A few days ago, I saw the new film version of the musical Les Miserables. I have seen several on-stage performances of the play and consider it my favorite musical. The big-screen production is magnificent, and the star-studded cast does a great justice to Hugo’s masterpiece.
For those who have never read the book or seen the play, it is a story of injustice and mercy, hatred and love, despair and hope, selfishness and sacrifice, and sin and redemption, with redemption being the central motif. For those who believe, or would like to believe, that there is a spark of goodness in all people, it is a story worth one’s time.
Early in the story, a young woman (Fantine) who has an illegitimate daughter works at a factory to send money to a couple who is raising the child. Through an act of injustice by the shop foreman, she is fired, and, desperate for money, she eventually turns to prostitution. In the musical, after a paid sexual encounter, she sings a very poignant song, “I Dreamed A Dream.” The heart-wrenching lyrics tell about a time in her life in the not-too-distant past when the world was exciting, when she was “young and unafraid/ And dreams were made and wasted./There was no ransom to be paid,/ No song unsung, no wine untasted.”
But then she recalls one summer when she had a passionate romance with a young man. She was obviously in love, but she laments, “He took my childhood in his stride,/ But he was gone when autumn came.” It is this relationship that leaves her alone in the world with a child to support. The closing stanza summarizes the result of her bad decisions:
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I’m living,
So different now from what it seemed.
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
At the conclusion of the song, most women in the audience are softly weeping, and my guess is that many of the men are fighting back tears. But I wonder why. After all, such a scenario is played out by hundreds of women every day in America. Women sleep around. Sometimes they do not get pregnant, but if they do, then they can always get an abortion and solve that problem until they get pregnant again. Or they sleep around, get impregnated by different men and decide to keep three, four, or more illegitimate children. In most cases, they’re just unpaid prostitutes.
Certainly no one weeps for them. On the whole, society simply accepts this lifestyle as a matter of choice. In the black community, nearly eighty percent of children are born out of wedlock, while the Hispanic and white communities are working hard to catch up.
Perhaps the sympathetic audience reaction to the character of Fantine is the knowledge that she had dreamed of a different life, a life with a husband and children. Yes, she had made a mistake, but she was working to support her child, and a small spark of the dream still flickered: And still I dream he’ll come to me; / That we will live the years together.
Which brings me to the title of this article. Do young girls still dream of a husband and children and a life of commitment and love? Or has the feminist movement succeeded in convincing most young women that having many sexual partners is normal and that saving one’s sexuality for Prince Charming is childish and ultimately disappointing? I fear that it’s the latter case.
Regular readers of my articles know that I volunteer at a crisis pregnancy center. The overwhelming majority of the women we help are not married, and they often have more than one child. The harsh truth is that their chances of getting married are practically zero. With rare exceptions, neither their mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, or friends are now, or have ever been, married. They may live with a man, but there is no commitment, so the relationship is usually short lived. Sadly, the only reliable provider for them is the government in the form of food stamps, WIC vouchers, subsidized housing, free phones, and other types of assistance.
And this brings me to another question: Do the little girls of these mothers play with dolls? And if they do, is there a mommy and a daddy doll? Or is it just a mommy doll and occasionally a “Mommy’s boyfriend” doll? I don’t have a definitive answer for these questions, but I suspect that the answer to the last one is probably in the affirmative. If that is the reality, then we truly have something to weep about.