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and Jean Valjean are each unique characters. As each of them undergo development
in their respective novels, their relationships with authority, others, and themselves
drastically shape their outcomes. Through analyzing these relationships, it can
be determined what motivations and decisions ultimately made each character who
they were.

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Relationship to Authority

Macbeth and Jean Valjean are characters who rebel against a traditional type of
authority because of their ambition to be better. In the case of Macbeth, it
was a rebellion against political authority so that he could gain more power. This
motivation for political power is expressed when Macbeth exclaims “The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step on
which I must fall down, or else o’releap, for in my way it lies. Stars, hide
your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires, the eye wink at the
hand. Yet let that be, which the eye fears when it is done to see” (Shakespeare
13). Macbeth’s ambition for better political authority caused him kill King
Duncan and later on, many other people. For Jean Valjean, it was a rebellion
against moral/social authority. Instead of being like the typical upper-class
French citizens who were rich and only concerned about themselves, it was said
that Valjean “thought much for others,
and little for himself. In 1820, it was known that he had six hundred and
thirty thousand francs standing to his credit in the banking-house of Laffitte;
but before setting aside this six hundred and thirty thousand francs for
himself, he had expended more than a million for the city and for the poor” (Hugo
51). Valjean’s decisions to give to the poor and help others helped him earn a
great reputation among those who didn’t know his past (although by the end of
the novel nearly every character recognizes his goodness). These brief examples
of how Macbeth and Valjean defied ruling authority ultimately set the stage for
Macbeth’s eventual downfall and for Valjean’s gradual development as a good,
honest man.

Relationship to Others

relationships that Valjean and Macbeth had with others also played critical
roles in their development. For Valjean, his relationships with others were
always (except in his beginning) based on his belief that he should be honest
and do good. This is clearly illustrated while Valjean was a businessman living
in M-sur M. The town described Valjean actions in this way, “He did a multitude of good deeds as secretly
as bad ones are usually done. He would steal into houses in the evening, and
furtively mount the stairs. A poor devil, on returning to his garret, would
find that his door had been opened, sometimes even forced, during his absence.

The poor man would cry out: ‘Some thief has been here!’ When he got in, the
first thing he would see would be a piece of gold lying on the table” (Hugo
54). Throughout the novel, Valjean continues this habit of giving to the poor
and he also does many other noble deeds to help others (such as saving Father
Fauchelevent’s life and later Marius’s life). While Valjean’s motives in
relationships were to do good and be honest, Macbeth’s were to abuse. Although
not seen at first with Macbeth, it becomes clearer as he commits more murders
that he is becoming more abusive. After having arranged to have his best friend
Banquo (and Banquo’s son) murdered, Macbeth later tells Lennox his servant “the castle of Macduff I will surprise;
seize upon Fife; give to th’edge o’th’sword his wife, his babes, and all
unfortunate souls” (Shakespeare 68). This is a drastic change in Macbeth
whereas before Macbeth wouldn’t have even speculated about doing such a thing. Although
Macbeth and Valjean’s motives in their relationships with others are quite
different, they are similar in that those closest to them are removed from each
of them, thereby making them more unhappy. For Valjean, his happiness was almost
entirely dependent on having Cosette with him. When she became married and
Marius limited his visits to see Cosette, Valjean’s happiness greatly declines.

In Macbeth’s case, losing Lady Macbeth is correlated with Macbeth increasing in
his anger and intensity of tyranny because Lady Macbeth had always been the one
he would confide and counsel with. Without her steadying presence, he becomes
less happy and more of a brute. Overall, the relationships with others that
Valjean and Macbeth had significantly impacted their evolution.

Relationship to Self

and Valjean have both unique and similar relationships with themselves. They
are similar in that both characters undergo significant changes in their
personalities that impact who they turn out to be. What makes Macbeth’s
relationship with himself so exclusive is that he is trying to succeed in
fulfilling a prophecy about himself whereas Valjean is trying to measure up to
an ideal he believes in. For Macbeth, the attempt to live up to the prophecy he
believes in is characterized when Macbeth says “Two truths are told, as happy prologues to the swelling act of the
imperial theme. I thank you, gentlemen. This supernatural soliciting cannot be
ill, cannot be good. If ill, why hath it given me earnest of success,
commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor. If good, why do I yield to that
suggestion, whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart
knock at my ribs against the use of nature? Present fears are less than
horrible imaginings. My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so
my single state of man that function is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is,
but what is not” (Shakespeare 9). Macbeth’s belief in the prophecy
eventually turns him into a bitter tyrant. This is very different compared to
Valjean who does his best to live up to the ideal of an honest man. This ideal
is best characterized when Valjean struggles within himself about stepping
forth and saving the life of a man who is on trial for a crime that Valjean long
ago. Valjean says to himself, “He
declared that his life, in truth, did have an object. But what object? to
conceal his name? to deceive the police? was it for so petty a thing that he
had done all that he had done? had he no other object, which was the great one,
which was the true one? to save, not his body, but his soul. To become honest
and good again. To be an upright man! was it not that above all, that alone,
which he had always wished, and which the bishop had enjoined upon him!” (Hugo
71). Valjean did step forward and accept the punishment for the innocent man,
but it also set allowed Valjean to be at peace with himself and set a precedent
for another confession that he would make later. Overall, the desires that each
character strives to live up to significantly shape the consequences of their


            The choices
that Valjean and Macbeth make in their respective novels in regard to their
relationships with authority, others, and their own selves greatly affect the fate
of each character. Interestingly enough, each character also at some point in
their novels, looks back on their lives and realizes what they could have ended
up being like were it not for the critical choices they made. Even though the
motivations for Valjean and Macbeth were different, they both showed that factors
that motivate us to do things are closely related to the relationships each of
them have.

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