Finding Yourself in a Character

Have you ever had the experience of relating so strongly to a character that it really made a story vivid for you? It’s a great experience, when it happens. For example, Anne Shirley and I are definitely kindred spirits, and I feel that way about Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Bennett, and several other literary characters.

I haven’t, traditionally, connected with “Les Miserables.” Fantine is a little too pathetic, Cosette has a bit too happy an ending, Eponine is too tragic. I guess I connected most with Jean Valjean, but given that I’m not a Frenchman who has done 20 years of hard time for an act of petty theft, there were definite limits to the ways that I’ve connected to the play. I’ve always loved the music, though. My most musically-inclined brother made me a theater mix tape toward the end of the time I was in high school that I absolutely loved (with the exception of the “Phantom of the Opera,” which is not my play), and I sang and loved the music for at least seven years before I saw the plan, and when I did, the story seemed a little melodramatic for me.

Grey area guy is a huge fan of “Les Miserables,” though, and urged me to see the Hugh Jackman movie a couple of years ago, which I did. And I got a lot, spiritually, out of it. I definitely understand the play on the “God of Mercy/God of Justice” angle, and it resonated for me more than it had in other versions I’d seen.

Mom and I went to see a community theater version of the play last week, and I was overwhelmed by my sense that, if the story was about me in any real sense, then it was Eponine’s story of unrequited love. I wanted to reject that interpretation, but there was just too much evidence for it. And it all made Eponine’s story that much more heartbreaking. It wasn’t a polished production, by any stretch, and I found the adult Cosette particularly unlikable, so the Marius/Cosette story just stung. Which is a fair thing for it to do, artistically.

Have you ever had that happen? Connected with a story one way, during one reading/experience of it, and then later, connect to a different character and see the story entirely differently? I’d love to hear your stories about it. (Doesn’t need to be “Les Mis.”)

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