|Illustration from the original publication of Les Mis|
In most books/movies/musicals and plays, there are good guys, and there are bad guys. However, Les Mis isn't that cut and dry. Yes, Javert is ruthless, tries to take down the barricade from within, and will NOT leave Valjean alone, but why does he do all these things? Because that's his job. Through the whole of Les Mis Javert is carefully guided by his moral compass, and only does what he thinks is right because he came from the gutters, he knows the types of people who live there, he knows they don't always live up to the letter of the law, and he doesn't want to end up back there. Can you really blame him for that?
I will allow that he is Valjean's antithesis but only because Valjean breaks parole and thus the law. And breaking parole is grounds for immediate imprisonment. That's not archaic either. In fact, you STILL go to jail for breaking parole, and the police WILL come and find you. Just live Javert went to find Valjean. So yes, Javert is Valjeans enemy, but not a villain, because as even dear old Jean states, Inspector Javert is only doing his duty in hunting the ex-convict down.
I believe that's why Valjean is so merciful and lets Javert escape from the students virtually unharmed. Really he has done no wrong, and only upheld the law. Of course Valjean's actions cause Javert's suicide, but he doesn't jump off that bridge because he can't beat Valjean, he jumps off that bridge because for once his moral compass might not be completely correct and if that's true then he is indebted a thief and Javert cannot handle that.
After Valjean saves Javert a moral dilemma introduces itself to Javert. This man, who's original transgression was stealing bread for his sisters family and has been too busy saving other people's lives to be arrested, has also saved Javert. Javert would have died at the hands of the students and could have just as easily died by Valjean, in fact, Javert believes he was supposed to be killed by Valjean. But he was spared. He owes this man something, and the only way Javert knows to pay his debt is to let Valjean walk free, but then he is going against everything he has believed and breaking the law at the same time. And what if Valjean goes to jail? Then Javert has to live, knowing that he owed this thief his life and sent him back to a life of slavery. There is no way out.
So he kills himself. In my eyes Javert has the hardest struggle. He continually fights his morality, from the moment he first meets Valjean as the mayor and suspects him of being 24601 to the moment he takes his life. If anything, Javert is a tragedy, not a villain. He tried to do right and ended up having to let the criminal he'd been chasing for 15 years escape.
I'm sorry you got such a crap ending, Javert. You just tried to do good.
I will not forget your name.