How can one measure the deadliest of the seven sins? The seven deadly sins, wrath, sloth, lust, pride, avarice, gluttony, and envy are often explored by authors in an attempt to examine the nature of man.  When put in certain situations one may be forced to make decisions based upon their favored personal outcome. Wrath closely links to anger and revenge. Avarice leads to forms of conniving and pride leads to self-proclamation and ignorance. These three sins, when expressed, are the catalysts of destruction for characters in King Lear and Les Misérables.

To begin, Edmund, Lear, and Thenardier’s greed in the play is the driving force though out. Once they have reached a place of their ambition they continuously strive for more. The position of Earl of Gloucester did not fully satisfy Edmund for he wanted to also be king.  With this ambition, Edmund pursues both heiresses of the throne, Regan, and Goneril, in hopes of marrying one of them to be king. Edmund ends up being killed by his brother Edgar but he dies alone with no wife and stripped away from all of his power. In contrast to Edmund’s greed for power, there is King Lear’s greed for love. Lear divide’s his kingdom amongst his daughters based upon how much they love him and how they express their love for him.

“Tell me, my daughters (since now we will divest us both of rule,

interest of territory, cares of state), which of you shall we say doth

love us most, that we our largest bounty may extend.” (1. i. 45-47)

This quotation introduces the daughters before they have to proclaim their love for Lear. Cordelia the daughter that did not comply with the king’s greedy wishes was exiled. As a result of giving the power to Goneril and Regan, Lear ends up being betrayed by the daughters in power and loved by Cordelia, the daughter he threw away due to his greed.

Furthermore, the Thenardier’s in Les Miserable’s solely lived by their greed. They took in Cosette, Fantine’s daughter, at a young age because Fantine was unable to take care of her.  Because Fantine had no way of providing a decent life for her daughter she was forced to pay a monthly fee without the Thenardier’s having any mercy on her economic situation.

Therefore throughout these novels greed plays a prominent role in the downfall of the characters. This is one of the many sins that took place in King Lear and Les Miserables, another theme is one of pride.

Themes in King Lear

In addition, the sin of pride is evident within this Shakespearean classic and is the catalyst to the characters’ eventual downfall. Once Regan and Goneril took complete power over the kingdom, they stopped listening to their father’s orders and began to rule under no jurisdiction. “‘Tis his own blame; hath put himself from rest, and must needs taste his folly” (2.i 55-57).

This quotation explains that the sisters believe that the King should get what he deserves. Their pride took over and they were willing to break all family ties to be on top. In addition to that, the two sisters both pursued the Earl of Gloucester, Edmund, knowing the opposite sister also wanted to be with him. It became a competition that took a turn for the worst.  

As a result of the power trip and self-proclamation of pride, Goneril poisoned Regan and ended up committing suicide for all of the problems she had caused and the horrible things she endured upon her beloved sister. After Cordelia was exiled, the fool, in a joking matter told Lear that he was making a big mistake in giving away his kingdom and that Cordelia was the only deserving daughter.

“Why this fellow has banish’d two on’s daughters, and dud the third a blessing against his will:if thou follow him thou must needs wear my coxcomb.” (2.i. 40-41) This quotation describes how the King did Cordelia a favor by banishing her because she is now Queen of France and he should be wearing the jester hat.  Pride is a very key sin and plays a major part in the play.

In King Lear and Les Miserables, it drove characters to act outrageous and ultimately, caused their destruction. In addition to avarice and pride, the sin of wrath took its toll in both pieces of writing.

The uncontrollable wrath in Les Miserables and King Lear is potentially what causes the destruction of the characters’ lives. Anger is an ugly emotion and when expressed for selfish reasons the outcome is always negative. In King Lear Edmund feels as if he is the deserving child of the title passed down by his father. He is deprived of his position in the natural order:

King Lear: Clothing vs. Nakedness

“Wherefore should I stand in the plague of customs, and permit the curiosity

of nations of deprive me, for that I am some twelve or fourteen

moonshines Lag of brother? Why bastard”.(3. i. 67-68)

By being the illegitimate child and born two weeks after his brother Edgar, Edmund would not be given the position of Earl of Gloucester and believes it is unjust. Consequently, his anger and led him to trick his brother into fleeing the kingdom and taking all of the power.

In addition to Edmund’s wrath, there is Javert’s dire need to catch Jean Valjean and stay committed to true morals and the law. With this, Javert expresses wrath as he chases down Jean Valjean to prosecute him for changing his identity and will not stop until he imprisons him.

Once Jean Valjean saves Javert from a tragic death, Javert repents all of his actions and his wrath drives him into a state of madness and he ends up committing suicide. In relation to his Goneril, the eldest of the three sisters is in constant competition with her sister Regan and it eventually brings out her insanity and she poisons her own sister breaking all family ties.

She felt extreme anger towards Regan because she was going for Edmund, the Earl of Gloucester, and Goneril wanted to marry him also. This results in Goneril going completely crazy and killing herself for the guilt she felt for murdering her supposedly beloved sister. Wrath can drive people to make rash decisions based on their hatred. The characters’ wrath in Les Miserables and King Lear eventually drove them to their death.

In conclusion, the sins of greed, pride, and wrath in Shakespeare’s King Lear and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables were tied in with the disorder and self-destruction of the characters in the works.

The three selective sins were the primary forces in disrupting the nature of the characters. The sins committed in the play and the novel help enhance the themes and drives to plot into utter turmoil. The effect of the seven deadly sins resulted in a tragic ending and will be examined to better understand the true evil of man.

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