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In the musical, Les Miserables, the lyrics of the songs sung focus on various aspects of the daily lives of the main and supporting characters. Each of the chosen six songs has central themes that emphasize the struggles and tribulations that the characters must go through. Some of the themes that are more prominent in the songs are that of poverty, power struggles, manipulation, and desperation in the day to day society.
“At the End of the Day”
The first song I chose to focus on is one done by the company called “At the End of the Day.” It is sung at the beginning of Act I of the musical. One of the main focuses of the song is poverty. The workers sing about working hard every day and never getting out of the rut of poverty. They lament that it is almost just like they are passing time until their lives come to an end.
There is also a theme of abuse in the song as the women are forced to submit to the foreman’s desires and if they do not, they face the wrath of the other workers as the foreman’s attitude changes towards everyone. Fantine also faces abuse for having a child outside of wedlock and is discriminated against because she is caring for that child and inevitably ends up losing her job over this.
“Bring Him Home”
The song “Bring Him Home” is sung by Valjean in Act II of the musical. Although the song is very short, it conveys powerful emotions by Valjean, including that of fatherly love. He knows that Cosette cares deeply for Marius and does not want to witness her heartbreak.
He prays to God that Marius be spared, much as a father would pray that his child be spared from any kind of pain or misfortune. He uses religion as a bit of a last resort to seek comfort and find some control over a situation that he has no control over. Valjean pleads that youth should be spared because they have so much more to live for.
“Master of the House”
In Act I, the Thenardiers sing “Master of the House” in their inn. The song carried a main theme of manipulation and trickery. Monsieur Thenardier will say one thing to a customer’s face and then, behind his back, insult them or complain about having to serve them. Ironically, the customers are just as insulting and unappreciative of the service, which is, truthfully, very poor. There is also a hint of jealousy from the inn customers who lament that it must be very nice to have the power to do what you wish in your business.
The song “Stars” is sung by Javert in Act I of the musical. His voice has hints of desperation in it, as he desires to catch Valjean. It frustrates him that he has gotten away from him thus far. Like Valjean, he asks for God’s intervention to assist in the capture of his prisoner.
It is an interesting contrast to Valjean’s song because Javert is fixated on duty while Valjean is more focused on family and relationships. The song also carries a theme of people in their place. He sings about how, like the stars in the sky, there must be order in the world and that means that criminals must be punished.
“On My Own”
“On My Own” is a melancholy song sung by Eponine in the second act. It conveys a strong theme of love, desire, and learning to let go. Eponine wants to be with Marius, but Marius is in love with Cosette. She hopes that he will see that she loves him and wants him to come to her. Eponine learns that she has to accept that he is not in love with her and that his life will continue on without her. She faces the anguish and understanding that she will be alone, but strangely appears to take comfort in the fact that Marius will be happy without her.
“Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”
The final song that I chose to analyze is “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” sung by Marius in Act II. He sings of his grief at the loss of his friends in the fight. Marius’s voice hints strongly of his guilt at being left alive. He does not know why he was chosen to be left alive. Again, there is a theme of learning to let go of the past. He, like Valjean, feels that youth should not have perished so easily and that his friends had so much more to live for. His grief is clearly evident in his tone and he feels that he should have died with them.
All of the chosen songs show signs of despair, but also there are hints of hope in the lyrics. The characters have not lost faith that someone will intervene and make their lives somewhat better. Each character takes solace in the fact that something good has come of their struggles. For example, Marius takes comfort that his friends have died for a good cause.
In addition, Eponine, even though she knows she will be alone, takes comfort in that Marius will be happy without her. While none of the characters ultimately live in a happy situation, they are able to overcome their emotions and continue on.