I think Hugo was an expert at playing with readers' emotions.

Symbolism definitely works, and I think there are plenty of it--which I think is why the musicals and plays are so good too.

As to why Les Mis. works...as with other Hugo's stories, I agree with Albannach. Most of Hugo's stories were about normal day people. Readers can relate, at first, and follow their progress without TOO MUCH leaps of faith.

Despite the thickness of the book, if you kept reading, by the time the deathbed scene came, you already cared much for the characters. In fact, I think Hugo needed that to develop that kind of relationship.

Personally, I never cared too much for Cosette...though I sympathized her at times. Yet from the beginning to the end, I rooted for Jean...and looking back, I see that Hugo really did write the main character to be likable.

I also think the ending completed a circle. Les Mis. began with Jean as a younger man...with a bishop. Then he dedicated his life for Cosette and grew old. That age and experience and the story readers witness follow certain arcs. And when he dies, with the candles, and clothes, and the mention of bishop, I think Hugo brought the readers back to the origin, to his new birth (I think Bishop hinted that, I could be wrong).

I could be reading into something that doesn't exist, but by bringing the readers back to the starting point, it shows how much change there really is (from a criminal to a saint) in this man we now know as Jean. That, right there, is a character development.

Thanks for pointing me to the thread, btw.