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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Book 11, Chapters 1–4 | Summary



While the truants launch their attack in Chapter 1, Esmeralda sleeps, but the uproar eventually wakes her. Upon seeing the crowd down below, she believes she is having a nightmare. Frightened, she returns to bed to pray. Suddenly she hears footsteps—it is Pierre Gringoire, who reassures her not to be afraid. A second person accompanies him, hidden by a cloak, who Gringoire calls "a friend of mine." Gringoire tells her they have come to rescue her from the crowd. They help her out of the church through a side door and take her to where a boat is hidden nearby. As the stranger rows them away he gives a sigh, which Esmeralda recognizes, and it makes her shudder. After they disembark, Esmeralda finds herself alone with Claude Frollo, as Gringoire has slipped away with her goat, Djali. The man takes her hand and begins to lead her toward the Place de Grève, finally lowering his cowl to reveal that it is Claude.

He begins speaking to Esmeralda, telling her "destiny has delivered us up to one another." He says he can save her from the pursuing crowd and points to the nearby gallows, asking her to choose between it and him. Esmeralda says the gallows don't terrify her as much as he does. Claude is heartbroken and begins weeping. He begs her to say something kind and reminds her that he holds their "two destinies" in his hands. Esmeralda calls him a murderer. Enraged, Claude drags her toward the Recluse's nearby cell and cries out to her that he has brought her the gypsy to take her revenge. The Recluse grabs her through the window and won't let go, and she begins raving, telling her the story of her lost daughter and how she has come to despise gypsies. She shows Esmeralda the little shoe, and Esmeralda gasps—and pulls its twin out of the sachet around her neck. The Recluse also gasps, "My daughter!" She breaks the bars of her cell and pulls Esmeralda inside, gushing and apologizing.

Officers led by Phoebus enter the square in pursuit of Esmeralda. The Recluse tells her to stay still and be quiet; she will tell them she escaped. The officers interrogate her closely and she is able to distract them by offering to come with them for questioning. But just before they are to leave, Esmeralda hears Phoebus's voice and shouts his name. The closest officers hear her and begin to tear down the cell, which doesn't have a door or a wide window. The Recluse beseeches them, moving even the coldest officer to tears with her story of being reunited with her long-lost daughter. But the officers take Esmeralda, who faints. They pull her and the Recluse, who has attached herself to Esmeralda's legs, up and out of the cell. They drag Esmeralda to the gallows, and the Recluse bites the hand of the hangman—then dies when he pushes her violently away.

Chapter 2 brings the reader back to Notre-Dame Cathedral. Quasimodo despairs over Esmeralda's disappearance. The king's archers enter the cathedral looking for Esmeralda to hang, and Quasimodo helps them, not understanding that they are her real enemies, not the truants. The narrator notes, "if the poor girl had still been there, it was he who would have betrayed her." As Quasimodo paces and searches the castle, he becomes convinced that Claude has taken Esmeralda, a thought that torments him due to his devotion to Claude. Suddenly, he spies Claude walking along the north tower and begins to follow him. He looks toward what Claude is fixated on: the Place de Grève and its gallows. They both see Esmeralda being dragged up its ladder, and then they see her be hanged. Claude begins to laugh, and Quasimodo charges him from behind, pushing him off the tower. Claude is able to cling to a ledge briefly, but then falls to his death. Quasimodo looks at him and at Esmeralda's body in the distance and weeps, because the only two people he has ever loved are dead.

The narrator explains in Chapter 4 that Quasimodo vanished shortly after and was never seen again. But a few years later, two skeletons locked in an embrace are found in the burial pit for victims of the gallows. One is wearing a necklace with an empty sachet, and one has a deformed spine and leg—yet the latter showed no signs of being hanged. He had come there to die, and when they try to remove his skeleton, it crumbles into dust.


Gringoire remains more of a philosopher than someone of action until his final act of the novel, disappearing into the night with Djali rather than help Esmeralda avoid her terrible fate. This is a fatal error, which sets Esmeralda's demise in motion. Yet even at this juncture, Esmeralda begins to feel that her fate has been set. When Claude leads her off, she weakly resists but ultimately realizes that "destiny was an irresistible force."

The ultimate tragedy of the novel is highlighted by the brief and heartbreaking reunion between Esmeralda and her mother. Nearly every main character is an orphan, and so their revelation is particularly bittersweet for its dashed promise. Even though Claude becomes a reviled and horrific character, there is some redemption to be had in the fact that he adopted his brother and Quasimodo to raise and take care of. Yet every family in the novel is destroyed or broken up, and so there is no redemption.

The theme of fate looms large over the last book of the novel, evidenced by Claude's obsession with forcing Esmeralda to choose between him and death, because "destiny has delivered us up to one another." Claude's fixation on the spider and the fly and their resemblance to him and Esmeralda plays out to its foregone conclusion. He reminds her, "I shall determine your life, you my soul." And yet his unwavering belief in their paired destinies also helps him to feel absolved of any guilt or remorse for the actions and grief he has caused. Hugo uses Claude to warn about the danger of believing too little in free will.

The final tragedy is Quasimodo's fate; he loses everyone and everything he loves in the blink of an eye: the church, Claude, and Esmeralda. The narrator notes that "the archdeacon and the gypsy had collided in his heart," for everything he loves is inextricably linked.

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