The Hunchback of Notre Dame Themes

The Hunchback of Notre Dame Themes

The Abandoned

Everywhere Quasimodo, the titular hunchback, turns it seems there is the effect of being abandoned. First, he was replaced by another child whom his mother stole because Quasimodo wasn’t a traditionally cute little baby. From that inauspicious beginning, Quasimodo embarks upon a life being ostracized from a society that mocks his every appearance outside the cathedral. Even his own body abandons him, leaving to face the contempt of the world without the power to speak, though perhaps the sense of hearing joining in the mass migration away from the tortured soul is such a positive development that it almost makes up for the rest. Of course, it is not just Quasimodo who is the novel’s representative of its themes surrounding abandonment. Frollo and his brother share the hunchback’s pain of parental abandonment, though at least in their case there is cold comfort in knowing it wasn’t by choice, but through death. The individual examples of abandonment achieve a broader thematic coherence in the novel as a reflection of mass sense of abandonment felt by the lower classes of Paris. The increasingly isolated aristocratic elite are so out of touch with the common man that the poor become a symbolic substitute of Quasimodo as he becomes the target of a jeering crowd incapable of empathy as a result of class ignorance.

The Origin of Intolerance

The story of the public’s intolerance toward Quasimodo is a fuller exploration of the origins of intolerance. Quasimodo cannot be tolerated as an active member of society because such a repulsive appearance can only be the physical manifestation of something more sinister inside. The judicial cannot tolerate public expressions of disrespect for the law so when Quasimodo’s physical ailments obstruct his ability to communicate as expected, it is immediately assumed to be a purposeful display of contempt and impertinence. This thematic examination of intolerance being rooted in not just a lack of understanding but a concerted lack of desire to understand reaches its logically extreme conclusion in the reaction of the King of France to an uprising stimulated precisely by his own lack of attention to the needs of the people: he doubles down on his own failure as monarch by trying to kill the body in the mistaken assumption that the head will then die. It never does work out that way, however.


Frollo carves this word on the wall and is obsessed by its meaning which is fate. The vagaries of fate and the inability to full understand or control is a matter of great obsession for Frollo. Frollo’s conceptual view of the infrastructure of fate is reflected in the sudden twists of destiny that characters experience without warning, but that should also be without much surprise is expressed most concretely with his seemingly convoluted and paradoxical explanation of how works to Esmeralda: “It was Fate that caught you, and threw you among the terrible gears of the machine that I had secretly constructed.” The novel routinely demonstrates its own adherence to the concept that while fate cannot be controlled by mere humans, the intensity of its consequences can be manipulated by one’s actions.

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