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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Study Guide

Victor Hugo

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The Hunchback of Notre Dame | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 9, Chapter 4 how does the observation, "The blinder the passion, the more tenacious it is" apply to both Esmeralda and Claude Frollo?

The narrator's statement can apply to both Esmeralda and Claude Frollo with regard to the objects of their passion. For Esmeralda it is Phoebus, who she is passionately in love with, and despite how obvious it is that he does not love her, she cannot see it or face the truth. Her innocence regarding love blinds her to the fact that he is using her, and he never comes to her defense after she is accused of stabbing him. She tenaciously holds out hope she will see him again. The narrator also says that love "is never more solid than when it is unreasonable," which applies to Claude's obsession with Esmeralda. Esmeralda chooses death over Claude's offer to save her, yet he can't accept her rejection and does not let go of his feelings for her. Hugo links Esmeralda and Claude in this way, emphasizing their commonalities rather than their differences for once. Hugo fills the novel with a web of contrasts and similarities between unlikely characters, and here is one more to complete the web—this time, between the unlikeliest characters and with the most frustrating consequences.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 10, Chapter 1 what does Pierre Gringoire mean when he says he holds "everything in equilibrium"?

Pierre Gringoire refers here to the fact that he sees himself as a "pyrrhonian philosopher": someone who believes that nothing can be known for certain. Because of this outlook he feels he has order in his life, because he neither desires or regrets anything. Therefore, he is able to maintain a kind of balance, or equilibrium. Gringoire even jokes with Claude Frollo that "First I loved women, then animals. Now I love stones. They're just as amusing as animals or women, and less treacherous." He is able to love equally and let go of what is no longer useful to him. Nothing is held in a higher or lesser regard. Even though he sees himself as a playwright, he doesn't think it is beneath him to be a street performer as well, because that juxtaposition gives him a similar sense of balance. He notes that even though he is poor, he is not unhappy, and striving for this middle ground in all senses is his priority in life. He stands in stark contrast to Claude in this conversation, who is ruled by his obsessions and holds nothing in balance.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 10, Chapter 5 how is King Louis XI characterized?

King Louis XI is characterized as overly frugal and uncaring about the plight of those who have been imprisoned. He does not enjoy being in Paris because "there were too few trap-doors [and] gallows." He spends much of his time with his attendants, calculating the cost of things and berating them for overspending. His only interest is in seeing a torture "cage" that was built at a great cost, which houses a prisoner begging for mercy after 14 years. The prisoner's cries fall on deaf ears. When the king is confronted with the information that a mob has gathered, he is not interested in helping the bailiff until he realizes that they are, in fact, protesting the king. The king's actions characterize him as someone who is unwilling to get his hands dirty unless it is absolutely necessary. Hugo's function for bringing the most powerful man in the land in as a character seems to be to place him on the same plane as the truant "king" of the Court of Miracles. Hugo gives the reader the broadest panorama of medieval life possible here, from its poorest gypsies to its wealthiest king. It's telling that Hugo doesn't paint him in a flattering light, either, when compared with the Court of Miracles "king," who leads a rebellion to save Esmeralda.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 11, Chapter 1 what does it mean that Esmeralda "felt dimly that destiny was an irresistible force"?

In this scene, Claude Frollo is leading Esmeralda to the Place de Grève, and she feels helpless to resist him, as though an "irresistible force" has taken hold of her. In order to cope with what she must endure, it's possible that it's easier for Esmeralda to "surrender" to what she sees as her fate because she has no power in the society she is from anyway, and Claude has been relentless in his desire to possess her or ruin her. Hugo's use of the word dimly implies that Esmeralda is not fully aware of her feelings at this moment, only that she feels in some way powerless to do anything. Hugo keeps Esmeralda's understanding of her own fate a mystery here, while relating the idea to the reader that fate can be a larger force than a character's will. It isn't just Claude Frollo that has brought Esmeralda to this moment in her destiny. Quasimodo, the Court of Miracles, the government and officials of Paris, and the crowd have all led her to this moment, and the fact that she is about to meet her mother—the destiny that was foretold to her—strongly suggests that this moment is fated.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 11, Chapter 1 how does Hugo create dramatic irony between Esmeralda, the Recluse, and Quasimodo?

Hugo's use of dramatic irony—a contradiction that occurs when the reader is aware of something that the characters in the story are not aware of—links the fates of Esmeralda, the Recluse, and Quasimodo in an intimate and tragic way. For Esmeralda and the Recluse, dramatic irony can be seen in the fact that they are reunited as mother and daughter only moments before Esmeralda is to be executed for a crime she didn't commit, which is bittersweet for the reader, who has long suspected their relationship and waited for the characters to discover it. For Quasimodo and Esmeralda, there is tragic irony in the fact that as he attempted to save her, he actually put her in harm's way. The narrator reveals that "if the poor girl had still been there, it was he who would have betrayed her," something the reader also has knowledge of that Quasimodo does not.

In what ways can Claude Frollo be considered the antagonist of The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Claude Frollo can be considered the antagonist of the novel due to the fact that his ruthless actions lead to the deaths of many characters in his quest to possess Esmeralda. He tortures her psychologically, and he plays a silent role in her physical torture as well. Even though he shows kindness and compassion toward Jehan and Quasimodo, he manipulates nearly everyone he comes into contact with in an attempt to get closer to Esmeralda. He abuses Quasimodo's trust and love for him by recruiting him to kidnap Esmeralda, and then he doesn't come to Quasimodo's aid when Quasimodo is apprehended and pilloried. His obsession with Esmeralda isn't born of love but of lust, exposing him to be a hypocrite because he is a priest sworn to be celibate. Hugo's decision to make Claude the antagonist is significant because, as the priest of a revered cathedral, he is the unlikeliest suspect. None of the officials or citizens suspect the havoc he has caused, which allows the action of the story to unfold, and it highlights the unfairness that befalls other characters.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, in what ways does Victor Hugo present Quasimodo as a sympathetic character?

Although Hugo first presents Quasimodo to the reader as potentially fearsome when he kidnaps Esmeralda, readers learn that he only did it out of loyalty to Claude Frollo, his adopted father. From that point on, Hugo paints Quasimodo as sensitive, compassionate, loyal, and thoughtful—not only to Claude and the cathedral but to Esmeralda as well. Even though Claude allows Quasimodo to take the fall for the attempted kidnapping, Quasimodo remains loyal to him only until he realizes that Claude will harm Esmeralda if given the chance. The reader also finds sympathy in the fact that Quasimodo is unfairly treated as an outcast for his appearance, which has made him vicious, in turn, to anyone who mocks him.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, how can Esmeralda be considered the protagonist of the novel?

Esmeralda, rather than Quasimodo, could be considered the protagonist of the novel due to her character's evolution as well as her relationships with the other characters. Esmeralda achieves the most resolution of any character in the novel when she is reunited with her mother, a quest she has been on since the introduction of her character. She shows herself to be complex—she is independent yet seeking love. She is also tortured—both mentally and physically—by the antagonist of the novel, Claude Frollo. Her character is mirrored in Quasimodo, who is her opposite physically but resembles her emotionally with his compassion, loyalty, bravery, and sensitivity. Hugo's Esmeralda is very much a Romantic character 19th-century readers can identify with, for she is "punished" in the end, embodying the short life of the "pure." Her passivity also reflects Sir Walter Scott's character in his The Bride of Lammermoor (1819).

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, what is the evolution of Quasimodo's relationship to the church bells?

Quasimodo has an intimate and love-filled relationship with Notre-Dame Cathedral at large because he grew up inside it and is responsible for ringing its bells, each of which he has given a name and personality. In his loneliness they are his friends—a way to express his feelings; the bells replace the society that shuns him. In a sad twist, it is those very same bells that cause him to go deaf at a young age. Quasimodo sees the bells as unique individuals and loves them like family, but once Esmeralda comes into his life, his relationship with them—and the cathedral—begins to change. They don't excite him in the same way now that he has a human object of affection, and even the citizens of Paris notice when the sounds of Quasimodo's bells lose their inspiration. Hugo uses Quasimodo's relationship with the bells to signify how Quasimodo changes over the course of the novel—he transfers his love for these inanimate objects to a living, breathing human who doesn't love him back in the same way. The bells are safe for Quasimodo—they can't hurt him—but his love for Esmeralda makes him vulnerable in ways he never was before.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, what role does duality play in the characters and setting?

Many dualities exist in the novel, both between characters and setting. Quasimodo and Esmeralda represent one such duality—they have similar origins as orphans as well as similar personalities, but they are contrasted in their appearance. Quasimodo also has a duality with the setting of the cathedral itself, which acts as a physical representation of his grotesque appearance that hides a surprising depth. The setting of the cathedral also serves a dual purpose—it is a sanctuary as well as a prison, depending on the character and their circumstances. Claude Frollo represents a different kind of duality—he is a priest who secretly practices sorcery and is consumed by an obsessive lust.

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