80 pages 2 hours read

Victor Hugo

Les Miserables

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1862

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Symbols & Motifs

The Silver Candlesticks

In the opening chapters of Les Misérables, the narrator describes Bishop Myriel's complete dedication to charity. The bishop gives up everything he possibly can to help the poor, save for one indulgence: a set of silver cutlery and a pair of silver candlesticks. When he welcomes the ex-convict Valjean into his home, Valjean repays the bishop's kindness by stealing the silver cutlery. The police apprehend Valjean and drag him back to the bishop's house, but the bishop surprises everyone by explaining that the silverware was a gift. He insists that Valjean take the pair of candlesticks as well. Valjean is shocked by this act of mercy. After being ostracized by society and beginning to believe that society's condemnation of him was just, Valjean is treated with genuine respect and affection by a man he has wronged. This act of forgiveness and the bishop’s request that Valjean use the silverware to become a better man change Valjean's life. He sells the cutlery to fund his change, but he cannot bring himself to sell the candlesticks. To Valjean, the candlesticks symbolize that he is never beyond redemption. Even in his darkest moments, when he is furthest from God's grace, the candlesticks remind him of the bishop's kindness.