The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Book 9, Chapters 1–6 | Summary

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Summary

Claude doesn't witness Quasimodo's rescue of Esmeralda, as he has escaped to get away from the spectacle and his emotions. But he can't escape his thoughts and is haunted by the idea of what he has done to Esmeralda. He feels that his vows, chastity, and belief in science and religion are useless and futile. When he thinks about how the crowd in front of the cathedral was able to see Esmeralda nearly naked, he feels crazed with jealousy. He ponders what their lives would have been like if he wasn't a priest and she wasn't a gypsy, and feels despair over what could have been.

Wandering the streets of Paris distracted and tormented, Claude peers into the lit window of a house and sees his brother Jehan laughing with a prostitute. He hides from Jehan to avoid being seen, then returns to the cathedral. Overwhelmed by grief at the thought that Esmeralda is now dead, he collapses inside, until he gathers the strength to look for Quasimodo. His lamp goes out and he sees a shadow appear, a woman, and beside her, a goat. It's Esmeralda, but Claude believes he is seeing her spirit.

In Chapter 2, the narrator provides some background on the concept of asylum in the Middle Ages—nearly every town in France had such a place of refuge from the law. The asylum becomes "just as much a prison as the other," because if the offender leaves, they will be caught. At Notre-Dame Cathedral, a cell was built for the purpose of housing a refugee from the law, and this is where Quasimodo leads Esmeralda. Esmeralda, frightened and confused, asks Quasimodo why he rescued her, but he can't understand her because he is deaf. He brings her his own mattress to sleep on and his own dinner for her to eat. He realizes his appearance frightens her so he tells her not to look at him but to listen to him: don't ever leave the church or they will both be killed. Then he vanishes.

Esmeralda wakes the next morning to Quasimodo watching over her, but she is still frightened by his appearance. He moves behind a wall, sad that she can't bear to look at him. She grabs him by the arm to reassure him he can stay, moved by his gentleness. He tells her he is deaf and that he has never felt so ugly as right now before her. He also tells her that he rescued her because she showed him kindness that day at the pillory, despite the fact that he was her attacker. He gives her a whistle and tells her to blow into it if she needs him.

Days go by and Esmeralda begins to feel hopeful and safe. In Chapter 4, the narrator explains she still thinks of Phoebus and mourns that they can't be together—she naively believes he loves her. One day, she spies Phoebus in the cathedral square and calls out his name, heartbroken to see him. Quasimodo tells Esmeralda he will go fetch him for her if she wishes. He goes down to the square but Phoebus has disappeared into Fleur-de-Lys's house, so he waits. Finally, Phoebus and Fleur-de-Lys emerge on the balcony above, and Quasimodo is struck with bitterness as he watches their romance because he feels doomed to never experience it. Phoebus leaves, and as he does Quasimodo gets his attention and asks him to follow him. When Phoebus resists, Quasimodo tells him it is Esmeralda who wants to see him. Phoebus is startled and unsettled because he assumed Esmeralda had been hanged, and he rides away from Quasimodo into the night.

Quasimodo returns to the cathedral and tells Esmeralda he couldn't find Phoebus. She is disappointed and Quasimodo ceases to visit her, yet he still continues to do small acts of kindness for her when she's not looking. He leaves her flowers and sings to her, and one night she discovers him sleeping just outside her door. Meanwhile in Chapter 5, Claude discovers that Esmeralda has lived, and in shock he cloisters himself in his tower for weeks. From his tower he can see Esmeralda and Quasimodo and grows jealous of their relationship. One night, feeling particularly tortured, he breaks into her cell and slips into her bed, begging her to love him and forcing himself upon her. Desperate and frantic Esmeralda gropes for Quasimodo's whistle on the floor and blows it. Instantly Quasimodo is upon Claude, but when he recognizes him he lets him go, deferent. He tells Claude he can do what he wants but he will have to kill Quasimodo first, and hands him his knife. Claude escapes back to his tower, more determined than ever that no one will have Esmeralda.

Analysis

Much of Hugo's description of Paris in the 16th century would have been surprising to his 19th-century readers, who could hardly envision their city as farmland and pastures. Along with Hugo's criticism of the decline of medieval architecture, he also wants to make clear the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the landscape of Paris with its advent of factories and smokestacks and wider streets. The French (and English) Romantics were repulsed by the effects of the Industrial Revolution: its impacts on nature, its ruin of beautiful buildings, and its degradation of human laborers. In some ways, the Industrial Revolution subsumed Romanticism's ideals with its focus on materialism.

Claude's reaction to believing that Esmeralda is dead further indicates his selfish, sadistic behavior. He believes that destiny "smashed them together mercilessly one against the other," and so his obsession with her continues even beyond her supposed death and leads him to the brink of insanity, laughing to himself as he roams the streets. Rather than grieve for her or feel shame at what his actions have brought about, he is more tortured by the fact that the spectators may have seen her naked, which makes him jealous.

The slowly budding kinship between Quasimodo and Esmeralda continues to demonstrate that while they may be physical opposites, they share a similar kindness and gentleness in their souls. Even though Quasimodo's appearance repulses Esmeralda, she recognizes in him a similar spirit of friendliness and compassion, and this makes her contemplate him in a new light. Sadly, Esmeralda's yearning for Phoebus when she spies him in the square only reinforces Quasimodo's belief that he can only be lovable if he is not deformed.

The tense scene between Esmeralda, Claude, and Quasimodo shows the conflict that Quasimodo must face in defending her—he is too deferential to Claude due to his upbringing and so he is unable to hurt him or punish him in any way.

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