So, as has been abundantly clear over the past few weeks, my life has been consumed by Les Miserables. Again. This story, in both book and musical forms, has occupied a huge space in my heart since I was 10 years old. For reference, I’m turning 24 in two days. I’ve spent a lot of time with this story.
A lot (read: all) of the characters are extremely important to me, and I’ll probably wind up writing about many of them. But I wanted to talk about Grantaire (she said to the surprise of literally no one in the world). The earliest memory I have of neglecting the rest of my life to think thinky thoughts about Grantaire is of zoning out completely in eighth grade English class, so when I was 13 or 14. So I’ve had a decade to sort out my feelings, and this is what I’ve come up with.
The thing that has always captured me about this character, who is so vastly different from basically any other favorite character I have, is the way Hugo uses him to portray cynicism as a trap. It’s extremely easy to fall into (because let’s face it, there are a lot of horribly messed up things in this world), and desperately difficult to climb out of. After all, once you convince yourself that the world sucks - that people suck - how can you ever believe anything else? You’ll always be able to talk yourself out of whatever hope may arise. The cynic hurls himself to the bottom of the well, and then convinces himself that any ladder lowered down to him is bound to give way.
But that’s no way to live, and we can’t help but resist it - even if we find ourselves at the bottom of the well. Hugo beautifully outlines the contradiction of Grantaire: he has given up on humanity, but he cares for his friends. He can’t believe in anything - except Enjolras. By virtue of being human, the very thing he detests, he proves himself wrong. We’re never as bad as we think we are.
As a philosophy, “we’re never as bad as we think we are” doesn’t seem too inspiring at face value. But sometimes, that’s what you need to hold onto. My brain chemistry didn’t start causing real problems for me until quite a few years after my first intense ruminations on Grantaire. But when it did, my thoughts latched onto very serious real world problems. It was - and sometimes still is - very, very difficult to separate which fears were rational and which weren’t. Though I didn’t choose to be there, I found myself at the bottom of the well, convinced that people would not be able to make the world better.
But I knew that wasn’t me. I knew I wasn’t Hugo’s cynic. Hugo’s cynic wasn’t even that person, not in the end. I couldn’t always feel my real self, but I knew she was somewhere in the shadows of the well, waiting with an unbroken ladder and a heartfelt cry of “Long live the Republic!” I found conviction in affection, just like Hugo said. I have so many people to love in my life, and from that, I have held onto loving - and believing in - the world. Everyone is someone’s Enjolras, and I believe we can act like it. Essentially, I believe in what Grantaire believed in, but I’m just trying to apply it on a broader scale than he was able to.
I can’t be Enjolras all the time. Not many people can. I also don’t think I’d want to. But what I can try to be is the grasped hands, the permission, the smile. The meeting of fiery passion and tender devotion. You can’t separate The People from individual persons. By fighting for and loving both, I believe in change. I believe in anything.
I believe in you.