What is the significance of the structure of the Notre Dame Cathedral in the setting of Victor Hugo's The Hunchback of Notre Dame?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Hunchback of Notre Dame was written by the French author Victor Hugo. It was first published in 1831. The novel is set in the late 15th century in Paris, and it is an example of romantic literature. Interestingly, this novel is called Notre-Dame de Paris in the original French version, which shows the significance of Notre Dame Cathedral for the story.

Victor Hugo felt very strongly about Notre Dame, and he worried that architecture was not appreciated sufficiently by his fellow citizens. Hugo felt the need to highlight the fact that people should take more pride in their cathedral and that they should look after it better. At the time, Notre Dame was in desperate need of renovation. In Hugo's mind, the cathedral had become ugly and deformed through years of neglect. Therefore, one could argue that Quasimodo is a metaphor for this deteriorating cathedral, as he is also ugly and deformed. In fact, Quasimodo is therefore the personified representation of the cathedral.

The cathedral was built in typical Gothic architecture, as it features huge stain glass windows, pointed arches, gargoyles, and flying buttresses. These are all elements that are reflected in the story of the book. For example, the beautiful stain glass windows can be interpreted as a comparison to Esmeralda's life—life can seem dark, but there is always hope and light, even in the darkest times. This implies to the reader how one should never give up and that hope is to be found within the church, just like Esmeralda found comfort inside the cathedral during dark times.

The cathedral provides safety for Esmeralda. This is underlined through the architecture of Notre Dame, as the towers, spikes and arches almost make the cathedral appear like a fortress, a visual representation of Esmeralda’s safety within the cathedral. This is also underlined by the fact that the cathedral features gargoyles, which are grotesque and scary looking figures made from stone. Gargoyles were used as symbols for the evil in the world. Placing them on the outside of the cathedral highlighted that there is no evil within the church, there is but outside. They were also seen as protection from evil, just like Esmeralda tried to find protection within Notre Dame.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial