I know I write this blog for you all, but a lot of times, I feel like I end up writing for myself. One time, I wrote a whole post on how I don’t get angry, then took a step back, asked myself, “What’s the point?” and threw it out (or in this day and age, deleted the file). So I try to make sure my posts are relevant to my readers, but it’s not always an easy thing to do. I was questioning these tendencies in myself, and I came to this answer: I, like pretty much everyone, want to understand myself.
Identity is a funny thing. Is it completely shaped by us, or do other people play a part in it? Do we only have one identity, or do we have many? Is it constant, or does it change? In short, what is identity?
Yeah, I don’t think I can answer that now. I keep coming up with more questions. Then I create answers that contradict each other or that aren’t as full as I want them to be. And I keep coming back to the question, “Who am I?”
This, of course, brings me to the song of that name in the musical, Les Miserables, which is what I will focus on for the rest of this post. It doesn’t get much press, even though the music is awesome and the conflict in the words is captivating. Honestly, I like this song a lot more than “Bring Him Home,” but maybe that’s just me.
In this breathtaking moment, Jean Valjean is torn between two sides of himself—the old, selfish side that runs away from his past, and the new side of him that wants to redeem himself. And he realizes that they are both a part of who he is now. To take on the new side of himself, he must admit that he used to follow the old side. He chooses redemption by confessing his selfishness. I was absolutely in love with Valjean at this point in the non-musical movie (the one with Liam Neeson).
The conflict is so real and so relatable. How many times have we done things that we just want to erase from existence? How many times have we wanted to deny parts of ourselves? I dunno about you, but that phenomenon is certainly not foreign to me. But everything that we do, everything that we say and think, is part of our identity. Every little habit, every spoken or unspoken word defines who we are, even the things we’d like to forget.
And so, I will leave you with this wonderful clip of Alfie Boe singing “Who Am I?”
Boe is my personal favorite musical Valjean, and I don’t really care if you don’t agree with me on that. Just don’t say that Hugh Jackman was your favorite (loved the acting, but the songs aren’t remotely in his range). Anyway, enough musical nerdiness. So long, farewell, and stay tuned for more blog posts about identity once I’ve had more time to think on it.
p.s. (this is the first time I’ve done a postscript that was actually written after the publication of the rest of the post). Some more thoughts on this song and this moment in Jean Valjean’s life! Perhaps even more prominently than what I was focusing on, Valjean is assessing his character. He knows that the old Valjean would yield to temptation and hide. And he’s asking if the new Valjean will follow that lead or take the path of honor. He quite literally wants to know who he is, which Valjean will win the fight. And that is why this scene is so powerful, because we all tussle with who we are, and he offers us hope that we can all resist the struggles of the flesh, that we all can be our own masters of who we are. As J. K. Rowling so wonderfully put it, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”