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The curtain opens on Paris in 1832, at which time the June Rebellion is underway.  “The People,” or representatives of the poor and downtrodden masses, are rising up against the French monarchy.

Any history buffs out there?  If so, does anything strike you as ironic about this?

Between the French Revolution of the earlier century and this time period, there had been a number of other such uprisings, all of which resulted in new monarchies and/or dictatorships that, at best, disappointed the hopes of the French people.

GavrocheWe are apprised of this in “Les Misérables” through the wisdom of a child — Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) by name.

Fighting on the side of the rebellion and reflecting on the People’s “victory” in France’s last great uprising (namely, the July Rebellion), he observes, “we tried to change the world too fast.”

Indeed, when we try to change things ourselves, on our own clock, when in our zeal we either presume to separate ourselves from our reliance on a Higher Power or assume that His will is 100% in conformity with our current temporal ends, then what we think is an accomplishment toward great change is just another case of egoistic self-assertion after the pattern of the Fall.

And what comes out of this?  Defensiveness.  Wall-building.  Denigration of the other.

June Revolution

What Gavroche doesn’t seem to realize is that the current rebellion poses the exact same problem.  The righteous indignation of the peasants against corrupt power structures is, in a sense, “ruined” by the mode of their rebellion.

Javert

In the rebellion by which they intend to “build a better world when tomorrow comes” and the oppressive monarchical side — embodied by the character Javert (Russell Crowe) — we have two self-defensive “egos” colliding.

It’s like a phenomenon we can observe any day in nature: When we strike two rocks against each other, flames are sparked.

Perhaps this is why, contrary to the expectation of the rebels, the people of Paris do not show up to help them on the day of battle.  Perhaps this is because they understand that it will not change anything, and in fact will probably just replace the old set of problems with a whole new set.

Yes, rebellion is sometimes necessary.  And yes, we should always do what we can to ensure that our societies respect the inviolable dignity of every human person.

But hope can be compromised when we try to do too much too quickly, when we invest too much hope in the idea of building the ideal society here and now…of relying on our own strength and zeal to reverse the sad condition of the world in which we live (as some of the revolutions of twentieth-century Europe have shown).

But enough of that.  What kind of actions do make a real difference, at least in “Les Misérables?”  We’ll get to that next time.

Images obtained through a Google image search

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