Sunday, November 05, 2006

24601 on Halloween

My oldest son turned 12 in August. On Halloween afternoon he was making a costume for himself, the notable part of which was a torn up undershirt with "24601" written on the back. 24601, of course, is Jean Valjean's prisoner number in Les Miserables.

I told my son he was probably the only kid in South Dakota who was Jean Valjean for Halloween. He suggested he was the only kid anywhere who was Jean Valjean for Halloween.
A Halloween costume is problematic because on a cold night (as Halloween was this year), it is covered up with a warm coat. Further, my son is at the age in which trick-or-treating is a no-man's land; he wanted to go, but felt a bit prohibited. I don't even know if he went out at all.
Finally, I asked him what he would tell people if they wondered what he was; my son replied something to the effect that he would say he was . . . I forget precisely. One thing I do know was that the answer was non-comittal and generic. This disappointed me, but herein is a lesson.

I was proud of my son; he had canonical culture--plus he was going as a literary character whom I admire. But my pride, I'm afraid, was the bad kind; the comparative pride that says: "Look at my awesome 12 year old son who knows who Jean Valjean is !" and thinks "Isn't that a better thing to be than a trite Wal-Mart costumed person?"

We know the idiom of wearing one's feelings or virtues "on one's sleeve"; the dress-up that calls attention, perhaps while wanting substance and sincerity. My son, intentionally or not, chose a better path.

My son, in his desire to be Jean Valjean--apparently matter-of-factly and modestly--was doing something very important with the idea of Valjean. He was metaphorically demonstrating that the powerful characters of literature can be admired and aspired to internally for their own sake and for private good. I don't know how much effect Valjean has on my son's world view, but he gravitates toward this character, and can grow into him.

Perhaps you will resist my making so much of so little, but the world is full of alephs, so many points containing all points . . . 24601 on a torn undershirt is one of them.


Blogger JN said...

Good for you and your son. Long live 24601!

5:03 PM  

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