The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame Study Guide." Course Hero. 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 20 Apr. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2016, November 28). The Hunchback of Notre Dame Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved April 20, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame/

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "The Hunchback of Notre Dame Study Guide." November 28, 2016. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame Study Guide," November 28, 2016, accessed April 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame/.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Book 4, Chapters 1–6 | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

Chapter 1 recounts the story of how Quasimodo came to be at Notre-Dame Cathedral—he was virtually left on its doorstep as a small child, in a bed that the church allowed people to leave "foundling" children in to be adopted by the public. Four nuns crowd around the bed, commenting on Quasimodo's ugly appearance; one claims he "ought to be thrown into the water or on a fire." The priest Claude Frollo is standing nearby, listening to the women. He leans over, picks up Quasimodo, and announces, "I adopt this child." The women whisper among themselves the rumor that Claude Frollo is a sorcerer.

The narrator offers some background on Claude Frollo, who comes from a bourgeoisie, or middle class, family. Chapter 2 explores how his family expected him to become a priest, teaching him to read Latin, and the narrator offers that he was a "sad, serious, and solemn child." By age 16, he had as much theological knowledge as priests twice his age. When Claude is 18, his parents succumb to the plague, leaving his baby brother Jehan as his only surviving family member, who he quickly grows attached to and protective of. Claude vows never to marry or have children but to devote himself to God and his little brother, and by age 20, he becomes a priest.

In Chapter 3, the novel skips ahead to its present day, in 1482, and shows Quasimodo grown up. He is the bell ringer at Notre-Dame, and Claude Frollo has become archdeacon. Quasimodo knows little of the world outside Notre-Dame, cut off by his lack of outside family as well as public reactions to his deformity. The narrator also notes that there was "a sort of mysterious harmony" between Quasimodo and the church, as when he was small he resembled a "native reptile" as he crawled all over the floors. As he grows up, the church begins to feel like a shell that encases him, and there is no corner of it that he doesn't know intimately. The church affects his hearing; he goes completely deaf by the age of 14 from his bell ringing. His deafness causes him even more isolation and depression. He decides to never speak so that others won't have another reason to ridicule him. The narrator observes that his deformities and afflictions affect him in other ways as well—he has a hard time accurately perceiving the outside world, and it makes him respond viciously to society's cruelty.

Quasimodo's only friends and confidantes are the church's statues, with whom he spends hours in solitary conversation. His only true love is the church bells, even though they are the cause of his deafness. For the churchgoers, Quasimodo's presence has the effect of making "the vast edifice breathe," as though he alone was bringing it to life. The narrator notes that after Quasimodo's death, the church felt as though "the spirit had left it." The only person he truly loves more than the church is Claude Frollo, who raised him.

In Chapter 5, the narrator explains how Claude Frollo's other charge, his young brother Jehan, is a different story. Whereas Quasimodo is obedient and loyal to Claude, Jehan is "a real devil and quite unruly," much to Claude's disappointment. Claude only grows more austere and strict over the years, forbidding women to enter the church, and his reticent and cloistered ways lead people to gossip that he is a sorcerer who practices black magic.

Analysis

The citizens of Paris's fixation on Quasimodo's deformed appearance reveals the medieval belief and suspicion that the way a person looks reflects something about the state of their inner soul. This belief was examined in Romanticism, particularly in its Gothic form. The English Romantics would have appreciated Hugo's using Quasimodo to break from the view that inward beauty reflects outwardly. People like Quasimodo in the late Middle Ages were rejected by the general population, but they were somewhat respected, too, because it was believed they had taken the sins of society into their bodies, drawing the wrath of God to them instead of their peers. Groups of lepers went from town to town ringing bells. It was important to offer them alms as they passed through, drawing with them the corruptions of sins. For the modern reader, their treatment of Quasimodo calls into question the issue of nature versus nurture—does Quasimodo become vicious because of the way he is treated and seen, or was he born with that temperament? The narrator remarks that "the spirit must atrophy in a misbegotten body." Yet he also notes that Quasimodo "had picked up the weapon with which he had been wounded." Hugo seems to bring up the idea that, in a way, Quasimodo is only mirroring back to people the way that they treat him, and in this way, he is a product of society's influence and fears. The narrator paints Quasimodo in a sympathetic light as well, given how deeply he loves the architecture of the church and its bells. The only way he is able to communicate freely and without judgment is through his bell ringing—even though the citizens treat him horribly, he is a part of their lives all the same and provides them with this particular pleasure in their lives.

The narrator also presents Claude Frollo in a more complex light. His compassion and caring for both Quasimodo and Jehan reveal that he does feel love and responsibility, but he has no real outlets other than prayer for his frustrations and worries about Jehan, which leads him to dabble in alchemy out of fascination and curiosity, a pull to the dark side. It's notable that the two people Frollo cares for most in the world are very different—Quasimodo is loyal and obedient, whereas Jehan is rebellious and disobedient. This sets up an interesting tension between his two "sons" that will find him failing each of them in some way. With Jehan, Claude has spoiled him greatly out of guilt over their parents' death, paving the way for Jehan to take advantage of Claude. With Quasimodo, Claude is partly responsible for the fact that Quasimodo becomes deaf from bell ringing, adding to his alienation from the world.

The passage about Quasimodo's relationship with the church shows the harmony between him and the building and the ways in which they are inextricably linked, becoming one in both form and nature. The narrator notes that "so deep was the instinctive sympathy between the old church and himself, so numerous the magnetic and material affinities, that he somehow adhered to it like the tortoise to its shell." It's a sad irony that it is the very bells that bring him so much joy to ring have stolen his hearing from him, rendering him even more isolated from the world outside. They are his only way to communicate, yet his deafness from them also protects him from having to hear the cruel remarks passersby throw at him.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!

Ask a homework question - tutors are online