Martin Luther King’s passionate proclamation of optimism and Fantine’s wrenching dirge of despair are similar in their intensity but different in their outcomes. King’s dream is still unfulfilled, but Fantine’s had a happy ending in Jean Valjean’s rescuing her daughter Cosette from the plight that robbed her mother of hope. The former is historical, the latter fictional. Together they highlight the racial injustice which is the on-going sequel to slavery and the on-going misery of the dregs of society whom Victor Hugo called “Les Misérables”.,
The Broadway musical, seen by sixty million people in forty-two countries in twenty-one languages, has been immortalized in the movie starring Australians Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman, both in fine voice . . . God is the other star of the show, incarnated in the saintly Bishop with the silver candlesticks, ready at the end to welcome Valjean into the Paradise his courage and goodness have deserved. Javert, the blind cop, obsessed by the letter of the law and allergic to the milk of human kindness, imposed his own punishment by sky-diving on to a Paris pavement. Cosette and Marius live happily ever after, and everyone leaves the theatre, the cinema or the TV screen consoled that goodness is rewarded, evil is punished and authors and actors get the praise and the cachet they deserve.
It is fine entertainment and an uplifting , for some tear-jerking, story. It inspires generosity, honesty and even religiosity far more effectively than many other efforts to edify, including literature that is supposed to be divinely inspired. It is Dickens rewritten by Frank Capra. It reminds us, as Jesus sadly said, that we shall always have the poor with us, but leaves us with the warm feeling that goodness is rewarded, if not here then hereafter. Even if you don’t agree with the second part of that last sentence, dreams can come true. If they do, we should thank good people like Jean Valjean, not the God he believed in. He/She/It is a dream and No Thing else.