My first experience with this music was several years ago in New York City. I knew little of the revolution about which it was based upon nor even heard the songs. In truth the only thing I had concrete knowledge of this musical prior to seeing it was that it was about something that happened to unhappy people in France. The only reason I wound up seeing it at all was because of my then boyfriend’s, now husband, love of it as well as the many references he made to it during our conversation of musicals. He was much more well versed in that particular medium than I was despite me being the music major (I think I should be forgiven on the basis that I wasn’t a musical theater student).
So, in the attempt at doing something nice for him one Christmas I purchased tickets, third row center orchestra thank you very much, to see it on Broadway. Never before had I been so moved by musical theater and, I daresay, I have not had an experience that has even come close since. It is one of the most brilliantly written pieces of theater I have ever seen- the music is intoxicating and the story was gut wrenching in all the ways that make me cheer heartily for and cry with those characters involved in such an epic struggle.
In the beginning we learn of a man, the hero really, initially known as Prisoner 24601 who shows the audience what it means to be honorable. Yes, a mere prisoner, a thief is the person to whom we look toward with hope, compassion and, if you’re anything like me, admiration. He broke his parole and began a new life, an honorable life, and when confronted by the man looking for him, Jean Valjean (Prisoner 24601) had the opportunity to let another man go to prison in his name thus freeing himself from the suspicion and ever watchful gaze of Javert. What did this man decide to do? (Watch the video below to find out.)
But here is what I wonder- what would you do? Would you, facing definite imprisonment, do the same? What would your honor dictate?
These questions are not specific to only little situations but rather speaks to what we commit ourselves to idyllically as well as what our identity is indeed based upon. I do not pretend to say that if confronted I would do the same as Jean Valjean- but I can say that I would forever be ridden with guilt should I deliberately withhold information that would lead to a wrong arrest. So saying- what value of life would I truly have? Would I not be relegated to anything more than animal bent on survival? Now that isn’t meant to imply that it would be wrong to seek out my survival, but at the expense of an innocent can that truly be justified? Perhaps that person is not truly an innocent but simply innocent of the crime laid out before them- who am I to stand in place of judge and jury? Do I truly have that right to therefor point my finger, commit a falsehood and seek justice, although for the incorrect crime, to be meted out upon him?
I think, perhaps, the most interesting of questions amongst all those begins at the bottom. What separates man from animal? What makes one life honorable while another less than? In so categorizing dishonorable and otherwise are we not, inadvertently, placing judgment upon another person based upon our own morality? Is that inherently wrong to impose such personal things upon another human being?
I’ve given much thought to these notions, over the last several months mostly, due to reading works like Atlas Shrugged (review on AS will be this Friday’s post) and The Fountainhead but was struck anew by the very vexation of defining subjective terms that we seem to inappropriately apply to other individuals. That isn’t to say I don’t think killing is wrong (as an example) but more that we don’t think often enough of ourselves, our identities and how we define all that goes into who we are. Instead we make the mistake of basing just about all of the above on the basis of comparison without assessing what that comparison is, that it even exists or even what it means to do so.
Jean Valjean is a tremendous hero for he acknowledges who he is every step of the way through Les Miserables. While it’s true he goes into hiding with a little girl he has sworn to take care of, and thus shirks more time in prison, he at least won’t let an innocent do his time. He makes a stand, asserts who he is and that person just so happens to be a man honor bound to the commitments he made. I have not met a man such as he in real life and am left wondering- are there others that would do the same as he? Why or why not? Would it be wrong to submit ourselves to the very necessity of survival if it was to live a life thereafter upon the premise that we once held the life of someone else in our hands and knowingly protected ourselves instead? Is there another option here besides martyr or ghoul?
I welcome discussions of all the questions and leave you with this other brilliant and moving song from the musical. For now I must bid you au revoir.