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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 6, Chapter 4 how does the narrator depict Quasimodo's own understanding of his punishment, and how does it relate to justice?

Because Quasimodo is deaf, he can't understand the questions that the (also deaf) judge is asking of him, which makes his unjust punishment—for the reader, yet not necessarily for Quasimodo—all the worse when it happens. Even though the narrator says Quasimodo understands well enough that he is being taunted and insulted by the spectators who only the day before were cheering him, the narrator also notes that "he was too far from the state of society and too close to that of nature to know what shame was." Forced into physical submission, Quasimodo's face could only show "the astonishment of ... an imbecile." This idea is reinforced by Quasimodo trying to break free later and crying out for water. He only truly understands the physicality of his situation, so he reacts physically. The narrator also says that neither Quasimodo nor "a soul in that crowd ... formed any clear idea" of the contrast that yesterday Quasimodo was loved by the crowd, and today, hated: "Gringoire and his philosophy were absent from the spectacle." The narrator depicts the crowd to be as incapable of understanding Quasimodo's punishment as Quasimodo, which is one of Hugo's main points: only the "philosopher," the poet—truly tuned-in to the spirit of the age—can empathize and bring together the wisdom of emotions and knowledge needed to understand justice and injustice.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 7, Chapter 1 what does Esmeralda's treatment by Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier and her friends reveal about their different places in society?

Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier and her friends take an interest in Esmeralda from their balcony as an exotic "other" to be gawked at, and once they realize her beauty and effect on Phoebus, they feel insecure. The only way they know to disarm her is by shaming her for her place in society as a gypsy. They mock her clothes, and once they begin, "it show[s] them where the gypsy is vulnerable." Esmeralda may be beautiful and kind, but she doesn't have any power in their environment. They talk about her as though she isn't there, and even though Esmeralda hears them and shows she is affected, she says nothing, marking the fact that she knows she doesn't belong among them because of their separate classes. Hugo connects Esmeralda's exoticness to Quasimodo's—one beautiful, the other hideous—who, if he were not taken in by Claude Frollo, would likely spend his life in a sideshow exhibition. With Esmeralda—the beautiful outsider—Hugo deftly throws two different social classes together in order to show how stratified Paris society was in the Middle Ages, while showing the lower character on the social ladder to be inwardly superior to the upper-class characters. Also, people from one social class were unlikely to interact with someone from a different social class, and so Esmeralda can only be a fascination and an abstraction to Fleur-de-Lys and her friends. Hugo was intent on showing how medieval Paris was made up of all kinds of social classes, and he likely also intended to highlight for his modern readers the need for society to be more equal—which is possibly why he doesn't make Fleur-de-Lys and her friends very sympathetic characters.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 7, Chapter 2 what does Claude Frollo and Pierre Gringoire's conversation about Esmeralda reveal about their characters?

Claude Frollo interrogates Pierre Gringoire, cloaking his true obsession for Esmeralda. This reveals Claude's deceptive and manipulative nature and the battle within him, in which he can't bring who he truly is into the light. Pierre Gringoire's concern for Esmeralda comes from true feelings and respect for her, evidenced by the fact that he respects her wishes to not consummate their marriage and he is just as happy to be friends. Claude Frollo becomes fixated on the possibility that Pierre Gringoire may have touched her, showing that he sees her as something to possess and control—he's not concerned about her feelings. His suggestion that Pierre Gringoire will turn into "Satan's vassal" if he touches her reflects Claude Frollo's own internal struggle over his physical attraction to her. Hugo titles this chapter "The Difference Between a Priest and a Philosopher," signifying the fact that there is a huge difference between them. In many ways, Claude Frollo and Pierre Gringoire are foils to one another: one is manipulative, the other naive; one has bad intentions, the other has only good intentions. Each serves to highlight and exaggerate the others' features here, and they almost become caricatures of themselves. For Hugo, they are one more set of contrasts in a novel filled with dualities.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 7, Chapter 4 what does Claude Frollo and Jehan Frollo's argument reveal about their personalities?

Claude Frollo and Jehan Frollo seem to be polar opposites in many ways. Jehan is carefree to a fault, living from moment to moment and dollar to dollar, content to cause mischief wherever he goes. Claude is stern, secretive, and severe, and it is likely Jehan may have turned out so unlike him because of how indulgent Claude has been with him while raising him. Their argument reveals that Claude values learning and knowledge above all else, an echo of Goethe's famous figure, Faust, who starts out as a scholar but conceives a desire to possess the innocent and pure object of his obsession, Gretchen. He sells his soul to the devil to get her, whereby she is ruined. Jehan also knows how to manipulate Claude into giving him what he wants by impressing him with his knowledge of Latin and Greek. Jehan couches his request for money inside a request for "moral philosophy," showing he knows how Claude wants to view him. Both Claude and Jehan are intelligent and manipulative, but each uses it to different ends. Hugo uses their argument, in a way, to show how fixed their personalities are, and how each also seems to know that about the other despite their frustrated entreaties toward one another. Their clash in this scene serves to remind the reader of Claude's relationship with his other "son," Quasimodo, who is ever-obedient and loyal in ways that Jehan is not. And yet Claude eventually indulges Jehan, showing that in a way Jehan is the "monster" he has created by spoiling him.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 6, Chapter 3 what is the effect of having the Recluse of Tour-Roland's story told through Demoiselle Mahiette's perspective?

The reader's first real introduction to the Recluse as a character with a background emerges in this chapter, and the story is told by a peripheral character that the reader never encounters again. Hugo makes this choice to amp up the mystery surrounding the Recluse; she is not revealed to be Esmeralda's mother until much later, though the seed of possibility is planted in this scene. Another effect of having her story told through Demoiselle Mahiette's perspective is that it continues to keep the reader at a considerable distance from her. Because the reader is forced to see her through the eyes of Mahiette and her friend, the Recluse remains a formidable figure locked in her tower, though Hugo also uses her story to grow the reader's sympathy. Stylistically, Hugo employs his "bird's-eye" effect here, dropping down and zooming in on this otherwise ordinary moment of a stranger and her friends bringing the Recluse a cake. Hugo continues to weave a rich tapestry of background characters and "spectators" in the interest of advancing the plot, and the effect shows how connected the characters are through chance, fate, and proximity.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8, Chapter 2 how does the symbolic imagery of the spider and the fly carry through Esmeralda's torture scene?

Claude Frollo's vision of himself and Esmeralda as the spider and the fly comes to fruition when Esmeralda finds herself in the torture chamber. The imagery of her ensnared on the leather bed as the iron boot is clamped down makes the narrator observe that "had the archdeacon been present he would surely have recalled, at that moment, his symbolism of the spider and the fly." In this moment, it does seem as though Esmeralda is doomed to her fate, a fate that seems to have been orchestrated by Claude to bring her closer to him and which brings her perilously close to her own fatality. This will become a common trope during the later development of melodrama, in which the heroine chooses death over lust as she must to remain pure to the very end.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8, Chapter 4 what does Claude Frollo mean when he tells Esmeralda, "There was a man within me whom I did not know"?

Claude Frollo attempts to explain to a frightened and confused Esmeralda why he has pursued and tormented her, and he confesses his feelings of passion and obsession for her and how those feelings have tormented him. He blames her for enticing him and believes that she is evil and has enchanted him from the first time he saw her. When he tries to explain that after that day, "There was a man within me whom I did not know," he is describing the sensation that she awoke in him—a side of himself that had never emerged before—lust and obsession. Outwardly he is a priest, but inside he is a man with impulses and obsessions that are winning out over prayer and self-punishment. Hugo uses Claude's speech to Esmeralda to show how frantic and single-minded he has become, making up excuses for his actions.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8, Chapter 5 what does the narrator mean when he says that the Recluse's mind was "locked inside" the baby shoe?

The reader is likely horrified to learn that the Recluse, the Sachette of Tour-Roland, is in fact Esmeralda's mother. Esmeralda was taken from her by gypsies when she was an infant, and the Sachette never recovered from the loss, cloistering herself away in a tower reserved for praying and waiting to die. She brought Esmeralda's baby shoe with her and became fixated on it as a symbol of all she has lost and of her hope of being reunited. She has spent 15 years worshiping the shoe, which has become her "entire universe." In her fixation, her mind and memories have become bound to the shoe, and "[will] only come out again with death."

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8, Chapter 6 how does the crowd cheering on Quasimodo's rescue of Esmeralda create dramatic irony?

Dramatic irony—which also happens during Quasimodo's pillorying—occurs when the reader is aware of something that the characters in the story are not aware of. The crowd's cheering on Quasimodo's rescue of Esmeralda seems like dramatic irony because it demonstrates the fickleness of their attention and kindness. Not much earlier, they were jeering Quasimodo during his pillory, hurling rocks and insults at him. Not long before that, they were heralding him as the newly appointed Fools' Pope. The narrator observes that at the moment of the rescue, "he stood facing the society from which he had been banished," and his triumph is not lost on the reader, who is aware of how tragic his journey has been. It's likely that the spectators don't even notice their fickle emotions because they only seem to long for the excitement of whatever spectacle is happening. Hugo uses this final reversal of Quasimodo's fate to point to the fact that, despite all the action, not much has changed, and the crowd is just as likely to turn on him again. In a way, the crowd's fickleness unites Esmeralda and Quasimodo, because they are the two characters the crowd changes their mind about the most. It proves their link in yet another way.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 9, Chapter 1 what does Claude Frollo's reflection on "the folly of eternal vows" reveal about how much his beliefs have changed?

By this section of the book, Claude Frollo's fall from priesthood is complete. He has reached the point of madness, and he can no longer find solace or guidance in the church. Now he only sees "the futility of chastity, science, religion and virtue ... the uselessness of God." In this light, Claude has become a nihilist: someone who believes in nothing. Although Hugo has hinted at this path for Claude, now his transformation gives the sense of no going back. Only one line later, "he revelled in these evil thoughts and as he plunged deeper and deeper he heard a shout of satanic laughter burst forth within him." Hugo brings up a frightening question here: Who is Claude without his belief in the church? His entire identity has been turned upside down, and now he is left with an amount of hatred equal to his goodness when he was a priest, "that when a man constituted as he was became a priest then he became a demon." So, in a sense, his identity has been destroyed alongside his beliefs.

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