Study Guide

Les Misérables Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

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Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

Initial Wretchedness at Home and 'The Call'

The book is called Les Misérables, so it's safe to say that someone is going to start off in a state of wretchedness. In this case, it's Jean Valjean. Nobody trusts an ex-con, so the poor guy has a pocketful of money that he can't spend on food or lodging because no one will take him in. Seems like there's even less freedom outside prison than there is inside it. In a desperate move, he steals all of a bishop's valuable silverware, but gets caught by the police. It looks like he'll spend the rest of his life in prison.

Just when Valjean thinks his goose is cooked, something amazing happens. The bishop totally forgives him and lets him keep all the stolen silverware. In return, the bishop wants Valjean to promise him he'll become an honest man. In this sense, Valjean is "called" to a better life by the bishop, and he answers this call loud and clear.

Out Into the World, Initial Success

Not long after his encounter with Bishop Myriel, Jean Valjean moves to a town called Montreuil-sur-mer and discovers a more efficient way of manufacturing jade glass. We won't bore you with the details, but the main point is that Valjean gets super rich and becomes a factory owner. Since he has been called to a higher purpose, though, he uses most of his new wealth to lessen the suffering of those who aren't as fortunate as him. Yup, everything looks pretty great at this point.

The Central Crisis

Just when you think Jean Valjean will live happily ever after, you realize that there are a thousand pages left in this book. Hugo throws a wrench into the gears of Valjean's success, ensuring that we've got enough conflict to last. A veteran police officer named Inspector Javert recognizes Valjean from his convict days and tosses him in jail for breach of parole. Turns out that you aren't allowed to get rich and change your identity if you're an ex con in 19th-century France. Jean Valjean manages to fake his death and escape, but he's going to spend the rest of this book fleeing from Javert.

Independence and the Final Ordeal

After many years of running, Valjean finally gets an opportunity to be rid of Inspector Javert once and for all. He joins a citizens' revolt in the heart of Paris and notices that Javert has been taken prisoner by the rebels, who plan on executing him. Valjean volunteers to do the deed himself. Hooray! Free at last!

Except not really, because he lets Javert go at the last second because he still lives by the moral code Bishop Myriel taught him. Javert is so confused by this kindness that he commits suicide anyway, which puts Valjean in the clear because every other cop in the world thinks he's dead.

Final Union, Completion, and Fulfillment

Once Valjean is in the clear, his adopted daughter Cosette marries a young man named Marius. Valjean comes clear about his criminal origins with Marius and walks away from Cosette's life because he doesn't want to taint her happiness with his checkered past. In the end, though, Cosette and Marius come to his bed while he's dying and tell him they love him. He takes this chance to say his last goodbyes and to instruct them to enjoy all the money he has given them. In this sense, Valjean reaches fulfillment in his final moments and makes sure that Cosette will live a happy and fulfilling life.

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