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the pith helmet

     I'm relatively intelligent. And I know some pretty smart people too. So I figure that it's about time that I share that intelligence with the rest of the world. Do you have a question? Sure you do! So ask it here!

I may, or may not, know what I'm talking about. I'm not a therapist. I'm not even really a writer. In real life, face to face, some of what I've written here might have been accompanied by a smirk or wild hand gestures. Keep it in mind.

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Published on 02/18/2001

emily mcnamara asks:
who r u?

A good question, and one that I have often asked myself. In the musical "Les Miserables," Jean Valjean struggles with the question "Who Am I?" On the run from Inspector Javert, Valjean has hidden himself as an upstanding citizen until the day he finds that a man bearing his likeness is to be tried for the crimes that he, Valjean, had supposedly committed. And so he has a choice to make.

"Can I condemn this man to slavery / Pretend I do not feel his agony / This innocent who bears my face / Who goes to judgement in my place"

Valjean knows that he will have to live with the guilt of not speaking up, of not revealing himself to the court. While he may continue to live his life, hidden from the law, he will never be able to hide from his own conscience.

"And must my name until I die / Be no more than an alibi? / Must I lie?"

Does he live forever under his assumed identity? If he does stand aside, if he does not come forward, he can never go back to being "Jean Valjean," who stole a loaf of bread to feed his family. That man, the wrong man, will have already gone to trial, leaving the real Valjean to forever question his own identity.

"My soul belongs to God, I know / I made that bargain long ago / He gave me hope when hope was gone / He gave me strength to journey on"

And finally, we get to the crux of the argument, which would be religious guilt. More than his internal struggle, God knows the truth, and a deal has been made with God. He has hidden him to this point, but now is the true test. Is he really worthy of forgiveness? If he lets this man go to trial in his place, then no, he is not, and he, Valjean, will be sentenced by an even higher power than the law.

And so, with a final realization, Valjean tears open his shirt to reveal the prison number tatooed across his chest: 24601.

In hiding his identity for so long, Jean Valjean, then name, has lost all of its meaning. Indeed, Valjean, until this point, has not even existed in society. Instead, we see a man defined only by a number. A number that was only assigned to him after he was convicted of a crime. Only after he had performed some deed. So his deeds define him? He IS 24601? Or is that merely a representation of what he had done, at one point in his life?

No, Valjean has become 24601. For whoever he was before his number was assigned, and whoever he was after, the number is the only constant. He was unwilling to completely ignore the past, and this number was the only tie to the man he used to be.

We all use the things we do to define who we are. And yet they are two fundamentally different things. Are you a name? An occupation? A hobby? The latter two are merely things. They answer the question "what" but not necessarily "who," and the former, the former is most likely a name given by a parent, and can one be defined by a name given before any other traits are known? Or, in fact, is this the best definition? Rather than having judgement clouded by actions later in life, parents are able to name from the heart, to look within themselves and choose a word (that is, a name) to define exactly this being that is to become "you" later in life. Of course in this age of online communications and whatnot, people are free to define themselves however they want, and are free to label those definitions however they want.

In this context, I am jcn.

And I like Cheerios.

In other words ~ None of your bee's wax!
Posted by A on 02-21-2001 14:52

good god, j. you're so erudite it hurts. indie cred is fucking right!

by the way: you are on your way to destruction. all your base are belong to us.
Posted by nash on 02-24-2001 05:09

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