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Complex Moralities Essay

According to Aristotle, for a writer to create an interesting character it must be morally complex, meaning it must consist of not only good or bad morals, but both. Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame has a few examples of this trait in its main characters. Claude Frollo, the priest, shows moral complexity, as he is the novel’s antagonist but is also very compassionate in his feelings toward Esmeralda. Phoebus, who is a nobleman, a soldier, and the captain of the King’s archers, is also one to cheat on his fiance, Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier, and later ignore his chance to save Esmeralda during her execution.

Quasimodo is another quality example of moral complexity because while he remains loyal to Esmeralda in every way that he can, he also doesn’t hesitate in pushing Frollo off the ledge and murdering dozens of Truands. Moral complexity allows a reader to think about each character with more depth. Claude Frollo, Esmeralda, and Quasimodo all have positive as well as negative aspects to their personalities, which creates what Aristotle would consider to be interesting characters for this reason.

In the beginning of the novel, Frollo shows his compassion and dedication when he takes in his younger brother, Jehan, and later adopts Quasimodo after his parents left him as a child. Though Frollo tried his best to mold scholarly individuals out of the young orphans they soon became symbols of his failure, as Jehan drinks and gambles his money away and Quasimodo’s deafness prevents almost any kind of learning. Frollo’s obsessive longing for La Esmeralda causes her to be hanged and Quasimodo to be tortured.

It seems that everything he tries to do ends negatively, and that “by making himself a priest made himself a demon” (Hugo 282). No matter the effort he puts in to make Esmeralda love him, he only ends up causing her pain. His obsession leads him to do things he would otherwise never do. His compelling fixation with this infatuating gypsy girl leads him to stab Phoebus with a “dagger that only Esmeralda sees descend upon Pheobus, and raise again dripping” (Hugo 165). Frollo’s compassion and partially good intentions conflict with his actions and get him into predicaments.

These characteristics of his contradict themselves, making him a morally complex character. Phoebus, who is supposed to be a gentleman, is not much more than a womanizer, however, he saves La Esmeralda from Quasimodo the night he attacks her. Phoebus does not love her, but leads her to think otherwise and tries to seduce her. As he spoke to the lost gypsy girl he confessed his apparent love “in one breath without making one single blunder,” suggesting that he had strung together the same exact words to many gullible and in love women just like Esmeralda. Hugo 167) When Frollo stabs Phoebus everyone is convinced he is dead but without bringing it to anyone’s attention, he recovers. Phoebus doesn’t speak up when La Esmeralda is sentanced to death for his murder because he doesn’t want to be associated with a gypsy girl and doesn’t want his fiance to find out about his relations with her. Even though he could have saved Esmeralda’s life, “he felt no great desire to make a personal appearance at the trial” (Hugo 199)

With Quasimodo’s life, being soundless and confusing, he does not always make the right decisions. His thoughts and comprehensions are twisted but his heart is good. Near the beginning of the novel, Quasimodo began following Esmeralda and attacked her late at night. He was tried for it and was sentenced to being publicly whipped which later helped him realize that Esmeralda wasn’t like everybody else who made fun of him for his appearance, but she helped him and tried to understand him.

For example after he was whipped for an hour all he asked for was water. Everyone listening to him laughed at him but Esmeralda gave him water. This is ironic because the reason that he was being whipped was because he attacked Esmeralda, yet she was the only one to show him sympathy and give him water. Quasimodo was so touched by her kind gesture that “from that eye, hitherto so dry and burning, was seen to roll a big tear, which fell slowly down that deformed visage so long contracted by despair” (Hugo 322).

From then on Quasimodo became very loyal to Esmeralda. Though this is true, he turns on Frollo, the man who raised him and took him in when he had no one, because he is responsible for Esmeralda’s death. During Esmeralda’s hanging he couldn’t bare the rage, he “took a few steps back from the archdeacon, and then, rushing at him furiously, with his two huge hands, he struck the priest’s back and pushed Dom Claude into the abyss over which he had been leaning” (Hugo 300). Though his morals may not have been commendable, his heart and ntentions are genuine. Frollo’s bad decisions and confusing feelings, Phoebus’s corrupt loyalty but heroic stature, and Quasimodo’s twisted priorities but kind heart reflect true imperfection of the human spirit. Victor Hugo used Aristotle’s methods of giving a character moral complexity to make the reader more interested throughout the story. Neither Frollo, Phoebus, nor Quasimodo have completely good or completely bad morals, but instead struggle with the decisions they face.


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