The 2023 A-to-Z blogging challenge theme is resilience. Resilience is the ability to get back on our feet and keep going after life knocks us down and kicks sand in our faces. Resilience is how the psyche survives and copes, but resilience doesn’t necessarily wear a cape of positivity.
The 26 songs I’ve chosen show us, musically, what resilience looks (sounds?) like. I’ll offer a reflection of the resilience in each song. The songs are alphabetical by the artist’s first name or the group’s name, except for M, O, U, and X.
H is for Hugh Jackman and What Have I Done?
What Have I Done? is Jean Valjean’s soliloquy that in the first several minutes of the story in both the Broadway musical and 2012 movie Les Misérables.
An aspect of resilience is the flight or fight instinct, and this soliloquy illustrates both.
This is a powerful song of absolute dejection, suicidal thoughts, doubt, spiritual crisis, shame, and ultimately self-redemption through the human will to survive.
To explain the resilience, a brief set-up is necessary.
Jean Valjean has been in fight-to-survive mode for the last twenty years while he was in prison doing time for stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child (five years for the theft and fifteen additional years for failed escape attempts). Now, out on parole, he has stolen again. This time he has stolen silver tableware from a bishop who provided Valjean with shelter and food. With this theft, Valjean’s primal flight-to-avoid-capture instinct has kicked in. He has been functioning with the resilience of a wild animal to survive, and that instinct is so strong, he can’t override it.
He is apprehended and returned to the bishop. The bishop not only lies to the authorities that he gave Valjean the silver tableware, he gives Valjean the matching silver candlesticks that are even more valuable.
The bishop tells Valjean that he (the bishop) expects Valjean to change his life and do good things with the silver. In essence, the bishop tells Valjean he is loved for the man he is deep inside.
Here is where Jean Valjean’s introspective soliloquy begins.
He’s feeling lost, scared, and confused as he takes the first step toward change through this halting self-discovery. He asks himself, What have I done? I’m nothing more than a dog on the run. Is there nothing left of me, of the man inside, but hate? Have I fallen so far… (stolen from a bishop) …is the hour so late (Am I beyond salvation? Is it too late to regain my humanity?)
His conscience wages war between righteous justification for his criminal behavior …they gave me a number and murdered Valjean when they chained me an left me for dead just for stealing a mouthful of bread and complete, humbling awe that the bishop only saw the good, decent man he was twenty years ago. He treated me like any other. He gave me his trust. He called me brother.
Valjean’s psyche, his resilience, still refuses to believe he’s worthy of anyone’s compassion or concern. Can such things be? His answers that question with a resounding No! Take an eye for an eye. Turn your heart into stone. This is all I have known. This is his shoulder devil whispering in his ear, so to speak, and he’s falls back on the safety of flight mentality again.
Then his shoulder angel speaks up …instead he (bishop) offers me my freedom. He says his own shame cuts like a knife.
Valjean’s psyche is so torn, so damaged that he nearly succumbs to the niggling idea of suicide. Is there another way to go? Both fight and flight instincts are on the ragged edge of abandoning him. He can’t hold on. His resilience is taking its last ragged gasp.
I am reaching, but I fall, and the night is closing in as I stare into the void to the whirlpool of my sin…
But resilience is tough. Resilience, at the last possible moment, steps back from the precipice and muscles its way past those desperate thoughts.
The bishop believed in Valjean’s inherent goodness, and that one thing, that one person, made all the difference.
Valjean has a resilience resurgence. I’ll escape now from that world from the world of Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean is nothing now. Another story must begin…
Valjean realizes his will to live hasn’t forsaken him. Tearing up the parole papers is the visual, psychological, and physical metaphor for his spiritual and psychological rebirth. This is his psyche screaming, “I want to live!” Ripping up the parole papers destroys the criminal Jean Valjean and replaces him with the resurrected, soul-salvaged Jean Valjean, which is a reawakening of the good and decent man he was before he went to prison.
This song shows resilience at spiritual, emotional, and psychological levels. It’s a testament to strength and determination of will to find something better in life than what you’ve experienced. The angst and depth of soul-searching in this song brings me to tears every time I hear it.
Until next time,
kwriting through history one romance upon a time
Now I need to go back and watch the musical. I didn’t know much about Jackman until “The Greatest Showman” which has become one of my favorite films. What a talent Hugh Jackman is! After seeing that film, I went and bought Les Miz because I liked the other film versions so much. I was somewhat disappointed with the musical version, but I’ve only watched it once so I need to watch it again.
Good song choice.
I watched the Liam Neeson-Geoffrey Rush movie of Les Miserables before I saw the Broadway musical (on dvd). This is a super-truncated version of the story, but it’s a good rendition. There is a Masterpiece Theater 6-part series with Dominic West and Lily Collins that is also quite good. I wasn’t enamored with the Hugh Jackman musical version. I was disappointed in too many ways to go into here. haha
Hugh Jackman has had his own battles, I think he’d really appreciate your recognition of his performance of this song
Thank you. While I appreciate and love Broadway performances of Les Miserables, Hugh Jackman took his interpretation of this song to a depth of raw emotion that just rips my heart out.
Great interpretation of the song, I remember reading this book many years back, and how it taught me a lot about humanity.
Thank you. It’s a tough book to get through, but so worth it. I agree with you that the lessons in humanity stay with you.