Study Help Essay Questions


1. Les Misérables is one of the most widely read novels of all time. How do you explain its appeal?

2. Trace Victor Hugo's numerous antitheses.

3. Comment on Hugo's preface: "As long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, a social damnation artificially creating hells in the midst of civilization and complicating divine destiny with a human fatality . . . books like this cannot be useless."

4. "My belief is that this book will be one of my major achievements, if not my major achievement." Do you agree with Victor Hugo's appraisal of his own work?

5. To those who accuse Victor Hugo of implausibility, Baudelaire answers: "It is a novel constructed like a poem, where each character is an exception only by the hyperbolic way he represents a generality." Elaborate.

6. One of Victor Hugo's most poignant and recurrent themes is what François Mauriac calls "the desert of love" — that is, unfulfilled love. Trace Hugo's variations on this theme.

7. One of Hugo's editors, Marius-François Guyard, claims to see a solid framework behind the apparent disorder of Les Misérables. What is your estimate of the novel's structure?

8. To what extent is Javert a symbol and to what extent an individualized characterization?

9. Thénardier is an absolutely evil man. Can such a character be considered realistic? Is he convincing?

10. Diderot defines one form of genius as the tendency to see abstract ideas only through their concrete manifestations. How does Victor Hugo illustrate this definition in Les Misérables?

11. Discuss Les Misérables as a realistic novel.

12. It has been said that Jean Valjean's dominant emotion is caritas (charity — active, outgoing love for others), but that it is not his only passion. Discuss some other emotions that Jean Valjean experiences in the course of the book and show how they conflict with or reinforce his caritas.

13. What are the principal social evils Victor Hugo is attacking in Les Misérables?

14. What social reforms does Victor Hugo advocate, directly or indirectly, in Les Misérables?

15. What is Hugo's view of human nature? Does he believe it is naturally good or vitiated by original sin, or does he take a position somewhere between these two extremes?

16. Marius has been described as a typical young Romantic of his era. Discuss him and compare him with other Romantic heroes in books, plays, or poems of the Romantic period that you may have read.

17. Explain Cosette's function in the novel in regard to character development, plot development, and theme.

18 .What are Hugo's principal weapons as a propagandist? Discuss the effectiveness of each.

19. Gavroche is considered one of the most memorable characters in French literature. Analyze the techniques Hugo has used to make him so.

20. Discuss the Romantic elements in Les Misérables.