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Author Topic: Human Life is Fragile but EVERY Life is Valuable  (Read 5275 times)

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AGelbert

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    • Agelbert Truth AND Consequences
TruthDig

MAY 27, 2018 TD ORIGINALS

Teaching ‘Les Misérables’ in Prison

By Chris Hedges

SNIPPET 1:

I spent the last four months teaching Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel “Les Misérables” at a maximum-security prison in New Jersey. My students—like Hugo’s main character, Jean Valjean, who served 19 years in prison—struggle with shame, guilt, injustice, poverty and discrimination, and yearn for redemption and transformation. The novel gave them a lens to view their lives and a ruling system every bit as cruel as Hugo’s 19th-century France.

“Les Misérables” was wildly successful when it was published, including among Civil War soldiers in the United States, although Hugo’s condemnation of slavery was censored from Confederate copies. It was American socialist leader Eugene V. Debs’ favorite book—he read it in French. The socialist British Prime Minister Lloyd George said “Les Misérables” taught him more about poverty and the human condition than anything else he had ever read and instilled in him a lifelong ambition “to alleviate the distress and the suffering of the poor.” Hugo’s novel, however, enraged the ruling elites. It was panned by French critics. Copies were burned in Spain. Pope Pius IX put it on the church’s list of banned books, along with “Madame Bovary” and all the novels of Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac.


SNIPPET 2:

The decision by the bishop to lie on behalf of Valjean triggered an intense debate in my classroom.

“Who would do this?” a student asked.

“No one,” another student answered.

Several students dismissed the scene as improbable.

And then from the back of the room a student, speaking in emotional undertones, told this story.

“I came back to my bunk one day,” he said. “There was a new Bible on it. Inside was a letter. It was from my victim’s sister. She 🕊 wrote, ‘I forgive you. Now you must forgive yourself.’ I broke down. I could be more than a criminal. I could change. She made that possible.”   

My students will spend their lives condemned as felons. They, like Valjean, will never completely wash away the mark of Cain. Transformation, even when it occurs, will not free them from the criminal caste system. Transformation must be carried out not for what it will achieve, for often it will achieve nothing, or how it will be perceived, for most of the wider society will not perceive it. Transformation is about making peace with yourself. It is about obeying your conscience, which Hugo equates with the divine. It is about never living at the expense of another. Transformation is about rising above the hatred many feel, with justification, for a society that has betrayed them.

“If you are persecuted for virtue, why be virtuous?” a student asked.

“Those who have nothing need other people,” another student said. “We can’t survive alone. The more we sacrifice for those around us, the more we reduce our collective suffering; the more we recover our humanity, the more people reach out to us when we need help, and we all need help. Goodness is contagious.”

And yet, as my students know, this internal battle is hard and fierce within a society that denies the poor dignity and respect.

“Obscurely he perceived that the priest’s forgiveness was the most formidable assault he had ever sustained,” Hugo wrote of Valjean, “that if he resisted it his heart would be hardened once and for all, and that if he yielded he must renounce the hatred which the acts of man had implanted in him during so many years, and to which he clung. He saw dimly that this time he must either conquer or be conquered, and that the battle was not joined, a momentous and decisive battle between the evil in himself and the goodness in the other man.”

Hugo was aware that there are some who cannot be redeemed. They are incapable of empathy or remorse. They are driven by greed and ambition. They take a perverse joy in inflicting suffering on others. They are capable only of deceit. These people must be kept at bay. In the novel they are represented by Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, “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.”

This cold reality, nevertheless, proved to be a painful one to digest in the classroom. Several students argued passionately that everyone, no matter how depraved, could ultimately be redeemed, and yet the reality of prison, my students conceded, amply illustrates that there are human predators to whom one can never show vulnerability or expect mercy. Fyodor Dostoyevsky described hell as the inability to love. These predators inhabit this hell. This internal hell, a barrenness of the soul, is exemplified in the police inspector Javert, who hounds Valjean throughout the novel. Hugo wrote, “The Austrian peasants believe that in every wolf-litter there is a dog-whelp which the mother kills, because otherwise when it grows larger it will devour the rest of her young. Endow this dog with a human face, and you have Javert.”

Full EXCELLENT article:

https://www.truthdig.com/articles/teaching-les-miserables-in-prison/
Leges         Sine    Moribus     Vanae   
Faith,
if it has not works, is dead, being alone.

 

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