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In Les Misérables (2012), I can't understand why Jean Valjean died at the end. There was no reason given in the movie. Jean Valjean was sitting on a chair inside the convent and was praying and said,

God on high, hear my prayer. Take me now to thy care. Where you are, let me be. Take me now, take me there. Bring me home.

What was the cause of Jean Valjean's death?

Was it sickness? Was it old age? From his prayer, it sounds like Jean Valjean was tired of his life and asking God to take his life, thus saying "bring me home". But I'm not sure.

  • Are you asking what caused him to die? Or why was the movie version script written that way? – Pᴀᴜʟsᴛᴇʀ2 Jan 8 '14 at 18:32
  • @Paulster2 Yeah. I mean the cause. Updated. – Mawia Jan 8 '14 at 18:34
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The source novel (as translated) indicates that he died of wasting, a condition marked by under-nutrition, reduced physical activity and which ultimately results in chronically low blood pressure and systemic organ failure. His wasting was evidently prompted by late onset depression and a change in mental state

His portress, who prepared his scanty repasts, a few cabbages or potatoes with bacon, glanced at the brown earthenware plate and exclaimed:
"But you ate nothing yesterday, poor, dear man!"
"Certainly I did," replied Jean Valjean.
"The plate is quite full."
"Look at the water jug. It is empty."
"That proves that you have drunk; it does not prove that you have eaten."
"Well," said Jean Valjean, "what if I felt hungry only for water?"
"That is called thirst, and, when one does not eat at the same time, it is called fever."
"I will eat to-morrow."

and

A week passed, and Jean Valjean had not taken a step in his room. He still remained in bed.

and

One evening Jean Valjean found difficulty in raising himself on his elbow; he felt of his wrist and could not find his pulse; his breath was short and halted at times; he recognized the fact that he was weaker than he had ever been before.

Given that Jean Valjean was exerting himself at the point at which he died, it seems reasonably likely that the primary symptom of death was heart failure.

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Wikipedia lists this reason from the musical (which the 2012 film is based on) as:

At a convent, Valjean awaits his death, having nothing left to live for.

That may be, but he was also pretty old for the time period, and serving 19 years of hard labor probably didn't help.

  • 1768 - Birth of Jean Valjean (book)
  • 1796 - Jean Valjean is sentenced to prison (28)
  • 1815 - He is released (47)
  • 1823 - He is Mayor and becomes guardian to Cosette (55)
  • 1832 - There is upheaval in Paris and the events of the student revolution take place. (64)
  • 1832 or 1833 - Jean Valjean dies. (64 or 65)

At age 65 he is well past the average life expectancy of something living in France in the 19th century. Admittedly, when you are constantly in war, the life expectancy is pretty low. French people didn't see a life expectancy above 60 until after World War 2.

So it is probably a combination of old age, and having no more reason to live (believing that he will never see Cosette again).

  • Any possibility that he was asking God to take his life? – Mawia Jan 9 '14 at 5:14
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    That's not how Average Life Expectancy works. At all. -1 sorry Jack. – cde Nov 18 '15 at 7:50
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    This is a common misunderstanding of life expectancy. 99% of those who succumb to life expectancy succumb in the first 5 years of life. Jean was past those dangerous infant illnesses, so would be expected to live practically as long as anyone ever has. In the mid 1800s in Europe, that would be around 10-15 more years on average. And as for the labor, there was the one scene that stated that the labor made him unusually strong, which is typically not a sign that it weakened and permanently damaged him. – Jonathon Jul 11 '17 at 3:37
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He simply lost the will to live. There is no medical reason given, and he was, as an able bodied male, a bit too young to die of old age complications. It's possible he did have an undiagnosed medical condition, but the story does not touch on that. The state of Medicine was far less advanced at the time.

To explain the Average Life Expectancy at the time WAS lower, maybe 35 years or so, but this is deceptive at first glance. A high infant mortality rate heavily skews this number. When 800 babies out of 1000 die before age 5, the average plummets. If you discount childhood deaths, an able bodied male that reaches adulthood (20+) of the early 1800's would live to be between 60 and 80 years old, some outliers reaching 90. (Women had the same issue with childhood deaths AND dying in childbirth, but still outlive men by 5 years on average).

Valjean, who in later life is a mayor, slightly well off, would be an old man in death. Compare him to the American Founding Fathers, same time period (Colonial America to Industrial Revolution), died as old men.

Thomas Jefferson 83, John Adams 90, George Wythe was 80, Paul Revere was 83, Ben Franklin was 84. Only George Washington died a young 67, from blood loss, not old age complications.

Given this, he died a bit younger than normal, baring accident/murder or medical illness. Having not been able to see Cosette anymore, he lost his will live, and that's very important. Ask anyone in a medical field, and they will tell you, someone fighting to live has a notably higher chance of surviving than those that don't, like the placebo effect.

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Based on the play, I always assumed he had gotten sick (pneumonia?) saving Marius by wading in the sewers. In the book, after he marries Cosette, Marius is a real jerk to him and forces him to only meet with Cosette in a basement where he catches a chill and dies from it. Either way, Marius is a jerk and responsible for the death of the coolest French guy ever.

  • Pneumonia would be a very hard to hide sickness. A constant cough, chest pains, fever, and a quick death. Nothing in the book, plays or movie suggested it. Pneumonia was well known disease, and fatal early in history. By 1800s any doctor would know that's what killed him. If it was a sickness, it wouldn't have been pneumonia. – cde Nov 18 '15 at 8:44
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Well, in the book it said that he had a fever. That and he lived till eighty and the average life expectancy back them was like 65 or lower. So illness and old age? And heartbreak over not being able to see Cosette again I think.

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For me, I always understood it as he had completed everything he needed to do in that life... and so at last, he is able to rest. In peace, without fear nor worry.

  1. Cosette has found a man who he knows will love and protect her, taking from him that responsibility, one that he volunteered for of course (one that he changed his life for and that gave him purpose). There certainly is a moral dilemma, when after he receives news from Gavroche (fun fact: Eponine's brother) about the men at the blockade, prepared to die; including Marius who, as he reads the message he's received (addressed to Cosette), makes him realize that Cosette & Marius are indeed in love. The decision he sings about having to make is to either let him die or to save him, singing that the existence of this love of Cosette's is something he's always dreaded. Dreaded? What? Being replaced? Losing Cosette? The loss of Cosette's youth? Considering the unwanted possibility that she will need him no more? That it is Cosette's time? She, Marius & the family they will have. The thought of ValJean eventually becoming a burden to Cosette, when she has to care for him as an elderly man?

  2. The feud with Javert has ended.

  3. He is sick of running. He is sick of hiding. There's that strong line when he sings "My name is Jean Valjean. 24601" as he takes back his true identity. What would be left for Valjean? Everyone he cares about is safe or dead, he is still wanted by the police for desertion, although I don't think that plays into the decision. He is certainly not scared of anyone and is using his true name. I just believe he is tired, his work in this life is done so he feels safe to enter his eternal sleep (and he deserves it).

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Lets also remember that he was a slave for 19 years doing physical labor. The sudden stopping of probably 12+ hours of rough manual labor. In the end he struggled to get his trunk into the cart. I believe his body was just deteriorating along with fear if being caught.

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