Hugo wrote in his accompanying note to The Hunchback of Notre Dame that he had seen the Greek word anankê (fatality) scratched on a wall inside the cathedral and that “it is around this word that this book has been written.” Fatality is an important theme in the novel, as is love in its various forms. In addition, the antithesis between the grotesque and the sublime—a concept dear to the author—shows that ugliness, far from reflecting vice and sin, signifies instead virtue and greatness of soul. Similarly, neither is knowledge for knowledge’s sake synonymous with wisdom. Such worldviews have repercussions for young adult readers since they, like the protagonists, often consider the personal forces driving them and the moral choices confronting them in trying to live well.
From the beginning of the novel, the characters’ lives are ruled by an absurd fatality that is at once physical, historical, hereditary, and social. The monstrous Quasimodo is turned into a subhuman animal creature (one chapter is entitled “The Dog and His Master”), destined to suffer misfortune. On the other hand, Phoebus, whose name associates him with the Greek sun-god, is the epitome of superficial beauty, which assures a professional success further guaranteed by his aristocratic origins. Frollo, the scratcher of the word anankê, is destroyed metaphysically and literally both by his heretical quest for gold and by his evil pursuit of Esmeralda. For her part,...
(The entire section is 610 words.)