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Hunchback of Notre Dame

Victor Hugo

Study Questions

Analysis

Review Quiz

Discuss the stylistic, thematic, and cultural role of Notre Dame in the novel. Did Hugo have a specific agenda in making the cathedral the center of action as well as a symbol of Paris?

Notre Dame is the geographical and moral center of Hugo's fictional Paris. The French title of the novel is Notre Dame de Paris, emphasizing Notre Dame's role as a symbol of the city. Not only does most of the novel's action unfold inside or around the cathedral, but from the top of its towers, Claude Frollo and Quasimodo can spy on virtually anyone in the entire city. Architecturally, Notre Dame is an "amalgamation" that mirrors Quasimodo's own deformities. Indeed, at the time Hugo was writing, Notre Dame was falling apart and there was very little respect for its architecture. Nothing had been done to repair the damage done to it during the French Revolution. However, the Romantic literary movement seized upon the cathedral as a symbol of France's glorious Christian past. For example, in Eugène Delacroix's famous depiction of the 1830 Revolution, Liberty Guiding the People, the two towers of Notre Dame can be seen in the background, evoking the mythic presence of Paris. Hugo greatly admired this painting, and strove to represent Notre Dame as the cultural and political center of Paris. In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hugo describes the cathedral as a "chimera" that represents all of France. Its mix of architectural styles and the scars of ages past are not the works of an individual but "social works" and the "offspring of the nation." Notre Dame is a symbol of national unity. Time was its architect, and the entire country its mason. At the Romantics' urging, Parisians gradually came to see Notre Dame as a national monument and symbol of France. By 1845, a massive restoration program of Notre Dame began.

In what ways is Claude Frollo not a stereotypical villain? Do his failures drive him to evil? What role does his obsessive lust play in his heinous acts?

Claude Frollo is not an average antagonist bent on causing pain and suffering. In fact, he is very bright and compassionate. He dearly loves his brother, Jehan, and does everything in his power to make Jehan happy after their parents die. He extends the same compassion to Quasimodo, whom he tries to mold into a scholar like his brother by teaching him how to read and write. Hugo explains Frollo's descent into black magic through his failure to bring up both Jehan and Quasimodo. Jehan drinks and gambles all his money away, completely neglecting his studies, while Quasimodo's deafness makes it virtually impossible to teach him anything. The hunchback's complete devotion to Frollo becomes both a symbol of Frollo's failure as a "father," and a powerful tool of vengeance to wreak his frustrations on the world. Moreover, his supposed hatred of women is a desperate attempt to mask his infatuation with La Esmerelda. Indeed, despite Frollo's heinous deeds, the emotions driving him to such extremes are quite tragic. From Jehan's poor behavior to La Esmerelda's disgust and fear of the "goblin-monk," Frollo suffers a broken heart and the pangs of unrequited love, just as La Esmerelda does for Phoebus and Quasimodo does for La Esmerelda. Like these two, Frollo is also an orphan, which urges the reader to both compare him to the novel's two victims as well as feel sympathy for him.

What role does predestination play in the novel? What does Frollo mean by the word "fatality"? Are there any metaphors that describe and explain this theme?

Claude Frollo has rejected God and believes only in fatality. This recurrent theme dominates The Hunchback of Notre Dame, especially in the scene where Frollo watches a fly get caught in a spider's web. Many characters in the novel do not believe in free will. For example, when Pierre Gringoire follows La Esmerelda he "resigns his free will" and accepts any direction that she chooses. Similarly, Frollo believes that all actions have been predetermined and that nothing can stop him from catching La Esmerelda. Just as the fly is bound to get caught in the spider's web, he thinks that she is bound to fall into one of his traps. He thus uses this example of "fatality" to justify his actions since nothing he or anyone else can do will change the predetermined outcome. As he warns his associate, one should never "meddle with fatality."

In effect, when Frollo later accosts La Esmerelda in the dungeon of the Palace of Justice, he insists that it was never his intention to fall in love with her nor harm her in any way, but he "felt the hand of Fate" upon him. He then insists that "Fate proved more mighty than I… it was Fate that caught thee, and threw thee among the terrible works of the machine which I had secretly constructed." Hugo acknowledges that fate plays a powerful role in the novel, but implies that free will is possible. Hugo suggests that Frollo's deterministic attitude and resignation of free will is what allows him to become such a horrible person. Hugo suggests that we must all exercise our free will to retain our sense of morality and the responsibility for our actions.

Why does La Esmerelda bring water to Quasimodo when he is being tortured? Does she not remember that he tried to kidnap her the night before? How does this act affect Quasimodo?

How does Hugo describe the French justice system in the Middle Ages? Who is put on trial? What role does torture play in the novel?

Why does Sister Gudule despise gypsies, and especially La Esmerelda? Why does she defend La Esmerelda and give her life to protect her at the end of the novel?

Why is Quasimodo's skeleton found with La Esmerelda's remains?

Why does Pierre Gringoire join the vagabonds? Does Hugo criticize philosophy through Gringoire's character?

Discuss the role of love and family in the novel. Why does Frollo and Quasimodo's love for La Esmerelda drive them to such violent ends? Why are so many characters related by the fact that they are all orphans?

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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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