There are dark lonely places in the world where a person despairs. This chapter describes a pitiful situation that might have been realistic for 19th century England and 21st century Africa. And although there is despair in America, I do not believe that rational, virtuous adults such as Jean Valjean are driven to their despair because of abject poverty in the USA of 2014. Children suffer and starve, but not because their uncle cannot bring them the help they need and must break and enter the bakery to steal a loaf of bread. Those children suffer because their uncle neglects them and their mother, playing video games, abusing substances and living off government disability checks and squandering the money that is given for the children. Those same children learn from their culture to repeat the lifestyle of their uncle. But rarely do they starve for food. Instead, they starve for Mom and Dad who love each other and them, discipline, teach, and model virtuous living and hard work. Such a lifestyle is foreign language to them and they have little hope of coming to appreciate such an alternative.
And yet there is despair. Despair over loss and disappointment. Fortunes wasted and loved ones passed away. Addiction and dishonest action come to roost. Social rejection and hatred. High expectation thwarted. But children of hardworking industrious American parents are not starving.
Not so in the world at large.
And yet, those children who grow in that garden and follow that training cannot be blamed. Who taught Jean Valjean to be responsible, caring, and self-sacrificing? He must have had a model giving him definition and purpose. But these children walk out of schools into the prisons without a second thought. So yes, they feel the emptiness and despair. But some hear God and some gain a new perspective of really living and loving.