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Monday, March 7, 2011

The Force of Misery

The ability to choose gives human beings the ability to take part in
shaping human destiny. The impact of human choices is found in chance
encounters and dramatic decisions between good and evil. The choice of
how to respond to the force of suffering and misery has a profound impact
on human destiny. Jean ValJean of the novel Les Miserables and Anakin
Skywalker of the dual Star Wars trilogies are two tragic characters that
exemplify the power of choice. Similarities are present throughout their
stories, but they each have a distinct path from fall to redemption. They
are two unique men, influenced along different paths by the force of
misery as they encounter rules and opportunities for power.

Jean Valjen and Anakin Skywalker both experience enslavement, fall from
favor, salvation and redemption. Jean ValJean is imprisoned for stealing
bread, is released, receives hospitality from a bishop, falls into
disfavor by stealing from him, is immediately redeemed by a debt enjoined
on him by the bishop and spends the rest of his life working out his
salvation. Anakin Skywalker is held in slavery, his freedom is purchased
by a Jedi, he falls into disfavor by choosing to serve a dark master to
gain powers, is redeemed by the sacrifice of his son years later and dies
working out his salvation by destroying his dark master.

The rules of a society and the enforcement of these rules set the
groundwork for how people interact with each other and have the potential
for causing much suffering. Jean ValJean is sent to jail for breaking a
window pane while stealing a piece of bread (Hugo 18). So that he can fill
his need for something to eat. The rules of society continue to punish
him as he rebels against them through multiple escape attempts (Hugo 19).
At the center of the confrontations between Javert and Jean Valjean is the
conflict between the societal rules that require Jean ValJean to return to
prison and his sense of justice that demands reparation. Jean ValJean
responds to the rules with the demand that what he feels are the demands
of justice he must fulfill to be carried out but also accepts the
punishments set forth by the rules of society. Jean ValJean’s acceptance
of punishment grows and is demonstrated by his first escaping from capture
(Hugo 104), to giving Javert his address (Hugo 490) and then having Javert
accompany him to his residence to take him to jail (Hugo 522). Even his
attempts to escape from custody are driven by his obligation to take care
of Cosette (Hugo 579). With ultimate consideration of justice for others
Jean ValJean moves from disregard for rules toward following them more

 In convergence with Jean ValJean’s reactions one finds the
reactions of Anakin Skywalker to the rules of society that he comes into
conflict with along his path. In The Phantom Menace, Anakin starts as a
young obedient boy who bends the rules. In one of the climactic scenes in
the fight for the planet Naboo, Anakin is told to stay in a fighter
spacecraft inside a hangar with the obvious intention of him not leaving
the hangar. The fighter spacecraft takes to the air on auto-pilot into
the midst of a battle but upon gaining control of the fighter spacecraft
Anakin Skywalker refuses to return to the planet because he is following
his orders by staying in the cockpit (The Phantom Menace). Anakin moves
from bending the rules to flagrant disregard of rules as he gets older.
Anakin is now sent to guard Padme Amidala leading to his eventual secret
marriage, which is directly against the rules of the Jedi Order (Attack of
the Clones). Anakin deepens his transgressions against rules from
breaking to outright manipulation of people by abusing how rules are
applied. In the battle scene between Mace Windu and the Emperor
Palpatine, Palpatine claims to be losing power, becoming too weak to
survive. At this point, Mace Windu decides to break the rules and kill
Palpatine. Anakin pleads that Palpatine “must stand trial,” “it’s not the
Jedi way,” and “I need him” (The Revenge of the Sith). These three
instances show how Anakin Skywalker moves from being a slave under total
control of the law, to bending of rules, on to breaking them and then
finally manipulation of how the rules are applied to serve his selfish
ends. He has a need and desire to keep Palpatine alive for personal gain
and not out of a sense of justice being fulfilled.

These two characters interact with power given to them in very different
ways. Anakin starts as a young boy setting out to help others and prove
himself as a pod-racer on the planet of Tatooine. He finds out he
possesses a special ability to manipulate the force to such a high degree
that it may be more powerful than anyone has ever possessed. His natural
inclinations with this power are enough to save him but not his mother
from slavery (The Phantom Menace). In Attack of the Clones we again see
Anakin wield his power in an attempt to save Obi-Wan and his mother. He
is unable to do so by himself and almost loses his love, Padme, as well.
Facing Count Dooku for the first time, Anakin rushes fiercely into battle
to defeat Dooku and he fails to defeat the Count. Anakin faces Count
Dooku a second time in The Revenge of the Sith and in this duel he openly
states that his “powers have doubled since the last time we met, Count.”
Dooku shows the audience the peril Anakin is in when he retorts, “twice
the pride, double the fall.” Dooku is defeated by Anakin and executed him
without due process when he is defenseless. Now, Anakin is placed on the
Jedi Council by the Emperor and Anakin desires the title of Master that
goes with the position but is denied it. He is denied the prestige,
privilege and power to command what he feels is due him. In the final
scenes with Padme on Mustafar, Anakin talks about his power, gaining it
for Padme, making “his new Empire” the way that he wants. He is furious
when Padme refuses him, similar to the way that he feels the Jedi turned
away from him. He no longer serves any purpose other that his own designs
for greatness and power. Upon being confronted by Obi-wan Kenobi he
states “I am becoming more powerful than any Jedi” (The Revenge of the
Sith). Ironically, it is Anakin’s son refusing to take power and refusal
to strike down Anakin, in the person of Vader, that brings Anakin’s
salvation (The Return of the Jedi). Up until that moment Anakin continues
to show his want for more power as an end in itself.

Opposing the desire for power is the idea of being a servant that we see
in Jean ValJean. He starts to repay his debt by running a factory so that
any of the poor could find work and just wages as an act of service.
ValJean’s rejects of the position of mayor that is given to him by the
king, showing his public rejection of the position and power (Hugo 42).
Then, after no longer being able to avoid the title of Mayor and charge
over the police, he is content to be a simple gardener without even his
own name, serving the sisters of the convent that instruct Cossette (Hugo
214). ValJean continues to serve the poor and less fortunate, even to the
point of it being a flaw, as he promises to pay rent (Hugo 289) for people
who turn out to be his adversaries, the Thenardiers, and they attempt to
rob him (Hugo 318). The greatest level of service comes at the barricade,
through protection of lives by risking his own life to bring people to
safety. He accomplishes this without attack of another or defense of
himself, his only objective was to just render aid to others (Hugo 495).
Finally, as he loses strength and is at the point of death he leaves to
Cosette the information about money that is hers (Hugo 565) and he
continues his service to poor, leaving alms to be distributed to the poor
in his final breaths (Hugo 583).

Both of these men experience the force of misery and take different paths
to salvation and redemption. Both men die in the end, after being saved
and redeemed. The human choice of Jean ValJean and Anakin Skywalker in
responding to the misery they experience and how they choose to use the
power they are given are two of the integral things that make these
characters stand in contrast to each other. The fact that they fall, are
redeemed and saved makes them the same.

Works Cited

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company: 1862. Google e-book.
Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. 1999. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Jake Lloyd .
Lucasfilm, 2001. DVD
Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. 2002. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Hayden
Christensen. Lucasfilm, 2002. DVD
Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith. 2005. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. Hayden
Christensen. Lucasfilm, 2005. DVD.
Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi 2004. Dir. George Lucas. Perf. David Prowse,
James Earl Jones, Sebastian Shaw. Lucasfilm, 2005. DVD

Matthew S.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Deception Of Reality

To the tune of The Sound of Silence by Paul Simon

Hello journal my old friend

I've come to write in you again

Because a truth softly thought

Left its meaning while I was waking

And the reality that was shown

In my mind still remains

Within the deception of reality

In a crowded room, I worked alone

Round cubicles with muted tones

Under the glare of fluorescent lamps

I threw my trash to old and oppressed

When my eye was blinded by the flash

Of the computer crash that spilled the truth

And found the deception of reality

And in the dim image I saw

Ten million I.P.'s, maybe more

People texting without thinking

People blogging without reason

People making reality shows that

Were preplanned and no one dared

Disturb the deception of reality

"Blind," said I, "you cannot see

Deception like a shadow grows

Hear the truth so you might see reality

Turn around and see the light behind you."

But truth, like melting snowflakes fell

And drown in the wells of deception

And the people friended and updated

To the deceptive god they made

And the truth flashed out its warning

In the reality it was revealing

And insight said, "The words of truth are written

on the humble minds and loving hearts

not whispered by deceivers of reality.

Matthew S.