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28 February 2013

Valjean and Javert: Redemption vs Despair

DEFINITE SPOILER ALERT for Les Misèrables!!


Since seeing the film, I have spent a lot of time listening to the soundtrack and going deeper into the lyrics.  Inevitably, the music student in me has started to go deeper into the music as well.  Back in University, as a music major, I spent hours in the music library listening to pieces over and over, so that I could write papers analyzing the meanings in the music.  

One of the things that occurred to me immediately after watching the film was the vast difference in the way Valjean and Javert respond to the possibility of redemption.  I found it incredibly sad to watch Javert’s last scene and his suicide by throwing himself into the Seine.   It made me think of an Easter sermon I heard once.  It was a bit strange for an Easter sermon, but the message stuck with me.  The basic gyst was that Peter had denied Jesus 3 times before his cruicifixion.  He was guilt stricken, but when Jesus  rose from the dead, Peter was one of the first witnesses, running into the empty tomb and excitedly telling the others.  On the other hand, Judas Ischariot betrayed Jesus to death.  Jesus’ death and resurrection were sufficient to redeem even the likes of a traitor but instead, Judas, in his guilt, could not go on and so committed suicide.  And, as we all know, St. Peter became known for his role in establishing the church of the follows of Jesus Christ, while Judas Ischariot is only known for his betrayal of Jesus. 

I’ve been mulling over that connection, in regards to Valjean and Javert while listening to the soundtrack repeatedly over the past week or so.  Gradually it started to come to me that Valjean and Javert both have a “redemption soliloquy” which are not only identical musically, but have lyrics which mirror each other.  

I decided to transcribe the lyrics here, as well as attach audio clips of each piece. However, I don't believe either the lyrics or the music require much explanation.  Listen carefully to the music to hear the elements that are the same and different between the two.  I'll let them speak for themselves and invite you to reflect upon them as I have.

First, Valjean's soliloquy:




What have I done, sweet Jesus, what have I done
Become a thief in the night, become a dog on the run
Have I fallen so far and is the hour so late that nothing remains but the cry of my hate?
The cries in the dark that nobody hears
Here where I stand at the turning of the years.


If there’s another way to go, I missed it 20 long years ago.
My life was a war that could never by won
They gave me a number and murdered Valjean
They chained me and left me for dead just for stealing a mouthful of bread.


Yet why did I allow that man to touch my soul and teach me love?
He treated me like any other
He gave me his trust
He called me brother.


My life he claims for God above
Can such things be?
For I had come to hate the world
This world that always hated me.


Take an eye for an eye
Turn your heart into stone
This is all I have lived for
This is all I have known.

One word from him and I’d be back
Beneath the lash upon the rack
Instead he offers me my freedom
I feel my shame inside me like a knife
He told me that I had a soul
How does he know
What spirit comes to move my life?
Is there another way to go?

I am reaching but I fall and the night is closing in
And I stare into the void to the whirlpool of my sin.
I’ll escape now from the world,
From the world of Jean Valjean.
Jean Valjean is nothing now,
Another story must begin!


And Javert's soliloquy:



Who is this man what sort of devil is he
To have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free?
It was his hour at last to  put a seal on my fate
Wipe up the past and watch me clean up the slate.
All it would take was a flick of his knife
Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life.

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief,
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the law and the law is not mocked.
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face.
There is nothing on earth that we share.
It is either Valjean or Javert.

How I can I now allow this man to hold dominion over me?
This desparate man that I have hunted;
He gave me my life, he gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand,
It was his right.
It was my right to die as well.
Instead I live but live in Hell.

And my thoughts fly apart.
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved?

And must I now begin to doubt,
Who never doubted all those years?
My heart is stone and still it trembles
The world I have known is lost in shadow.
Is he from Heaven or from Hell?
And does he know
That granting me my life today
This man has killed me even so?

I am reaching but I fall
And the stars are black and cold
As I stare into the void of a world that cannot hold.
I’ll escape now from that world
From the world of Jean Valjean!
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on!


And thus Javert dies.  Ultimately, of course, so does Valjean. But it's a very different sort of death.  Although Valjean is always haunted by his past, he is never bound by it.  He never forgets his gratitude for being given salvation and new chance at life, at freedom.
This is our choice.  We can stay bound up in the past, in our sins, in our regrets and fears.  Or we can accept the hand of Salvation and Redemption.  Allow ourselves to be forgiven and washed clean of our past.  And this can be an ongoing process as well, which is why Lent and Easter come back around year after year. 

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