Tragedies are one of the genres found in fiction. They can easily be misunderstood. It is so easy to say you will NEVER love a tragedy. That did happen to me in high school. So, I really wasn’t expecting a musical like Les Mis to enter my life. Here is something that some people fail to understand: 1) you can love tragic characters and 2) the catharsis. Tragedies don’t really work unless you love that catharsis- it makes you glad you went through all of that grief and suffering.
Just because a character is tragic doesn’t mean you will dislike them. I do love complex, strong, and brave characters. A strong amount of tragic characters have those three characteristics. When I think of tragic characters, Les Mis comes straight to mind. Something tragic happens to all of those characters, but not all of them are tragic.
Fantine- well, her demise wasn’t even her fault. It had more to do with society. There was a time in her life where her lover abandoned her leaving her to care for Cosette alone. She eventually left her daughter in the hands of the Thenardiers not knowing how poorly they will treat their daughter. The Thenardiers made Cosette a servant of the house- they abused her. In addition, they sent Fantine fake letters. She eventually found herself working in Valjean’s factory, but after the factory women found out about Cosette, she was fired. There wasn’t many ways for Fantine to care for her child- all she could do was sell her hair, her teeth, and become a prostitute. Due to living on the streets, she became deathly ill. She eventually was harassed by an abusive customer. Javert saw this happen and was going to send her to jail- but Valjean intervened. On Fantine’s deathbed, he promised to raise Cosette as his own. For once, Fantine was at peace and comfort. Fantine is such a strong and brave character- she showed a strong love for her daughter.
“I Dreamed a Dream” is Fantine’s solo number. It is heartbreaking, and that song is usually the first moment I truly start to be in tears.
Eponine- she starts out as this spoiled child, who appears to be loved by her parents. After Valjean takes Cosette away, Eponine is stuck with the Thenardiers for the rest of her life. She ended up becoming unloved, neglected, and extremely lonely. The family ended up living in extreme poverty. She wasn’t shown kindness at all. Then, Marius entered her life and showed her kindness for once. Due to the kindness he showed her, she fell in love with him, which became unrequited. Despite that, she still risked her life several times for Marius- she literally gave her life for him. He was the only good thing in her life, and she died is his arms. This was the happiest moment of her life- she realized that Marius did care for her. That was why at the barricades, he sent her away with that letter and why he asked why she came back. He was worried about her safety. Marius showed Eponine compassion at her death-he stayed with her- I don’t see why people see Marius as a jerk especially in this scene.
Eponine is a strong, brave, loyal, and tough young girl. She may be a Thenardier, but she is still able to fall in love and can somehow see kindness in Marius. She does have a spark of goodness in her, which is truly shown through her love for Marius. I am glad that she has at least Marius in her life- without him, her life would literally be a world of just darkness.
“On My Own” really does show how strong and deep her love for Marius is. “A Little Fall of Rain” is such a bittersweet, touching, and moving duet.
Javert- He is the antagonist of Les Mis. He sees the world in black and white and believe that “once a criminal always a criminal”. He fails to show mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. His main motive in Les Mis is to recapture Valjean. He wants to do the right thing, but is recapturing Valjean the right thing. After Valjean ended up showing him forgiveness and let him free, it made Javert really question his beliefs. Due to struggling with this, he eventually killed himself. He saw no more purpose to life. In some ways, I think there is symbolism behind the Les Mis deaths- Javert is the only character who dies alone.
Grizabella- Yes, she is a cat. However, she still is a tragic character. In some ways, I can parallel her to Fantine. After all, Grizabella used to have better life, but it became tragic when trying to be accepted by the Jellicle Cats again.
Her main solo, “Memory” reminds me so much of “I Dreamed a Dream”. “I Dreamed a Dream” actually made me realize “Memory” is a heartbreaking song.
Any other tragic characters you can think of?