Study Guide

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Suffering

By Victor Hugo

Suffering

Pretty much nothing goes right for our main characters in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, at least while they're alive. We guess that goes with the territory in a tragedy.

There's a lot of suffering in this novel. It seems like at any given point, something is going badly for someone, whether it's Paquette losing her baby daughter, or Quasimodo being pelted with rocks on the pillory, or Esmeralda being tortured and hanged. But, as is the rule in tragedy, in order for the suffering to really matter, it needs to be punctuated by a few moments of joy and hope; so we get Esmeralda giving Quasimodo a drink of water, Paquette momentarily reuniting with her daughter, and Esmeralda being saved from the gallows—all temporarily, of course.

Why is there so much suffering in this novel? Does it reflect reality? Is there any point to all this suffering?

Questions About Suffering

  1. What is the role of fate in causing the characters to suffer?
  2. Which characters get off scot-free in terms of suffering? Why do you think this is?
  3. Though the novel has its funny moments, it's definitely a tragedy. What do you think the novel gains by being a tragedy instead of a comedy? If the ending were a happy, Disney-esque one, how would that change our reading of the novel?
  4. Is there any single force behind all of the suffering in the novel? Or, limiting it to the three major characters (Quasimodo, Esmeralda, and Frollo), would you say that there is one central cause behind everything they suffer?

Chew on This

All of the characters in the novel are touched by some sort of loss or lack that they are trying to fill.

We can tell early on in the novel which characters' fates are going to be steered toward tragedy and which toward comedy.

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