Study Guide

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Plot Analysis

By Victor Hugo

Plot Analysis

Exposition (Initial Situation): Meet the Players

In most stories, we expect to meet the important people right away, but in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, there are quite a few important people—and it's not immediately apparent how they're all related. The episode with Pierre Gringoire going to the Cour des Miracles and marrying Esmeralda helps line up all of the players and show us their roles.

In Book II, we get some backstory that also gives us a sense of who's who and what everyone's motivations are. In fact, all the way up until Book V, we're still being shown insights into the characters' lives before we get back to the actual meat of the plot.

Rising Action (Conflict, Complication): Trouble In Paris-dise

Come Book VI, we're back in the year 1482. Now we get a sense of where things are headed: Quasimodo is publicly humiliated, the old Sack Woman is crazy, everyone wants to get into Esmeralda's pants… you know, typical drama. All of these events end up being related, and they move the plot forward to Phœbus's stabbing, Esmeralda's imprisonment and condemnation, and her rescue by Quasimodo.

Climax (Crisis, Turning Point): What Happened to That Whole "Sanctuary" Thing?

All of these events set us up for the climax. This is when things start to get really messy in front of Notre-Dame. Remember how the Tramps attack in Book X? Think of that as the moment when things finally boil over and the tension hits its absolute peak. A lot of people are going to die, and fate is going to finally run its course and do all the things we've been waiting for it to do. When Esmeralda and Frollo meet their deaths, we know the story can't go on much longer.

Falling Action: Not Everyone Dies… Right?

Now, the novel doesn't just end right there. After all, Esmeralda and Frollo aren't everything, right? Victor Hugo treats us to a "What happens to the other characters?" section in Book XI. It's like a moment to re-group after all of that tension.

Resolution (Denouement): Not a Disney Ending

But of course, you can't just end a novel with side characters, either. We need to know what happens to our other main character, Quasimodo, and we need some closure with the major plot. This comes later in Book XI, when we see Quasimodo and Esmeralda "wedded" together.