Study Guide

Les Misérables Poverty

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Is Hugo a socialist? (Would it matter if he were?) You can debate all day about that—although not with us, please—but the hard truth is that you can't have greed on one side of society without having poverty on the other. That's just math. Once some people start having way more than they need, others will have way less than they need, at least until someone invents the replicator. (Um, science folk, please get on that, kthanks.)

In any case, socialism or not, it's safe to say that Les Misérables shows poverty to be one of the greatest evils of the modern world. And, in blaming poverty for people's action rather than actions for people's poverty, he's got a pretty modern take on it, too.

Questions About Poverty

  1. Are there any specific characters in this book who are responsible for making others poor? Why or why not?
  2. How does Bishop Myriel react to poor people? Do you think his efforts make a real difference in the long run? Why or why not?
  3. How does Jean Valjean lift himself out of poverty after meeting Bishop Myriel? What is Myriel's role in this transformation?
  4. How does Marius deal with being poor after Monsieur Gillenormand kicks him out? How is his "educated" poverty better than the "uneducated" poverty of the Thénardiers who live next door to him?

Chew on This

In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo suggests that we can only help people on an individual basis, since it's impossible to end poverty it in the long run.

Les Misérables is nothing more than a 1200-page brick of socialist propaganda.

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