In Les Mis, Javert is the antagonist. We first meet him in the very first scene. Javert is that kind of antagonist that is hard to get to know. He overlooks the prison where Valjean was. The two automatically have a strong hatred towards each other. Javert believes that “once a criminal, always a criminal”. He strongly believes Valjean will always be a criminal and does not feel like Valjean will change his ways. Javert follows the motto throughout the entire musical.
Valjean has broken parole and it becomes Javert’s main duty to recapture Valjean and send him to prison for life and this obsesses him. Coincidentally Javert becomes policeman at the same town Valjean (AKA Monsieur Madeline) became mayor of. Javert does suspect that Monsieur Madeline is in fact Jean Valjean. In one scene, we discover that Javert is not capable of compassion or mercy. Fantine just attacked a man in self-defense and he was planning to arrest her for six months just because she attacked the man and because she is a prostitute. Javert ignores the fact that she is seriously ill and that she even has a child. Even when Monsieur Madeline intervened, Javert still shows Fantine no mercy. In the runaway cart scene, that is when Javert begins to suspect that Monsieur Madeline is Jean Valjean. The strength that the mayor shows when lifting the cart reminds Javert of the strength of Jean Valjean and tells Monsieur Madeline all of this. We get a bit of Javert’s background during the confrontation number, which happens after Fantine’s death and soon after Javert discovered Jean Valjean. We learn that Javert was born inside a jail, which means he was raised around criminals. He sees the world in black and white and always believes he is doing the right thing. He does not even see Valjean’s transformation at all and still believe that Jean Valjean will always steal.
Years pass again and Javert has lost information about where Valjean is. He is now policeman in Paris. Even in 1832, Javert’s main goal throughout the story is recapturing Valjean. It is through Stars where we discover what Javert’s views are when it comes to the law. Javert strictly follows the law and sees it as his religion in a way. Due to his views in the law, it makes him blind to fact that convicts can raise above their background and can change.
Javert decides to act as a spy during the uprising and pretends to be on the student’s side and says he is going to spy on the enemy. But he gets caught by Gavroche and the students capture him. This is when Valjean’s and Javert’s paths meet again. Valjean arrives at the barricades to protect Marius and the two meet again. The students give Valjean the duty to execute Javert and that is what Javert expects Valjean to do. But Javert is surprised when Valjean decides to let him go and even forgive him. He finally is able to come to his senses and realizes his mistakes, but even this act of mercy that Valjean shows Javert still does not allow him to show compassion or even forgiveness.
This is when Javert’s life comes crashing down on him. Javert has one last opportunity to capture Valjean, which is when Valjean emerges from the sewers with a wounded Marius and surprisingly Javert lets Valjean go. Javert is really struggling at this point. He understands now that Valjean has changed, but due to his views on the law, he feels like Valjean should be sent to prison. But he also feels like that isn’t right because Valjean is capable of mercy. Due to his internal struggle, Javert commits suicide.
Javert is that kind of character that is so hard to get to know. Even though I don’t like Javert, I still think he is one of the most complex and most interesting antagonistic characters in musical theatre. For the longest time ever, I never seemed to actually care about Javert even his fate. But when I saw the show in the West End, I finally felt something for the character especially during the suicide scene, but I still don’t like him. I usually am the kind of person who dislikes antagonists.
He really is not a villain like so many people think. He just has this very strict view of the world and sees the world in black and white. He feels a void in his heart when it comes to mercy, compassion and forgiveness. His world comes tumbling down on him when Valjean challenged Javert’s way of thinking. When Javert saw that Valjean has changed, Javert is quite confused. He sees the law as his religion and strictly follows it. He does not even seem to care that Fantine has a child and only sees her as this prostitute and does not believe her story when she tells him about the child. He cannot even receive the forgiveness or mercy that Valjean shows him. Javert is one of the most well written antagonists through musicals.
Tomorrow is Fantine.