Inspector Javert is the primary antagonist of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables and the subsequent musical and film adaptations, even including a 2007 anime called Les Miserables: Shoujo Cosette. He is a French police inspector who devotes himself completely to the law and follows it unflinchingly.
Javert was born inside of a prison to a fortune-telling mother and a galley-doomed father. Javert was sharply influenced by this upbringing and was taken in and educated by the police force. While there, he developed a philosophy that was centered around respect for authority and hatred for rebellion of all kinds (which includes crime). He also believe that all criminals will stay criminal, and all law-abiders will stay law-abiders. He then began working at the jail where Jean Valjean, a convict who stole bread to feed his nephew, broke window in the process, and tried to escape from jail many times.
He is later promoted to police inspector, where he arrests Fantine (a woman who became a prostitute to pay for her sick child) but is stopped by Valjean out of mercy and compassion, who at this point took the identity of another person and became mayor. This, and other triggering events lead Javert to recognize the mayor as Valjean, and he files a report to the Chief of Police to have him arrested. But, when another man is falsely convicted of being the escaped convict, and unknowing Javert confesses his actions to the real Valjean and asks to be removed from his position. Valjean forgives him and confesses that he is the real Valjean to the court before leaving to search for Fantine's child.
Years later, Javert becomes a spy for the French monarchy to stop the June Rebellion. He is caught by the rebels and is saved and forgiven again by Valjean, who is there to save the life of his adoptive daughter's boyfriend. Stricken by this kindness, Javert agrees to help return and injured Marius to his home; however, Javert warns Valjean that he will still arrest him and Valjean agrees. As Valjean is in the house, Javert wanders outside and is in deep despair. Seeing that Valjean has proven that criminals can redeem themselves, Javert's thinking process is put to a grinding halt. Believing himself to be unable to make a decision about whether or not to arrest Valjean, he commits suicide by drowning in a river.
Javert is a strict formalist, leading him to believe that mercy, kindness, and forgiveness are unreasonable. He is brutally honest, and firmly believes that he is benefiting society by arresting criminals. He is suspicious of everyone and he spies of people constantly. His memory is remarkable and he is well educated for his time, and he reads in his free time. He is strict and severe with everyone, especially himself. He is cold and stoic in his work, and while his is usually humorless—it is said that Javert lets out a loud and heavy laugh when he does actually find something funny. He convicts criminals without mercy or emotion, because all criminals are considered threats to the good members of society.
- In the 1998 film adaptation, Javert explains his father was a thief and his mother was a prostitute.
- In the book, Javert was born in a prison around 1780, his mother a fortune-teller and his father a convict serving on a galley. The narrator explains that "he thought that he was outside the pale of society" and had a "hatred for the race of bohemians whence he was sprung." Feeling condemned to stand outside normal society either as a criminal or a policeman, he chose to enforce the law and proved successful in that career.
- The trope aside, because of the doggedness of their pursuits, Javert is considered the direct inspiration for both Lieutenant/Marshal Gerard from The Fugitive and Reporter Jack McGee from the live-action TV version of The Incredible Hulk. Both characters, however, lacked the monomaniacal focus on the guilt of their charges; Gerard's aim was to bring Kimble in, believing the courts could possibly resolve his guilt, which he now doubted; McGee badly wanted a story to make him a legit reporter once more, but later also wanted to aid the tormented man he knew as John Doe, who became the Hulk. They were, unlike Javert, fully capable of dealing with the better natures of those they pursued, but still wanted them to answer for the murders they were charged with.
- In the 2007 anime, he did not commit suicide. He even attends Valjean's funeral and rededicates his life to rehabilitating lawbreakers like the Thénardiers. In that series, both of his parents were criminals and Javert had to arrest them.
- Javert is considered to be an archetype for fictional characters that is Lawful Neutral.
- Claude Frollo, Victor Hugo's other major villain.