Study Guide

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame Time

By Victor Hugo


Time is not on anyone's side in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Time wears history away, it wipes away peoples' existences, it leads to inevitable decay and change… basically, time paves things over and makes way for the new. Individual lives are placed in huge historical contexts, and they can be easily and irrevocably wiped out.

Very few things are permanent in this book. Hugo gets into several discussions about how the Paris of 1482 is so different from the Paris of 1831—and in some ways, 1482 Paris seems better than 1831 Paris. In any case, there are two things in this novel that can withstand the test of time: a huge stone cathedral, and a printed book. It's art that has the capacity to defeat time; maybe it's the only thing that can.

Questions About Time

  1. Do you think the cathedral is the sign of permanence in the novel? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think Hugo makes a point of mentioning the "future" (things that happen after 1482)?
  3. Which side do you think Hugo (or his narrator) would take in the printing press versus cathedral debate, seeing as how the printing press is what allows the novel to exist in the first place? Does the novel take a side, or merely describe a change?
  4. What "artifacts" from the novel survive to the author's present day? What doesn't survive? What might this tell us about how history endures?

Chew on This

The novel argues that all evidence of history eventually disappears.

The novel argues that all evidence of history eventually disappears unless we find a way to preserve it.