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MonkeyNotes-The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
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Chapter 54

Summary

At the time the attack begins, La Esmeralda is sleeping. When the commotion wakes her, she looks out and sees with horror the carnage in the street below. Totally frightened, she runs back to bed and covers her face. Soon two men enter her cell. Her fear subsides when she recognizes her husband, Gringoire. He tells her that his companion (who is Frollo in disguise) is a friend to be trusted. He then warns La Esmeralda that she and her goat Djali are in grave danger and must leave with him at once. Though La Esmeralda is suspicious of the cloaked friend, she agrees to go since she trusts Gringoire completely.

After they cross the river, Gringoire, his companion, and La Esmeralda stop. Gringoire slips away with the goat, leaving La Esmeralda with the stranger, whom she suddenly realizes is Claude Frollo. When she tries to escape, the priest stops her in the Place de Greve, the site of executions. He warns her that her life is totally in his hands. Frollo then commands her to love him and to never speak of Phoebus again. She calls him an assassin and tells him she would rather die on the gallows than to love him. Frollo’s eyes sparkle with passion and rage as he tries to persuade her to love him. When she refuses again, he drags her up to Rolande’s Tower and locks her in with Sister Gudule. He then goes to find some sergeants to kill her. If he cannot have La Esmeralda for himself, he does not want her to live.

Locked inside with Sister Gudule (Pacquette), La Esmeralda turns to the old woman who hates all gypsies. As the two women talk, Sister Gudule tells La Esmeralda the story of her lost baby. At the end of her story, she shows La Esmeralda the little shoe that belonged to her daughter. La Esmeralda opens the amulet that she always wears around her neck; inside is the other shoe. Sister Gudule cannot believe that she has finally been reunited with her long lost daughter.

Suddenly the soldiers come for La Esmeralda. When Gudule tries to hide the girl, she nearly succeeds; but La Esmeralda hears Phoebus’ voice and comes out to speak to him, still believing she can persuade him to love her. She is immediately seized and dragged down into the street toward the gallows. Sister Gudule tries to stop the soldiers, even biting one of them. The soldier reacts by striking her with such force that Gudule falls on the pavement, hitting her head and dying instantly in front of La Esmeralda.


Notes

Gringoire is more of a philosopher than he is a man of action. He contemplates that his actions may be wrong; but he still allows himself to be manipulated by Frollo and continues to assist the priest in carrying out his evil plot. He permits the cloaked Frollo to go with him into La Esmeralda’s chambers and convinces the gypsy girl that the disguised stranger should be trusted. When the three of them are on the street, Gringoire naively follows Frollo’s orders, taking the goat away and leaving La Esmeralda alone with the evil priest. It is a fatal error.

The devastating tragedy of Sister Gudule’s life is most poignant in this chapter. At the moment she finally finds her long lost daughter, the soldiers arrive to take her away to be hanged. In her desperation to save her daughter, Gudule ends up being killed herself. Hugo’s ability to develop a plot filled with ironic tragedies is at its peak here, as La Esmeralda loses her mother and makes her way up the steps to the gallows.

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