A Little Child May Lead Them
There are instances in which deranged men who have been kept in the dark for epochs on end are scarred by their traumatic pasts. Of these instances, few result in these men stepping out of the shadows and moving towards the light. What makes the difference in these situations is that the man who chooses to leave the darkness behind has been lead to the light by innocence, youth, and unparalleled beauty. The tales of Silas Marner by George Eliot and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo both demonstrate the notion that a child can change a man’s life for the better; in both works, the daughter teaches the father the forgotten lessons and values of being a member of society, selflessness, and family which are essential to regaining the life that the father lost. Eppie and Cosette are Marner and Valjean’s respective guides to the radiant exterior of the prison in which they were isolated in for so long.
Disturbed fathers Marner and Valjean are outsiders of their own societies until their fortunes change, and each finds a young child to love. The respective daughters bring them back into society after a long period of seclusion. Prior to collecting Cosette, Valjean became mayor of his community; despite this, he was still somewhat withdrawn. When Valjean is once again convicted of his crimes, he is banished to prison. However, he escapes; as a fugitive, he reverts to his reclusive lifestyle. After collecting Cosette, he bonds with his community by establishing a routine walk around the garden in the town he comes to live in. Also, he gives Cosette away to Marius – a father’s last duty to his daughter; this completes his role as a member of society. Like this, Silas Marner was also saved from the confines of seclusion. After Eppie crawls into his life, Silas begins to reintegrate himself with his community, “The little child had come to link him once more with the whole world…” (Eliot 138). He transforms into a more social person as a direct result of Eppie’s presence; Silas starts going to Church, a community gathering at the time – thus making himself a part of his community. Silas says to Eppie, “‘your father was a lone man before you was sent to him’”, to which Eppie responds, “‘but you’ll never be lone again, father’” (Eliot 158). For Eppie’s sake, Silas makes effort to become a convivial father.
Cosette and Eppie also teach their fathers to be selfless after years of Valjean looking out for himself and Marner hoarding gold. Upon collecting Cosette from the Thenardiers, Valjean instantaneously becomes selfless in order to care for her. As he escapes from the lawful inspector Javert, Valjean becomes aware that by taking Cosette while fleeing the law, he has put her in a hazardous situation. Having witnessed the injustices of life, Valjean realizes that Cosette’s life is at peril; he attempts to take care of her in order to supplement her lack of a stable environment – by doing so, he becomes selfless. On a cold night, “[Cosette] was still trembling…The good man took off his coat and wrapped Cosette in it” (Hugo 139). Valjean nobly sacrifices his physical warmth for Cosette’s wellbeing, but since her wellbeing is the new warmth in his life, Valjean can only gain. Silas Marner is affected by Eppie’s presence similarly. Over the years, his relationship with Eppie has taught him to put others first. When Godfrey comes to take custody of Eppie, Marner initially acquiesces to Godfrey’s demand after a tense internal conflict, ‘“Eppie, my child, speak. I won’t stand in your way’” (Eliot 179). He knows that the life Godfrey offers is far more extravagant than any life that he could offer; he knows that the luxuries Godfrey proposes are more plentiful than any he could propose. He is willing to remove the joy from his life in order to add joy to Eppie’s life. Marner does this for Eppie because he loves her, his only family.
Finally, the girls teach their fathers the significance of family. At some point in their lives, the disturbed fathers have lost ties with their families: Marner, through natural causes; and Valjean, after spending nineteen years in prison. They both learn the meaning of family through their respective daughters. Valjean learns this at his dying hour when Marius forgives all, clearing the air of residual tension, and making way for pure love between father, son, and daughter. Valjean’s final wish for his children: ‘“Love each other dearly always. There is scarcely anything else in the world but that: to love one another’” (Hugo 398-399). Valjean had been without love for decades, and with Cosette, not only did he gain a son, he learned that the importance of a family is to love one another. Similarly, Marner learns the significance of family through Eppie. He comes to love her out of immediate paternity, “The tender and peculiar love with which Silas had reared her…” (Eliot 155). Eppie’s entrance in Silas’s life changes his understanding of family; now he realizes the power of love. Like Cosette allows Valjean, Eppie allows Silas to, once again, have a family through her union with Aaron. Eppie persuades him to marry Aaron, ‘“You won’t be giving me away, father…you’ll only be taking Aaron to be a son to you’” (Eliot 192). Through Eppie, Silas gains a son; both fathers are given another chance to have a family, and a chance to love that family.
The theme of a young girl coming into a stray man’s life and leading him back to the path is prevalent in the tales of Silas Marner by George Eliot and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Both stories discuss the daughters teaching the fathers the lessons: being members of the community, selflessness, and the importance of family. These crucial lessons, along with the unique relationship with their daughters, give the fathers another chance at the lives that were taken away from them. With innocence, youth, and beauty, a little child may lead them.