The Hunchback of Notre-Dame begins at the Palace of Justice and ends at the gallows at Montfaucon. We also get two trial scenes, a scene of the pillory, a scene of the gallows, a scene of torture, and a few scenes of prisons—including a horrific closed-up box—thrown in for good measure.
Justice—or should we say "justice"?—is all over the place in this novel, and it's not given a very flattering portrait. The medieval French justice system, as Hugo portrays it, is lazy, inept, ineffective, cruel, and run by flippant people who are more interested in getting to supper on time than in administering actual justice. Not surprisingly, most of our characters don't fare so well within this justice system.
Is Hugo criticizing medieval justice alone, or he is he drawing our attention to issues that never really go away?
Questions About Justice
- What do you think the novel is criticizing about the justice system? Is it saying something about the medieval justice system specifically? Is it saying something about the current one? Is it saying something about justice in general?
- Why do you think that justice plays such a big part in this novel?
- Which characters don't suffer at the hands of justice? Do they have anything in common? Which characters suffer the most?
- Is there some sort of "divine justice" in the novel? In other words, the legal system aside, do any of the bad characters get their comeuppance, and do the good characters get their reward?
Chew on This
The novel criticizes a justice system that is all too happy to torture, imprison, and execute people for pretty much any reason.
The novel criticizes a justice system that is run by people who are more concerned with their statuses than with actual justice.