Les Misérables

by: Victor Hugo

Javert

Javert is so obsessed with enforcing society’s laws and morals that he does not realize he is living by mistaken assumptions—a tragic and ironic flaw in a man who believes so strongly in enforcing what he believes is right. Although Javert is such a stern and inflexible character that it is hard to sympathize with him, he lives with the shame of knowing that his own Gypsy upbringing is not so different from the backgrounds of the men he pursues. He lives his life trying to erase this shame through his strict commitment to upholding the law.

Javert’s flaw, however, is that he never stops to question whether the laws themselves are just. In his mind, a man is guilty when the law declares him so. When Valjean finally gives Javert irrefutable proof that a man is not necessarily evil just because the law says he is, Javert is incapable of reconciling this new knowledge with his beliefs. He commits suicide, plagued by the thought that he may be living a dishonorable life. True to Javert’s nature, he makes this decision not with any emotional hysterics, but rather with a cool determination. Although he is a man of logic, he is impassioned about his work. To this end, Hugo frequently uses animal imagery to describe Javert, particularly when he likens him to a tiger. In the end, it is difficult to feel anything other than pity for Javert, who assumes his duty with such savagery that he seems more animal than man.