Les Misérables spends a lot of time moaning over the poorest and most downtrodden members of French society, but don't let the sentimentalism fool you. Hugo's hiding a sharp tongue beneath all the misery, and he uses it to attack the social power structures that make horrifying poverty possible in the first place. Sure, there are some jerks like Thénardier who deserve to be poor. But they're way, way outnumbered by those who don't deserve to be. And Hugo knows just who to blame: those who hold the power, especially when they've done nothing to deserve it—like unelected kings and rich old aristocrats. Vive la France!
Questions About Power
Do you think Hugo exclusively blames rich and powerful people for the poverty in French society? Why or why not?
What solution do you think Hugo would recommend for helping the powerless? What evidence supports this view?
Why does the ABC Society participate in a revolt in the last third of this book? What political change are they hoping to accomplish?
Why do you think Inspector Javert devotes his life to serving power and authority? Can you support your answer with evidence from the text?
Chew on This
In Les Misérables, Victor Hugo takes a Darwinistic approach to society and basically says, "Sorry, but only the strong get to survive."
In Les Misérables, we learn that the only duty in life worth pursuing is helping those who are powerless.