extract from victor hugo s les miserables n.
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Extract from victor hugo’s ‘les miserables ’. ELAINE DING. A man overboard! What matters it? The vessel does not halt. The wind blows. That sombre ship has a path which it is forced to pursue. It passes on.

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A man overboard!

  • What matters it? The vessel does not halt. The wind blows. That sombre ship has a path which it is forced to pursue. It passes on.
  • The man disappears, then reappears; he plunges, he rises again to the surface; he calls, he stretches out his arms; he is not heard. The vessel, trembling under the hurricane, is wholly absorbed in its own workings; the passengers and sailors do not even see the drowning man; his miserable head is but a speck amid the immensity of the waves. He gives vent to desperate cries from out of the depths. What a spectre is that retreating sail! He gazes and gazes at it frantically. It retreats, it grows dim, it diminishes in size. He was there but just now, he was one of the crew, he went and came along the deck with the rest, he had his part of breath and of sunlight, he was a living man. Now, what has taken place? He has slipped, he has fallen; all is at an end.
  • He is in the tremendous sea. Under foot he has nothing but what flees and crumbles. The billows, torn and lashed by the wind, encompass him hideously; the tossings of the abyss bear him away; all the tongues of water dash over his head; a populace of waves spits upon him; confused openings half devour him; every time that he sinks, he catches glimpses of precipices filled with night; frightful and unknown vegetations seize him, knot about his feet, draw him to them; he is conscious that he is becoming an abyss, that he forms part of the foam; the waves toss him from one to another; he drinks in the bitterness; the cowardly ocean attacks him furiously, to drown him; the enormity plays with his agony. It seems as though all that water were hate.
  • Nevertheless, he struggles
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He tries to defend himself; he tries to sustain himself; he makes an effort; he swims. He, his petty strength all exhausted instantly, combats the inexhaustible.

  • Where, then, is the ship? Yonder. Barely visible in the pale shadows of the horizon.
  • The wind blows in gusts; all the foam overwhelms him. He raises his eyes and beholds only the lividness of the clouds. He witnesses, amid his death-pangs, the immense madness of the sea. He is tortured by this madness; he hears noises strange to man, which seem to come from beyond the limits of the earth, and from one knows not what frightful region beyond.
  • There are birds in the clouds, just as there are angels above human distresses; but what can they do for him? They sing and fly and float, and he, he rattles in the death agony.
  • He feels himself buried in those two infinities, the ocean and the sky, at one and the same time: the one is a tomb; the other is a shroud.
  • Night descends; he has been swimming for hours; his strength is exhausted; that ship, that distant thing in which there were men, has vanished; he is alone in the formidable twilight gulf; he sinks, he stiffens himself, he twists himself; he feels under him the monstrous billows of the invisible; he shouts.
  • There are no more men. Where is God?
  • He shouts. Help! Help! He still shouts on.
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Intercalary chapter – A chapter that does not correlate with the storyline but is used as a side-story to accentuate certain aspects of the plot.

  • In this case, it can be seen as a reflection of the inner turmoil, helplessness and victimization of the protagonist, Jean Valjean
use of quotation
Use of quotation
  • “A man overboard!”
  • Begins with exclamation, used to immediately grab the attention of the reader
  • Also, to signal that this is an intercalary chapter, a break from the storyline/plot
  • Setting and context of intercalary chapter is clearly and quickly established
  • “He shouts. Help! Help! He still shouts on.”
  • Grabs attention of reader again, more interactive, more intimate
  • Forces sympathy from reader, challenges us to rethink the judgment of society and of ‘justice’
  • Monotony of plight, “He shouts…he still shouts”, absurdity of life
absurdity meaninglessness of life
Absurdity/meaninglessness of life
  • “The vessel does not halt. The wind blows…it passes on”
  • Short, simple sentences. Blunt and harsh reality.
  • “The man disappear, then reappears; he plunges, he rises again to the surface; he calls, he stretches out his arms; he is not heard”
  • Motif of waves and oscillation is emphasized.
  • Meaningless and monotonous process, again absurdity of life
  • Pronoun use – “he” is representative of the collective human experience, there will always be periphery societal characters that are treated unjustly
  • “his miserable head is but a speck amid the immensity of waves”
  • Personification, juxtaposition of a vulnerable human to the awesome power of nature. Cruelty of life established
diction syntax
Diction & Syntax
  • “He gives vent to desperate cries from out of the depths”
  • Giving vent to desperate cries
  • Societal motif strengthened
  • Crying out for all the other souls
  • “vent”, diction: powerful expression of suppressed voices
  • “the cowardly ocean attacks him furiously”
  • Personification
  • Diction: choice of adjective “cowardly”, polemic attack on society and their treatment of outsiders.
  • Irony also in that the “cowardly” sea is attacking “furiously”. As if being a predator to alienated societal characters is close-minded and cowardly
  • “he had his part of breath and of sunlight”
  • - “had a part” syntax connotes to a feeling of acceptance, like he had a place in the world
  • “he feels himself buried in those two infinities…one is a tomb; the other is a shroud”
  • Vast power of society and God
  • He will be consumed, and forgotten
  • Religious imagery
caesura
Caesura
  • “it retreats, it grows dim, it diminishes in size”
  • Fluid motion, irony that this is established through caesura. Contrast and tension created
  • Slows down pace, whole extract has extremes in pace, sometimes very fast and at times very slow, but not losing the tension and focus
  • Change of tone, no more struggle  acceptance?
anaphora
Anaphora
  • “he sinks, he stiffens himself, he twists himself, he feels under him…he shouts”
  • “he tries to defend himself; he tries to sustain himself; he makes an effort; he swims”
  • Connotes to control, perseverance, makes readers empathize with his plight and the plight of all those he represents
  • Monotony of life, constant suffering  foreshadows the chain of events that will occur in the book, ie. The relentless persecution of Jean Valjean by the police
sensory imagery
Sensory imagery
  • Tactile:
  • “Tongues of water”
  • Continual ref. to motif of mouth and consumption
  • Thematic unity
  • Gives water a monstrous, animalistic persona
  • Human features, the sea is rep. of humans and society
  • Aural:
  • “death-pangs”
  • “he hears noises strange to man”
  • - “pang” onomatopoeia, involves the reader in the scene
  • Taste:
  • “he drinks in the bitterness”
  • - Literally, the bitterness of sea water. But could also be ref. to bitterness of humans and society
personification transferred epithet
Personification/transferred epithet
  • “The vessel, trembling under the hurricane”
  • Protagonist is the one trembling
  • The vessel is rep. of his hope, thus connotes to the fact that hope is fragile
  • “The waves spit on him”
  • Disrespect
  • Predator-like
  • Detest of ‘outsiders’ and misanthropes
structure
Structure
  • Isolation of lines “nevertheless he struggles”
  • “There are no more men”
  • Reflections protagonists own, metaphorical isolation
  • Paranoia, yet readers can empathize with why Valjean feels this way
  • Blunt, brusque impact of a short and simple, isolated sentance