One of my favorite songs from Les Misérables is “Turning”, the song that is sung before “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables” by some women and children after the falling of the barricades. To me, it is one of the most heartbreaking songs of the show.
One of the saddest lines of the song is this:
“They were schoolboys, never held a gun. Fighting for a new world that would rise up like the sun. Where’s that new world now the fight’s done?”
I think that this is just so heartbreaking because it’s so true. Those lines alone just scream out the story of the barricade boys and the June Rebellion. And it hurts because every word of that is true.
The June Rebellion of 1832 was ineffective. It didn’t change much, if anything at all. Everything just went back to the way that it was, barely shaking up the way things were done. In fact, it’s been agreed, even amongst historians that the only reason why the June Rebellion is remembered at all is because of Les Misérables.
“Did you see them going off to fight? Children of the barricade who didn’t last the night.”
Yet another sad line from “Turning”. Something that a lot of people don’t seem to really understand is that the June Rebellion only lasted two days–one night–and that it wasn’t just made that way for the sake of storytelling.
Why I think that “Turning” is an important part of Les Miz
I think that “Turning” is the song that tells the most about the June Rebellion of 1832. In the musical, dates are not explicitly said by any of the characters, though depending on the production, dates will appear on or above the set. Most people, I think, are unaware of the French Revolution’s time span and so these dates don’t really mean anything to people who are not big Les Miz fans or history geeks. But to me, “Turning” clearly sets the June Rebellion apart from the French Revolution.
The French Revolution lasted for years. The June Rebellion of 1832 lasted a night–two days if you want to be gracious. And goodness’s sakes, if that doesn’t set the two apart massively, then I don’t know what does.
“Turning” is also a song that I just feel is a sort of requiem for those who fought during the actual June Rebellion. A sort of song in their memory. Maybe I’m just being overly sentimental or thinking too much about it (I tend to do both a lot). But I like to think of it that way. It just adds a little more heart into Les Miz (though, let’s be 100% honest, it has a lot of heart in it already as it is).