Les Miserables

“Another Story Must Begin”

This is one of my favorite plays. I’ve memorized all the songs, and know the story quite well. But one thing was missing: I hadn’t read the famous book yet.

A year ago now, I embarked on what was to be an epic journey: reading the translated English version of Les Miserables. Despite my obsession with the play, I’d never read the book until now.

The story is simple: a desperate young man tries to steal bread to help save his sister’s dying child. Jean Valjean gets caught, sent to prison, and endures hard labor. 20 years later, he’s on parol, and scrabbling to find a place in the world. In despair, he begins stealing. One day, a kindly bishop offers him food and lodging. Jean Valjean is shocked by his generosity, but steals from him in the end. The police catch him, and return him to the bishop’s house. Here is where the bishop offers Jean Valjean his expensive silver candlesticks, as yet another sign of his generosity. “You must use this precious silver to become an honest man,” the bishop tells Jean Valjean. (This is a line in the play.) Jean Valjean literally has a come to Jesus moment afterwards, perplexed by the bishop’s kindnesses and his religious advice.

Jean Valjean then vows to use the candlesticks to become a better person.

Similarities

What astounds me is how closely the play hits all the important parts of the novel. The most important scenes from the novel are in the play.

What I don’t mind leaving out are all of the long tangents and commentary that Victor Hugo presents throughout Les Misérables. A couple of them were kind of interesting–like the bit about wanting to start a second revolution–but most of them seemed to drag on forever. I ended up skipping the tangent about the sewers of Paris–that got gross pretty fast.

Overall, the important bits from the novel are in the Broadway play. Which is impressive, considering how much Hugo goes into depth about things.

Final Thoughts

The beauty of Jean Valjean’s story is that he tries to do the best he can to become a better person. This is mirrored in the play, and expounded upon in the novel.

Jean Valjean learns how to love an orphaned little girl named Cosette, after promising her mother on her deathbed that he would care for (and raise) her little girl. He also becomes the Mayor in a town, and does his best to help remain honest about his past identity as a convent.

In a moment of despair, Jean Valjean questions the kindly bishop’s words and generosity. But, after bargaining with God, he comes to realize that he must change in order to adhere to the bishop’s words: “You must use this precious silver/to become an honest man.” Meaning that he must use the candlesticks to better himself.

Les Misérables is a story of a life lived by performing good deeds. Les Misérables is a sad story at times, but also full of hope and love.

And of course, the music is amazing.

I’m so glad I finally read this classic novel!

The Giver

Jonas lives in the Community. In the Community, there is no more hunger, or pain, or colors. When Jonas gets his assignment to be the new Receiver for his Community, he meets an older man called the Giver. The Giver will teach Jonas about the world he’s missing: colors and snow. But he will also pass onto Jonas more sinister feelings and memories. Jonas will finally know the haunting truth about his Community.

Summary

Jonas lives in a Community where there is no more hunger or pain. There’s also no more colors in the world. Everything has been altered to create sameness, even among the children as they grow up. Jonas has no idea that he’s trapped in a dystopia; he believes that everything is for the good of the Community. He feels content. But when he gets his assignment at the age of twelve to become the new Receiver for his Community, he will learn the terrible truth about his world.

Jonas’s journey

Jonas, as the new Receiver, must learn about the past from the Giver. The Giver has an ability to pass memories, sensations, and emotions through Jonas by placing his hand on the boy’s back.

Slowly, over the course of a year, Jonas learns about what he’s missing: snow, colors, and the sight of a rainbow. But, as time goes on, he learns the terrible truth about the Community: the old and the very young are killed, removed from the Community by lethal injection in a process called release. The process for the old is a ceremony, a supposed happy occasion where the older member’s life is remembered and recited for the older generation to hear. Then, they are led away through a door, and never seen again. The lie is that the older person will have gone to another Community, when in reality they are lethally injected.

The very same process is done to underweight babies. Jonas watches in horror as a underweight baby is injected, then dies before him on a screen. Shocked, Jonas realizes that release is actually a death sentence, and refuses to go home. His father, who is a nurturer to infants, preformed the release. He was very caviler about the whole thing, even telling the baby “bye, bye, little guy,” before dumping him down a garbage chute.

Jonas and the Giver devise a plan for him to escape, with baby Gabriel, that same night. (Gabriel is scheduled to be released, and has been temporarily living with Jonas and his family.)

As he and Gabriel make their steady way to another Community, they encounter dangers along the way: a snowstorm, as well as people in aircraft searching for them.

Will Jonas and Gabriel make it to their new home safely?

Final thoughts

I love how The Giver is written. Lois Lowery is an excellent children’s author and does a fantastic job of writing through the eyes of a young boy who doesn’t know that he’s living in a dystopian community. I’ve read Messenger (the third book in the series) long before I read The Giver. As an adult, I’m able to grasp the darkness, and am able to understand the complex issues that are tackled in the novel. While this is intended for children, I feel like anyone can read these books, partly because they are so readable.

Lois Lowery is one of my favorite children’s authors, right up there with Tamora Pierce, who writes for young adults.

I cannot stress enough how important books like The Giver are to children and adults alike. Like most dystopian novels, it’s a warning about what might happen should we control the world around us.

Rating: 5 out of 5.