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Quasimodo is the central character and protagonist of the novel, as indicated by the title of the book. Because he is a deformed, deaf, and one-eyed hunchback, he is exiled from society and cruelly treated. For most of his life, his only companions are Claude Frollo and the bells. When La Esmeralda, the gypsy street performer, shows him a kindness, Quasimodo becomes devoted to her, becoming her savior and protector.
There are two antagonists in the novel. The first is Quasimodo’s deformity. Because of his hunched back, his one-eyed and disfigured face, and his deafness, Quasimodo is misunderstood and hated by the people of Paris, who call him the devil. When he saves La Esmeralda from certain death and carries her into Notre-Dame for sanctuary, she cannot bear to look at him because of his ugliness.
The second antagonist is Claude Frollo, his master. Though he was once a good man who helped Quasimodo, Frollo becomes transformed by his lust for La Esmeralda. Driven by his evil passion, he ignores Quasimodo, stabs Phoebus, manipulates Gringoire, and eventually causes the hanging of La Esmeralda. When he fiendishly laughs about her execution, Quasimodo pushes him off the balcony of Notre-Dame, causing him to fall to his death on the street below. Ironically, with the death of the priest, Quasimodo is totally alone in the world. He disappears from Notre-Dame and perishes in the Montfaucon vault, clinging to the dead body of La Esmeralda, his beloved. Frollo is therefore, indirectly responsible for the death of the hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as the death La Esmeralda.
The climax of the novel occurs when Quasimodo realizes he has lost La Esmeralda, in spite of the fact that he has tried to save her by fighting the mob of gypsies from the Court of Miracles. Since he no longer has anything to live for, Quasimodo later kills Claude Frollo, who is responsible for La Esmeralda’s disappearance from her cell in the tower and her eventual hanging, and then perishes in his grief.
The novel ends in tragedy, for Quasimodo is defeated by his deformity and by his master, Claude Frollo. La Esmeralda, whom he genuinely loves, can never return his love because of his horrible appearance; in fact, she finds it difficult to even look at him, even though she tries to be kind to him. Frollo defeats Quasimodo in a worse way. He causes the death of La Esmeralda, which takes away the hunchback’s purpose in life. With nothing to live for after La Esmeralda’s death, Quasimodo perishes in the vault, clinging to her dead body. In death, his misshapen body no longer distances him from the one he loves.