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MonkeyNotes-The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo
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THEMES

Major

Hugo develops two important Themes in the book. The first theme centers on the fact that people cannot be judged by appearances. Claude Frollo, an intelligent man and a priest at Notre-Dame, should be a picture of virtue and kindness; instead, he is the darkest and most evil character in the book. He deserts his brother, betrays Quasimodo, manipulates Gringoire, stabs Phoebus, and causes the death of La Esmeralda. In contrast, Quasimodo, because of his ugliness and deformity, is judged to be a devil by the citizens of Paris. In truth, he is the kindness character in the book, faithfully helping his master Frollo and risking his own life to save La Esmeralda.

The second important theme is that fate influences much of life. Each of the main characters in the book seems fated for tragedy. Consider, for example, the story of Pacquette La Chantfleurie, La Esmeralda’s mother. Many years ago her beautiful baby daughter was stolen from her crib and replaced with Quasimodo, a horribly deformed and hunchbacked infant. Pacquette went mad with grief and was confined in Rolande’s Tower, overlooking the Place de Greve at Notre Dame. Throughout the novel, she curses all gypsies, especially La Esmeralda. When, at the end of the novel, Frollo locks La Esmeralda in Rolande’s Tower, she finds herself in a cell with Pacquette and discovers that she has found her long lost mother.

The abandoned and hunchbacked infant is sent to Notre-Dame to be adopted by someone in the community. When no one agrees to take the deformed baby, believing he is a product of the devil, Claude Frollo, the priest of Notre-Dame, consents to take him in and raise him. During the course of the novel, fate leads both the hunchback and his master to fall in love with the same woman - La Esmeralda. The wicked Frollo becomes obsessed by her beauty and is determined to have her, at any cost, for himself. Quasimodo loves La Esmeralda for her kindness and is determined to protect her from anyone who tires to harm her. Since Frollo forces himself upon the gypsy girl and, in the end causes her death, Quasimodo is forced to fight his master and eventually kill him.


The greatest irony of fate in the novel comes at the very end. As Quasimodo, the pathetic hunchback, looks down from the tower of Notre-Dame, he sees the dead bodies of the only two people he has ever loved - La Esmeralda and Claude Frollo, who have died within minutes of each other. Totally alone and despised by all the rest of the world, Quasimodo has no reason to continue living. He grieves himself to death and dies in the vault at Montfaucon, clinging to the dead body of his beloved La Esmeralda, who could never return his love because of his horrid appearance. In death, he is eternally united with her.

OTHER ELEMENTS

Style

Victor Hugo’s language is unrivalled in richness and matchless in imagery in this novel. With vivid detail, significant symbols, and sweeping strokes, the author reveals his delight with life, his love of movement, and his respect for grandeur.

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