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It is important for those with problems to seek refuge in a place where they can better sort out their difficulties and find solutions to their predicaments. Different people have different methods of coping with their problems: some attempt to distract themselves, others simply find a quiet spot and think about their problems, and some look to the place of refuge itself for a solution. All three methods are apparent in Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame; in this work, three characters look to the great cathedral of Notre Dame to solve their problems. Quasimodo attempts to combat his desolation, Claude Frollo tries to forget his dreams of Esmeralda, and Esmeralda strives to escape death and the loss of a lover. Quasimodo, Claude Frollo, and La Esmeralda seek refuge inside the Cathedrale de Notre Dame from their overwhelming loneliness, fears, and passions.
Quasimodo never knows friendship or even acceptance during his life. “As [Quasimodo and Claude Frollo] crossed the chilly, narrow, and gloomy streets in the neighborhood of Notre-Dame, many a snide word, many a derisive laugh, or insulting jibe would harass them on their way. (163)” Quasimodo has almost every possible physical deformity working against him: hunched back, one eye, forked chin, jagged and gapped teeth, sunken shoulders, and deafness, to name but a few. His ugliness prevents many from looking at him, let alone treating him as an equal. Shunned by the public, the closest thing Quasimodo has to a companion is the bells of Notre Dame, which he rings daily with abandon. Quasimodo’s bells, the only objects that he can hear, are his lone interests, his tools to battle the loneliness that results from a lifetime of seclusion and solitude. “When he had set [the bells] in motion…when the demon of music…had taken full possession of the poor deaf hunchback, then he became happy again; he forgot everything else, and his face radiated with joy. (258)” Above all other structures, Quasimodo loved the bells of Notre Dame. “The Cathedral was not only his society; it was his universe. It was all of nature to him. (151)” Quasimodo’s sole friends were the bells and the Cathedrale de Notre Dame.
Claude Frollo becomes overwhelmed by the passions he feels for Esmeralda, and seeks to escape them in the Cathedrale de Notre Dame. Frollo is obsessed with Esmeralda; when visiting her in her pre-hanging dungeon, he confesses his love for her. He recounts the tale of his first sighting of the beautiful gypsy of the way that he, a priest, was so enchanted by her beauty that he stalked her. Frollo rants passionately, “I waited for you under porches; I spied on you from street corners; I watched you from the top of my tower. Every night, searching the innermost depths of my soul, I found myself more charmed, more desperate, more bewitched, more lost! (324)” Frollo knows such activities are immoral; he, as a priest, having taken vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, has broken commandments. Frollo even goes so far as to think that the Devil himself sent Esmeralda to tempt him away from the purity of the cloth. Frollo tries to resist these feelings of passion from his chambers within the church; he pontificates with passion on alchemy, but even a fevered monologue on the methods of converting gold can not distract him from his thoughts of the flesh. From the confines of a laboratory in a spire of the cathedral, Frollo suddenly digresses from his sorcery and speaks the name of Esmeralda. His refuge from his passions in the Cathedrale de Notre Dame has been denied.
La Esmeralda seeks refuge in the cathedral for a more simple cause: to elude death. Arrested, tried, and convicted for the death of her lover, Esmeralda has given up hope and cannot find purpose in her life, after the death of her true love. Standing before her executioners, Esmeralda spies her lover Phoebus and regains vitality; she struggles in her bonds and is stolen from death by Quasimodo. The latter takes her back to Notre Dame, where Esmeralda has sanctuary from her death sentence. There, in the cathedral, “little by little calmness returned to Esmeralda…in this place of sanctuary, hope returned to her. (366)” Esmeralda seeks refuge in two respects: physical refuge, from the executioners’ rope, and emotional refuge, from the knowledge that Phoebus does not love her. The cathedral provides her with a place to think and come to terms with her grief. She leaves the cathedral as distraught as ever over the loss of Phoebus’ love, but she gains peace of mind.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame serves as a place of sanctuary and refuge for the characters of Quasimodo, Claude Frollo, and La Esmeralda. The members of this trio look to the edifice to provide answers to their problems; in response, the cathedral allows the characters to deal with their dilemmas themselves while providing a setting in which to do so: Quasimodo shuns the world that has shunned him, Frollo is unable to rid himself of his impure thoughts, and Esmeralda, while escaping death for a time, cannot distance herself from her longings for Phoebus. The cathedral is a haven for thought and progression. Its asylum provides sanctuary for all those that need it.
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