The day Notre Dame burned a meme began to circulate. It had a picture of Quasimodo and said something like: investigators don’t know how the fire started, but I have my ideas. Besides being a joke that was too soon, the meme was grossly inaccurate. It implied that the titular hunchback from Victor Hugo’s classic Gothic novel would want the cathedral to burn. This is far from the reality of the character. Quasimodo would’ve been horrified by the fire. The cathedral was his home. He fought off a mob to protect it. The meme also showed how Quasimodo is viewed by the general public, as a monster.
Of all the classic monsters I remember enjoying in my childhood, Quasimodo is the one that I was wrong about. Most people are wrong about him. We mistake his horrid appearance for his being a monstrous person. Even after reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame in high school, I missed how tragic the character actually is. Quasimodo is a victim of circumstance. He is a victim of how the nurturing we receive as children develop us into the adults we are.
Quasimodo never had a chance in life. His disfigured appearance caused people to recoil from him in horror. He was abandoned at the cathedral and raised by the priests. The only person he felt loved him was the real monster, who manipulated the hunchback to do horrible things for him. When Quasimodo fails to carry out one Frollo’s plans, the hunchback’s only “loved one”, allows him to be punished for his failure.
The hunchback is a misunderstood character by the reader and the characters of the book. Because of his inability to communicate well, people think all of his intentions are devious or evil. He pours molten lead down on a mob trying to break into Notre Dame to haul Esmerelda away to be hanged. He kills Frollo because he allowed Esmerelda to die. Then Quasimodo escapes Paris and dies beside the corpse of Esmerelda. The hunchback fell in love with her because she had shown him kindness. The gypsy girl was the only person who probably love him, and he did everything he could to protect her. Some of those acts are horrendous but come from a different place than monstrous malevolence.
Quasimodo never terrorizes people for his own evil intents. He was either manipulated into bad behavior or committed it to protect something he cared about. That doesn’t make someone a monster. So why is the hunchback considered such a horrible character?
I’m not sure of the answer. In psychology, we know that humans fear things that are different. They also have revulsion to unattractiveness. Quasimodo with his humped back and large wart covering his entire eye, would be very unattractive. We often associate evil with ugliness. Many times the opposite is true.
It may also be that we’ve collectively mashed Quasimodo together with another character who had a hump—Fritz. Many will think of this character as Igor, but the hunchback in the James Whale’s Frankenstein was named Fritz. This character is a monster. He takes glee in torturing the creature that Henry Frankenstein created. There is that memorable scene from the film where Fritz continuously shoves a flaming torch at the creature who is chained to the wall. It shows the true monstrous nature of Fritz tormenting the creature who cannot do anything to stop it.
It isn’t too far of a stretch for Quasimodo to be mistaken for Fritz. We’ve made Fritz into Igor. In representations of Igor in other mediums besides the original movies that featured Fritz or Ygor ( a character played by Bela Lugosi in Son of Frankenstein and The Ghost of Frankenstein.), the character looks more like Quasimodo than either Fritz or Lugosi’s Ygor.
Maybe I’m being a little overly sensitive about poor Quasimodo, but he’s getting a bad shake. I love the evil hunchback archetype whether named Igor, Ygor, or Fritz, but let’s not drag Quasimodo into it. He was heroic character in the end that changed because of his journey through the story of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. There’s nothing monstrous about that.