The Hunchback of Notre Dame Themes

Themes

Abandonment
The theme of abandonment plays out in different ways in Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The most obvious is the abandonment of Quasimodo by his mother, who steals the more beautiful child, La Esmeralda, and exchanges her malformed son, who is left in the halls of the cathedral. And that is just the beginning of abandonment in Quasimodo’s life. The public abandons him in many ways, mocking and jeering him every time he appears outside his cloistered shelter. In more subtle ways, some of his physical senses also abandon him, leaving him without the power to hear or speak, pushing him deeper into isolation.

The priest Frollo and his brother Jehan are also abandoned by the death of their parents; as is Gringoire, another orphan in this story. On another level, all the poor of Paris are portrayed as having also been abandoned by the fabulously rich monarchy which has grown out of touch with not only the needs of the poverty stricken populous but with its subjects’ humanity. This theme of abandonment makes the loyalty of Quasimodo and La Esmeralda all the more intense by contrast.

Physical Appearance
The theme of the power of physical appearance in affecting others is played out at its fullest in the characters of Quasimodo and La Esmeralda. Quasimodo is scorned, mocked, abandoned, ridiculed, and beaten for having been born in a twisted body. Whereas La Esmeralda is loved, lusted after, praised, and celebrated for her innate beauty. It is, however, interesting to note that neither Quasimodo’s ugliness nor La Esmeralda’s beauty grants a better outcome. Although Quasimodo must seek refuge in isolation because of his physical appearance, La Esmeralda suffers from the jealousy of others when she exhibits herself in public.

Disguise of one’s physical appearance is also used throughout Hugo’s story. Frollo often tries to disguise himself either in a common cloak or in the clothing of his priesthood. His cloak is used to give him an advantage in getting closer to La Esmeralda, who has resolved to resist him. But his priestly habit, if one takes the highest ideals of spirituality that his religious outfit represents, also disguises Frollo’s carnal lust.

Obsession
There are many men who want to be close to La Esmeralda. Each man has his own reasons. Of all of them, Quasimodo and Frollo have the strongest desires, and those desires are born from opposite feelings. Quasimodo is sincerely in love with La Esmeralda. He demonstrates this by his ability to satisfy her needs without...

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