Sunday, August 9, 2009

Imprisoned by trusting in our own righteousness

The part of Les Miserables, the musical, that made the biggest impression on me is the interaction between the self-righteous policeman, Javert, and the merciful fugitive, Jean Valjean. Javert devotes his life to pursuing and capturing Valjean.

When Javert first captures Valjean after he ran from a courtroom to go to the bedside of his dying adopted daughter, Javert sings:
Men like you can never change
Men like you can never change
No, 24601
My duty's to the law - you have no Rights
Come with me 24601
Now the wheel has turned around
Jean Valjean is nothing now
Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way
You know nothing of Javert
I was born inside a jail
I was born with scum like you
I am from the gutter too!
Years later Javert is still hunting for Valjean. He sings of this life-consuming passion:
There, out in the darkness
A fugitive running
Fallen from grace
Fallen from grace
God be my witness
I never shall yield
Till we come face to face
Till we come face to face

He knows his way in the dark
Mine is the way of the Lord
And those who follow the path of the righteous
Shall have their reward
And if they fall
As Lucifer fell
The flame
The sword!

In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night

You know your place in the sky
You hold your course and your aim
And each in your season
Returns and returns
And is always the same
And if you fall as Lucifer fell
You fall in flame!

And so it has been and so it is written
On the doorway to paradise
That those who falter and those who fall
Must pay the price!

Lord let me find him
That I may see him
Safe behind bars
I will never rest
Till then
This I swear
This I swear by the stars!
Later Javert becomes a spy against revolutionaries, but is exposed by Valjean, who lets him escape. This act of mercy is too much for Javert. He sings of his internal torment before he kills himself.
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 out the past
And wash me clean off 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 can I now allow this man
To hold dominion over me?
This desperate man whom 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 these 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 the world
From the world of Jean Valjean.
There is nowhere I can turn
There is no way to go on....

(He throws himself into the swollen river)

1 comment:

  1. What strikes me about Valjean is that he really values the mercy that has been shown to him-so much so that it transforms his life. It makes us ask similar questions about ourselves.