[Valjean] had fallen back, the light from the candlesticks fell across him; his white face looked up toward heaven, he let Cosette and Marius cover his hands with kisses; he was dead.
This passage, from Book Nine of “Jean Valjean” brings Valjean’s personal journey full circle and compares him to his inspiration, Myriel, the bishop of Digne. The light that falls on Valjean’s face is reminiscent of the scene early in the novel in which Valjean steals Myriel’s silver. There, we see the bishop’s face surrounded by light as he lies in the bed, just as we see light on Valjean’s face here. The brilliant moonlight of the earlier scene symbolizes Myriel’s goodness and God’s love of him. Here we infer that the same is true of Valjean. The mention of the candlesticks is a reminder of Valjean’s promise to Myriel to become a better man. The candlesticks are the same ones Myriel gives Valjean so many years earlier, and the light they cast affirms that Valjean’s criminal past has been redeemed by his virtuous acts.
Valjean dies a happy death, knowing that he has become a loving, compassionate man. His transcendence stems from his ability to care for other human beings—an ability we see when he refers to Cosette and Marius as his “children” just before this passage. In addition to highlighting Valjean’s kindness, his use of the word “children” also implies that his legacy of love and compassion has been passed on to Marius and Cosette.