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What Causes a Person to Lack Compassion?

In this world, there are people who hold themselves above others. For whatever reason, they live their lives looking down on those whom they consider inferior. They fail to realize that every person has value; every person deserves the best chance at living a good life.

Victor Hugo has created such a person in Les Miserables—his name is Javert. He is a police officer who was actually born into humble circumstances. His mother was a fortune teller; his father was a prisoner who worked in the galleys. Javert himself was born in a prison.

When we first meet Javier, in Les Mis, he is about 40 years old. He is a most unpleasant man who despises anyone breaking the law.  He rigidly believes that every rule and regulation passed by government officials must be obeyed.  He doesn't ever break the law himself.  Of him, Hugo says:

As we have said, he had no vices.  When he was pleased with himself, he permitted himself a pinch of snuff.  Therein lay his connection with humanity.

Put differently, he had little-to-no connection with humanity at all.

In the chapter where we meet Javert, Victor Hugo also says

...in every man there is one of the animal species.

What does he mean by that?

Hugo also says that Javert is a "formidable man." What does that mean?

How does Victor Hugo's description of Javert impact your assessment of this police inspector? What kind of a man is Javert?

It seems clear that Javert is a person who totally lacks compassion and kindness. What would it be like for such an individual to be a police officer? With such a personality, would he be good or bad at his job? Explain your answer.

What causes a person, like Javert, to lack compassion for others? Do you think it has something to do with his upbringing? What difference, if any, would that make?

If you were the author of Les Mis, would you change Javert's personality in any way? If so, how?


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