Dear Victor Hugo

By Elise Choi
This letter is one of the 2018 “Letters About Literature” winners for the state of Nevada.

Dear Victor Hugo,

My two sisters, I, and my parents are members who constitute our family. Although my parents are fully devoted to their daughters, maybe due to the principle of mathematics, only two children can receive full attention from two adults at same moment. I am a middle child. I am sandwiched between my older sister and my younger sister. My older sister receives privileges as the oldest, and my younger sister is showered with love as the youngest. Don’t get me wrong; I love my sisters. But sometimes, just sometimes, I felt like I was the ugly duckling in my family. As a middle child, my natural reaction was to yield to my sisters’ demands; although my parents never convinced or ordered me to, the situation frequently forced me to do so. Every so often, I was hostile towards my sisters- especially when my elder sister recurrently hauled me into trouble. I even asked myself, “why do I have to be the middle child?” But the answer was nowhere to be found.

Possibly my mother recognized the state of confusion and frustration in my mind. Last summer, my mother suggested your book Les Miserables for me to read. I am an avid reader. Books have always been my friends. Storylines and characters in the novels have allowed me to become whomever I wanted. My copy of your book was six hundred thirty pages long with tiny letters, but I was instantly bonded to the paperback. So much that I read the entire book with only three breaks. After finishing your book, I felt my heart rumbling like a tornado. The Les Miserables touched my heart and reconciled my irritated mind. I then compared my attitude towards my sisters to Valjean’s love and compassion. Even though I was blessed with family and financial support that was not available to Valjean, I lacked the love and forgiveness. I realized that I was not thankful for what I was given; I created my own unhappiness by comparing and complaining. You have changed my view of the world; now, jealousy and negativity are luxury! I realized that true love and forgiveness are miracles that perish all impairments and imperfections.

Sacrifice and dedication? I admit that I was not fond of these two characteristics, but I have been transformed. I had set my goal to become a physician (a very good one) at an early age. As far as I can remember, I enjoyed biology and my visits to the doctor’s office. I wanted to be a physician only because the occupation would suit my interest. But now, after your book, like Fantine, I aim to benefit others and not just myself. In the future, I want to be a physician who heals patients’ body and mind- one who binds the broken hearted. My perception of a good physician has evolved from a knowledgeable scholar to a dedicated and warmhearted professional. Fantine’s love towards her daughter was in direct contrast to how I treated others. Seldom was I eager to surrender my valuables for altruistic purpose. But my Jean Valjean was generous and merciful. I knew I had to be like him; I knew that I should at least try! A new chapter in my life has commenced, and my gratitude goes all to you. Fantine and Valjean have inspired me to love not only the people around me, but also the future patients that I will be seeing as a physician.

I also want to thank you for altering my life into a more thankful one. Now I do not take things for granted. Jean’s extreme punishment for stealing a loaf a bread was a consequence of his poverty. Jean made me think for the first time about how the countless individuals are abused unjustly because of their socioeconomic status. Now I know, as a physician, I must treat everyone equally and not take what has been given to me for granted.

You emphasized justice, love, and generosity throughout your work, but the theme of forgiveness outshines them all. When Bishop Myriel forgave Valjean, I couldn’t help looking back at the moments I spent quarreling with my peers, unable to forgive their mistakes. The Bishop’s act both instigated and shamed me at the same time. Your novel helped me acquire this lesson I shall never forget; forgiveness is contagious and can make someone you forgave forgive others. Not only will I be more generous and sympathetic towards my peers, but I will also attempt to forgive those who transgress against me.

Thank you, Victor Hugo, for opening my heart into a more heroic, loving, and altruistic one.  The qualities of your protagonists deeply inspired me. Now, I will not take things for granted. I will treat all humans equally regardless of his or her socioeconomic status. I will lovingly and generously care for others. I will be more forgiving. As a sister and future physician, I find these characteristics immensely significant, and I will attempt continuously to be a better person.

With appreciation,

Elise Choi

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Elise Choi is a home schooled 5th grade student from Las Vegas. Her letter to Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, won first place in the Nevada Letters About Literature competition in 2018 and advanced to the national level. National winners were announced in May. Letters About Literature is a national reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12, run through the Library of Congress in partnership with Nevada Humanities. Elise has won several awards in poetry, math, and art. Elise also enjoys science and writing in her spare time.

Cheyanne TreadwayThomas