The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Book 8+9 | Impressions


I don’t have all too much to say about these past two Books, but I wanted to post my thoughts before I begin reading Book 10, the longest Book in the novel.

Book 8 consisted solely of the trial of Esmeralda but ended with the iconic scene in which Quasimodo rescues Esmeralda from her execution. This was the scene of primary interest for me. Hugo paints Quasimodo in this ending to be the representation of God. You can tell from all the descriptions of him; he is “like a raindrop rolling down a pane of glass,” (p. 344) which is a classic biblical archetype from Genesis representing rebirth and new life. He has a “thundering” voice, “which was heard so rarely,” (346) which is an apparent parallel to God. He inspires awe from the crowd, who “regrett[ed] that he had so quickly withdrawn himself from their acclamations.” (345) He is the protector of Notre Dame, where “all human justice expires.” (345), and then Hugo makes the image inescapable from the readers’ eye when “all that royal strength” used to entrap Esmeralda is “broken with God’s strength” (345) by Quasimodo. God will protect, God will save the innocent, God will use his superhuman strength, God will inspire awe from the peoples, and God will be mysterious, and God will remain above earthly law. It’s an unavoidable illustration that Hugo has drawn for us.

This idea, which so captured my attention at the end of Book 8, continues through Book 9 as Quasimodo watches over Esmeralda in Notre Dame. However, here it is not so obvious. In fact, the image may have completely been cast away at this point, but the idea stuck with me. So, I tried to discern Hugo’s opinion of God from his descriptions of Quasimodo. Hugo’s God is a human one, I believe. Yes, he possesses all the qualities that the Christian church teaches, such as omnipotence and mercy. This is demonstrated obviously through Quasimodo’s inherent strength as well as his desire to please. He gives Esmeralda his own meals and bed; his voice is “so raucous yet so gentle.” However, Hugo’s God feels things like a human does. He feels acute loneliness, but that same melancholy and sorrow “reconcile…his ugliness” (363) for the world. It is his pain that makes him merciful, and so it is beautiful. He is deaf and partially blind to the world but still understands how it works at its most fundamental. The world has abandoned and forgotten Quasimodo, just as people forget and abandon the scripture, its teachings, and their morals everyday.

Perhaps some of you will think I’m stretching here, looking for connections where there aren’t, but to me this comparison is perfectly evident. As I go on to read Book 10, I will be eager to explore this theory more.


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