In the vaulted Gothic towers of Notre-Dame lives Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer. Mocked and shunned for his appearance, he is pitied only by Esmerelda, a beautiful gypsy dancer to whom he becomes completely devoted. Esmerelda, however, has also attracted the attention of the sinister archdeacon Claude Frollo, and when she rejects his lecherous approaches, Frollo hatches a plot to destroy her that only Quasimodo can prevent.
Before I begin discussing characters and meaning and all that great literary analysis stuff, I'd like to mention that it was definitely shorter than I expected. I mean, I've read Les Miserables twice, and that thing is huge! So when I went to get HoND from the library, I was expecting something equivalent. Nope - it's about a quarter of the size. Seriously. It's absolutely tiny (compared to other classics).
Nevertheless, it's size did not make it exempt from Hugo's notorious digressions. However, there weren't as many - thank goodness. Some people may like them - I most definitely find them quite boring.
The character I really want to talk about is Frollo, but there's a separate post entirely on him coming tomorrow. So. I shall refrain.
An interesting commentary that Hugo makes in HoND is the idea of the shifting mob. So many times throughout the book he shows how a large group of people can be swayed by one insistent leader. Do we want the play or not? Is Quasimodo superb and hilarious - or evil and dangerous? Is Notre Dame a safe-haven for the gypsy - or a prison? Mobs show up so many times in this story that you begin to wonder - how sheeplike are these people? Also - would we do the same? Perhaps we would.
(Side note: goodness, there are a lot of question marks in the previous paragraph.)
I think the main story here boils down to a theme of misunderstanding. There's the obvious misunderstanding of Quasimodo that causes the destruction at the end, but also, gently interwoven, are other examples. The reclusive woman of the Tour Roland misunderstands who Esmeralda is. Esmeralda, on her end, cannot see through Phoebus's guise. (THAT JERK.) And, on a higher level, Frollo misunderstands what his vocation is. Clearly, if he truly had been guided to the vocation of a priest, he would not have had such a struggle with his love for Esmeralda, because he would be wholly devoted to God. But he joined the priesthood for the wrong reasons - because he wanted to devote himself to his studies, because he thought it was "the way" to salvation, because he he had never fallen in love before, and so thought himself incapable of it.
(Darn. Even when I say I'm not going to talk about Frollo, I end up rambling about him. He's just such an utterly spectacular and intricate antagonist - but that's for tomorrow.)
So really, I think misunderstanding and judging other people incorrecly are the causes of the tragedy here. HoND is so intricate and has so many levels, that I am definitely buying this book to reread at least once more. I'd love to see what else I can uncover.
Have you read The Hunchback of Notre Dame? (Or seen the Disney movie? I haven't. Should I?) What do you think about mobs?