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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, and colors
used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
M. Myriel’s candlesticks are the most prominent symbol
of compassion in Les Misérables, and they shed
a light that always brings love and hope. At the beginning of the
novel, Hugo uses the contrast between light and darkness to underscore
the differences between Myriel, an upstanding citizen, and Valjean,
a dark, brooding figure seemingly incapable of love. When Myriel
gives Valjean his silver candlesticks, Myriel is literally passing
on this light as he tells Valjean he must promise to become an honest
man. Subsequently, the candlesticks reappear frequently to remind
Valjean of his duty. When Valjean dies, the candlesticks shine brightly
across his face, a symbolic affirmation that he has attained his
goal of love and compassion.
When describing the novel’s main characters, Hugo uses
animal imagery to accentuate these characters’ qualities of good
and evil. The orphaned figures of Cosette and Gavroche are frequently referred
to as creatures of flight: Cosette as a lark and Gavroche as a fly.
The Thénardiers, on the other hand, are described as snakes, and Cosette’s
time among them is likened to living with beetles. These opposing
symbols suggest that whereas Cosette and Gavroche can rise above
their miserable circumstances, the Thénardiers are rooted in their
immoral pursuits. They are creatures of the earth, which means that
they are not as free as Cosette or Gavroche, who can fly wherever
Ace your assignments with our guide to Les Misérables!