The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Book 2, Chapters 1–7 | Summary

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Summary

Gringoire leaves the palace in a bad mood and wanders the streets of Paris alone in Chapter 1. For a while, he stands on the western edge of the city, gazing across the river at an island across the way where a cow ferryman sleeps at night. He considers the ferryman lucky because he has no understanding or inclination of what has transpired back in the city, nor does he care. But then Gringoire notices the ferryman setting off fireworks in his hut, joining in the city's celebration. This upsets Gringoire, who feels he can't get any peace. Gazing at the river, he considers drowning himself if only it weren't so cold. He decides instead to go to the Place de Grève, in the city center, which is holding a bonfire.

Gringoire makes his way to the bonfire, which is ringed by so large a crowd that he cannot get close to it. He realizes that they are there to watch a young girl dancing, and to Gringoire she looks like a heavenly vision. A coin falls from her hair, and Gringoire realizes that she is a gypsy girl, shattering his illusion. The girl begins to perform some magic tricks with her goat, Djali. A man in the crowd who has been solemnly watching accuses her of witchcraft, which causes an old woman to begin heckling her as well. The girl's performance is interrupted yet again by the procession of the fools' pope. Quasimodo is still being held aloft, looking "both proud and self-satisfied."

Suddenly, the same man who had heckled the gypsy girl darts out and angrily snatches Quasimodo's gilded Fools' Pope badge. Gringoire recognizes the man as Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Quasimodo leaps from his litter after the man, but instead of taking his badge back, he falls to his knees and bows his head. Quasimodo stands, warding off the protesters pestering the archdeacon, and follows him away from the crowd at the end of Chapter 3.

At the beginning of Chapter 4, Gringoire, in turn, begins to follow the gypsy girl, even though he doesn't know why. The streets grow dark and empty, and the girl begins to grow anxious, realizing she is being followed. Gringoire slows down, but then hears her give a sharp cry around the bend. He quickens his pace and sees her struggling with two men trying to muffle her sounds. Gringoire realizes that one of the men is Quasimodo, who flings him away and takes off, carrying the girl. Just then a captain of archers of the King's Ordnance appears, commanding Quasimodo to halt. He snatches the girl from Quasimodo, who is captured. The girl thanks the captain, then slides off his horse and runs away.

Gringoire's wits slowly return after he realizes he has been shoved into the gutter. At the beginning of Chapter 5, he ponders the fact that he believes he also glimpsed the archdeacon with Quasimodo and the gypsy girl. Gringoire has difficulty navigating his way out of the alleys and streets and is accosted by beggars and cripples. By Chapter 6, he is cornered by a few of them in the Court of Miracles, a city square, which is a dangerous place to be at night. The beggars who have chased him there attempt to rob him, but realizing he has no money, they elect to take him to their "king." They bring him to a beggar perched atop a barrel in front of a bonfire, who asks Gringoire his name. He recognizes the beggar as the same one who disrupted his play in the Palais de Justice earlier that day, and he knows him as a man named Clopin Trouillefou. Before Gringoire can properly name or defend himself, Trouillefou announces that he will be hanged. Gringoire pleads with him, and Trouillefou says that if Gringoire agrees to join their kind, he will spare him. Gringoire hastily agrees, swearing to become a cutpurse and truant. Trouillefou says he must pass a test by pickpocketing a dummy's pocket without any of the attached bells ringing. If he doesn't, he'll be hanged. Gringoire fails miserably. Trouillefou makes as if to hang him but pauses to announce that it is customary "not to hang a man without asking whether there's a woman who wants him." A few women turn the prospect down, but Gringoire recognizes the gypsy girl from earlier and shouts her name—Esmeralda. She tells Trouillefou she will take him as her husband.

Gringoire follows Esmeralda back to her room, watching her closely all the while. In Chapter 7, he marvels at the fact that "she dealt my mystery its death-glow this morning, she saved my life this evening," and convinces himself she must be madly in love with him. He reaches for her but she pulls out a dagger to defend herself and tells Gringoire that she only married him to save his life. Gringoire promises not to touch her and asks her questions about herself and her life, but Esmeralda's answers are vague and elusive. Gringoire instead offers her the story of his past, including how Claude Frollo, the archdeacon of Notre-Dame Cathedral, taught him to become a scholar. Esmeralda suddenly drops her bracelet, and as Gringoire leans down to pick it up, she disappears and locks him in the room from the outside.

Analysis

The narrator devotes a great deal of Book 2 to describing monuments and the square in Paris that no longer exist in those incarnations, both in order to give the reader history but also to ground the setting in its medieval, Gothic era. His description of the Place de Grève, where the bonfire takes place, is significant because it was the site of many public executions by guillotine. Hugo wants to remind the reader here about what can happen during political revolutions, because in the years before Hugo wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Paris witnessed a revolution.

Quasimodo's immediate reaction to seeing Claude Frollo shows the control and power that his master (the archdeacon of Notre-Dame Cathedral) has over him. Though everyone is afraid of and intimidated by Quasimodo's appearance, he uses their fear to protect Claude Frollo from the angry crowd. There is a sense of foreboding when Gringoire recognizes Claude Frollo at the bonfire accusing Esmeralda of witchcraft, because the reader has already sensed that he is a powerful and influential man. Although it is unconfirmed, Gringoire hints it was Claude Frollo who accosted Esmeralda with Quasimodo. These glimpses of Claude Frollo are meant to leave the reader with an uneasy impression of him.

Book 2 also focuses more closely on the characters of Pierre Gringoire and Esmeralda, who are thrown together in an unexpected way. The reader only learns about Gringoire's past after he is married to Esmeralda—that he was orphaned and poor for much of his life, and finding himself talented only with words. Esmeralda is less forthcoming in her history, revealing only that she has recently come to Paris and that she is also an orphan. She believes in magic, as evidenced by the emerald amulet she wears around her neck, and she also believes in love. Her rescue of Gringoire at the Court of Miracles also shows her to be a sympathetic person. Gringoire remains fascinated by her because her influence on him in the span of a day has changed the course of his life. He notes, "She dealt my mystery its death-glow this morning, she saved my life this evening." The description of Esmeralda's physical beauty stands in stark contrast to the earlier description of Quasimodo, as she is, by turns, described as a fairy and angel and her beauty is recounted in great detail.

The scene that takes place at the Court of Miracles reveals Hugo's fascination with the different levels of Parisian society, particularly those that live below the surface of society. His description of the Court of Miracles seems mythical and otherworldly, "like some new world, unknown, unprecedented, shapeless, reptilian, teeming, fantastic." The people here are outcasts, struggling to survive by any means possible. Here, Hugo shows a "criminal society" with its own courts and laws, "where the boundaries between races and species seemed to have been abolished, as in a pandemonium." It's important to note Gringoire's trial by an underground "king" for trespassing because he is not one of them; the only alternative he is presented besides being hanged is to become one of them. Gringoire is ultimately shown compassion by the "king" of the Court of Miracles, who gives freedom its own set of rules. Even though the picture that Hugo paints of this society is dark, he describes it with compassion for their plight as the people on the bottom of society.

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