"Everything was given, so to speak, before it was received. It was like water on parched land. However fast the money flowed in he never had enough; and then he robbed himself" (pg. 25) (Metaphor)
Hugo writes this in describing Bishop Myriel's charitable work. Bishop Myriel's life mission is to lessen the burden of the poor in any way he can. He pressures the nobles to donate money to charitable causes, and he himself donates nearly all of his income to various needy groups. However, the poverty in 19th century France is so great that even Myriel's efforts are like rain on dry land: quickly absorbed, leaving little impact. Still, this does not dissuade Myriel from doing everything he can to assist the poor, which makes him even more admirable.
"There are human creatures which, like crayfish, always retreat into shadow, going backwards rather than forwards through life, gaining in deformity with experience, going from bad to worse and sinking into even deeper darkness. The Thénardiers were of this kind" (pg. 150)(Simile)
The only apt comparison for the nasty Thénardiers is the scuttling crayfish, a weird-looking crawling animal. The Thénardiers are not above enslaving a little girl and charging her mother exorbitant fees for her keep. Unlike Myriel or Valjean (the heroes of the text), they backslide and decline in morality, committing even crueler acts. Les Miserables emphasizes the growth of the human spirit; in this light, the Thénardiers may be read as the opposite of correct progress.
"Just as demons and evil spirits recognize by certain signs the presence of a higher God, so Thénardier realized that he had to do with a man of great moral strength" (pg. 376) (Simile)
When Thénardier tries to wheedle more money from Valjean in exchange for Cosette at the inn, Valjean replied with a forceful and rigid refusal that stuns the wicked Thénardier. This passage describes Thénardier's reaction to Valjean; it connects the ordinary human characters with celestial conflict, and emphasizes the goodness of Valjean.
"A prodigious light shines, and the gaping jaws of force recoil; the lion which is the army comes face to face with the erect and tranquil figure of the prophet, which is France" (pg. 1022) (Metaphor)
This quote describes the pending clash of the citizen revolutionaries and the army.
Hugo does not present the army in a disrespectful light; they are compared to a noble and powerful animal, the lion. But France itself is more exalted still: France is a prophet, a messenger of God. Additionally, the tranquility of the prophet faced with a snarling beast alludes to stories of martyrs, again connecting the sociopolitical events of France with divine drama.
"Like all children, like the tendrils of a vine reaching for something to cling to, she had looked for love, but she had not found it" (pg. 392) (Simile)
Cosette is deeply lonely when Valjean rescues her from the Thénardiers; she loves him like a father instantly, trusting him deeply. Hugo underscores this deep connection by comparing her to a plant. Cosette, and children more generally, are like small plants seeking rest and support, striving towards the light.
"Javert unsmiling was a bulldog; when he laughed he was a tiger" (pg. 165) (Metaphor)
Hugo describes Javert in this way when he is first introduced to the reader. The description highlights Javert's animal-like nature: he operates like an automaton, as ruled by rigid ideas of justice and governance as animals are by instinct. This metaphor also emphasizes his ferocity by comparing him to two large and dangerous animals, a bulldog and a tiger.
Les Miserables Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Les Miserables is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Valjean is an ex-convict who was imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread. Upon his release, he finds that he is treated like an outcast everywhere he goes in Paris. Nobody will give him work and he finds himself starving and walking the streets.