy can I have some bread?" her stomach growled at the thought of food. With a heavy heart she turned to her seven year old boy and replied, "I'm sorry sweetie, we ate the last of it yesterday morning." The young boy weak from lack of food sulked to the corner grabbed his empty abdomen and lay down. The mother, only twenty-six, struggled to maintain her heath. As she watched her son's chest rise and fall she was forced to look away. "He looks so much like his father," she thought, "if only he were here." The placed they called home was a small room they rented. Dust lined the floor and cob webs occupied the ceilings, a cold winter's wind leaked through the crack in the walls. Daring herself to look at her son, he was shivering, he was sleeping. Gently she placed her sleeping child on their tattered mattress and curled herself around him. The one quilt they had, contained holes and tears. The mother stroked her son's pale face, "When will we eat again?" she said in a barely audible voice. Imagine this same scenario and worse, poverty was not a joke. It controlled people's actions, thoughts, their minds. The poor would go to great lengths for a morsel of bread. But poverty can change a person as well, for the better or for worse. In Victor Hugo's novel Les Misrables, Jean Valjean's experiences with poverty lead to his self revolution.
Poverty controlled the lives of many people in Europe during the 17th and 18th century. In fact, about 85% of the people living in this country were peasants and surfs. (Guerrero) Some peasants could afford land, but most of them were too poor to purchase or rent it. (Guerrero) For Jean Valjean, one of the main characters in Victor Hugo's novel, poverty caused the death of his parents. (Hugo 82) No matter how old you are losing your parents is hard to handle. Jean Valjean was now poor and parent-less it's hard to not feel bad for him.
Jean Valjean's lapse of judgment triggered a chain reaction, which leads him to change. At 26 Valjean went to jail for five years, his crime, a thief of bread to feed his family. (Marsland 24 - 25) A crime only committed because he didn't want anyone in his family to go hungry, which was common. Poverty caused him to commit this crime, surely if he had money this would not have happened. While in jail Jean Valjean's escape attempts lengthen his sentence to nineteen years. (25) His mind had already been taken by poverty, there was no returning now. Valjean had surrendered himself to instinct. His third crime and probably the most remembered was the thief of the Bishop of Digne's silver. (13) After meeting this humble Bishop, who lived in a house and not a high palace, who wasn't rich but not sad and upset, Valjean realized that people can be poor and happy. (Hugo 20) They say 100% of people remember how you made them feel and that night before Valjean stole his silver, the Bishop of Digne made him feel like a human being.
The emphasis is on poverty but the good Bishop's word had a lot to do with Valjean's change. "Do not forget, ever, that you promised me to use this silver to become an honest man." (Hugo 106) That kind of promise can leave an impact, as it did. "Jean Valjean's burden is in itself its own reward. In taking on Cosette, he excepts responsibility, but what he gets is love." (Marsland 47) It is due to the love that Valjean felt for Cosette's mother Fantine that he cared for her. Upon first meeting Fantine she spit in Monsieur Madeleine's face. (Hugo 194) Monsieur Madeleine was one of Valjean's various identities, a new name, for a new man. Now Jean Valjean during jail and before the Bishop would have a harder time putting this greeting behind him. As Monsieur Madeleine, Jean Valjean, takes Fantine, a complete stranger into his home and cares for her. (Marsland 32) Something Valjean probably learned from the Bishop that took him into his home after being refused everywhere else.
All in all, Jean Valjean's self revolution was due to poverty. It took him under its wing and feed him to his babies, or crime. The crime spit him out a new man after being cleaned by the humble Bishop of Digne.