I eagerly await the Christmas Day release of the movie version of the musical-opera Les Misérables, based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. Hugo’s work is a study in redemption. The redemption of Jean Valjean. The lack of redemption of Javert. The redemption of Fantine by Valjean, and her further redemption through the upbringing of Cosette, as well as Cosette’s redemption from squalor to nice living by Valjean. These are the obvious. Hugo’s exploration in redemption touched every single character in his tale, considered one of the largest novels ever written, in either that they are redeemed or redemption eludes them.
Redemption is also the theme of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, where Ebenezer Scrooge, after visits by spirits, realizes his errors and becomes decidedly unscrooge-like.
When redemption is displayed, as when Ebenezer Scrooge embraces compassion, or when Valjean realizes the love of Cosette and Marius and knows he has been redeemed and lived up to his promises to Fantine and the Bishop, I cannot help but be moved. Redemption, or the lack thereof, is a powerful mover within us all.
I often wish for some form of redemption as it appears in these novels and shows. It always seems immediate. Valjean realizes the love of Cosette, and thus the love of Fantine, and immediately his redemption is realized. Javert realizes that his adherence to law is in conflict with morality, and in being unable to deal with the torment of this conflict, or through the need for forgiveness at any cost, he commits suicide and is immediately redeemed. Ebenezer Scrooge, after a night of soul searching, wakes to be instantly transformed, his redemption complete.
I cannot think of any method or approach that would grant such immediate redemption to me, or to anyone. One cannot simply acknowledge love or give a smile or donate to charities and immediately be accepted by all. To change one’s life takes time. Changing how others perceive you also takes time, and may not always work. Some people hang onto memories and grudges. No matter how much you might change, they will always remember. Moreover, immediate changes are often met with scepticism. People fear change, and a change in personality is often assumed to be a ploy.
Redemption of the types we read about is illusive, and probably impossible. Rarely can we redeem ourselves in the sense of washing away all our wrongs. Perhaps we can improve ourselves, alter our path. But true redemption is an illusion.