January 1, 2013

For the most part I agree with Stacy Wolf’s feminist analysis of “Les Miserables” and the musical’s position within contemporary popular culture [“Despite its miserable stereotypes, I love ‘Les Miz,’ ” Outlook, Dec. 30], but I think that people like the female characters not because they are familiar stereotypes but because we are familiar with their suffering.

Victor Hugo wrote the women’s character arcs to demonstrate how disproportionately the poor, and how in particular poor women, suffer within a patriarchal, capitalist society. Their deaths are intended not to inspire the male characters to action but to show the terrible price these women paid to preserve the status quo.

If we still identify with the “artificial hells” to which we condemn each other (as Hugo phrased it in the prologue to his novel), then perhaps we also ought to look at how far our culture has yet to go.

Elyse Martin, Cabin John

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