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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo

Book 10

Book 9

Analysis

Summary

During the vagabonds' siege of Notre Dame, La Esmerelda wakes up to shrill screams of death and destruction, convinced that a popular sedition has come to carry her off to the scaffold. She is extremely superstitious, and the chilling gothic architecture and frightening gargoyles of the cathedral reverberate with the scream of vagabonds burning to death and she decides to run away. Just as she is about to leave the cathedral, she runs into Pierre Gringoire and a mysterious stranger. They offer to save her and she agrees. They get into a nearby skiff and start floating down the Seine. As they pass Notre Dame, La Esmerelda can hear the sound of the King's Archers chanting "Death to the sorceress!" and she faints at the thought of so many people wanting her dead. When she revives, the skiff has docked but right near the Place de Grève, the public square where she is to be executed. To her horror, she discovers that Gringoire is gone and the mysterious stranger is none other than Claude Frollo. Once again, he begs her to love him and she vehemently refuses to go anywhere near him. He offers her a choice. She must either leave with Frollo or be turned over to the authorities. La Esmerelda asks to be executed.

Frollo thinks he has devised the perfect plan. Before he runs back to Notre Dame, he leaves La Esmerelda with Sister Gudule. He can't think of someone who hates her more than Sister Gudule and leaves, confident that she will deliver La Esmerelda to the executioners who have been summoned. Gudule starts yelling at La Esmerelda, demanding to know why her baby daughter was eaten by gypsies like her so many years ago. La Esmerelda says she is sorry for her and begs Gudule to let her go, telling her that she has never done anything to hurt her. Gudule calls her a murderer and shoes La Esmerelda the little satin shoe she had made for her baby before she was kidnapped. La Esmerelda is shocked. She reaches into her own bag and pulls out the exact same shoe. The two of them stare at each other and then cry out in joy. They are mother and daughter. Reunited and overcome with emotion they cry and express disbelief that they have finally found each other.

Just then, the King's soldiers come to collect La Esmerelda and bring her to the scaffold. Sister Gudule cries out in horror at the prospect of having searched for her daughter for fifteen years only to find her just before her execution. She pushes La Esmerelda back inside her cell and exclaims to the soldiers that La Esmerelda broke free and ran away. They are very suspicious of her and check to see which way La Esmerelda went. They find no trace of her and suspect that Gudule is lying. One soldier reminds his captain that Gudule is famous for hating gypsies and surely would never protect La Esmerelda. Just when they are about to leave, Phoebus rides by and some soldiers call out his name. La Esmerelda jumps out of hiding crying out for Phoebus to help her. He doesn't hear La Esmerelda but the soldiers grab her and start dragging her toward the scaffold. Sister Gudule starts screaming, begging them not to kill her daughter. The soldiers feel sorry for her but explain that Louis XI wills her death and that they are required to deliver her to the executioner. Gudule makes a final effort to protect her daughter, scratching and clawing the soldiers like a wild animal. As they approach the scaffold, Jacques Charmolue, the same man that tortured her, comes forward. Gudule lunges forward and bites off his hand, but it is to late.

Back at Notre Dame, Quasimodo, who has been desperately searching for La Esmerelda, runs up to the top of the north tower. He hopes that the view of Paris will reveal her to him somewhere in the city. He is stunned to see Frollo there, looking toward the Place de Grève. Gazing off into the distance, he sees the figure of La Esmerelda in a white dress hanging from the scaffold. He bellows out in despair and grabs Frollo by the neck. Holding him up in the air, Quasimodo sighs with grief and then throws Frollo down to his death. Looking at La Esmerelda hanging off in the distance and Frollo's wrangled corpse down below, Quasimodo cries out: "There is everything I ever loved!" Quasimodo was never seen again. Years later when a gravedigger stumbles across La Esmerelda's remains, he finds the skeleton of a hunchback curled around her.

Commentary

By rejoining Sister Gudule and Esmerelda, Hugo suggests that there is hope for orphaned children in French society and that the bond of love and family is stronger than hate. Even though there is much violence and suffering in the novel, Hugo uses this scene to evoke a message of family unity. Even though every character in the novel is an orphan, Hugo suggests that they are all related through their shared humanity. For example, Jehan and Quasimodo are step-brothers and La Esmerelda was replaced by Quasimodo when she was kidnapped fifteen years earlier. No matter how different they look or how much they hate each other, the main characters in the novel are all related in some form or another. This interrelatedness makes Frollo a sympathetic character. He readily adopts Jehan and Quasimodo as his sons and selflessly devotes his life to them. His rejection of God and insanity both stem from "family strife." Jehan is a drunk and Quasimodo is deaf. The tragedy of the novel is thus the destruction of a family, representing the breakdown of the feudal system and ultimately, the monarchy.

Frollo's obsession with Fate reaches its bitter conclusion in this section. As the narrator somberly points out, Frollo's comparison of the fly getting caught in the spider's web and La Esmerelda's ultimate fate turns out to be true. Even when Sister Gudule tries to free La Esmerelda from Frollo's trap, it is too late. As Frollo declares: "Fate is an irresistible power." This unflagging belief in Fate prevents him from feeling any remorse or guilt for what he has done. When he says things like, "Fate delivers us up into the hands of each other," Frollo forgets that he is responsible for her predicament. Although La Esmerelda's love for Phoebus does ultimately lead to her death, Frollo uses "Fatality" as a pretext to deny any responsibility for his own actions. Hugo does acknowledge that fate plays a powerful role in the novel, but the implication is not that free will is impossible. On the contrary, Hugo suggests that Frollo's utter faith in fate and the resignation of his free will is what allows him to become such a horrible person. The implication is that we must all exercise our free will to retain our sense of morality and responsibility.

The novel's ultimate victim is Quasimodo. He must watch everything he loves, including Notre Dame, be destroyed in this section. He tries to defend the cathedral, but the vagabonds still manage to ruin its facade. Similarly, Frollo's destructive passion for La Esmerelda ruins his entire family. In a tragic twist of fate, Quasimodo kills Jehan, his step-brother, even though Jehan is actually trying to save La Esmerelda. When he sees her hang, Quasimodo is left with no choice but to kill Frollo. Up until this point, he has been uncertain, not knowing which one to support. But when La Esmerelda dies, the hunchback realizes that Frollo will go unpunished if he doesn't do anything about it. Sadly, even in death, Quasimodo is unable to be with La Esmerelda. The gravediggers are confused by his irregularly shaped skeleton, but when they pull it out of the grave, it disintegrates into dust.

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Quasimodo's Name

by PRBleisch, July 05, 2014

The name Quasimodo has a deeper resonance; it sets up a touchstone for judging the actions of all of Hugo’s characters, especially Quasimodo and Frollo.
Frollo chose the name because he found the child on Quasimodo Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The introit (processional chant) appointed for that Sunday begins with the words "Quasi modo." The Introit is taken from I Peter 2:2: Quasi modo geniti infantes rationale sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem. "As newborn infants, desire the rational, guileless milk [of... Read more

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