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Quasimodo, the main character and protagonist of the novel, is a most compelling character. With his hunched back, his one-eyed and disfigured face, and his deafness, he becomes a perfect and exaggerated example of ugliness. In appearance, he seems to be almost half-beast and half-human. It is no wonder that the citizens of Paris think he is the devil.
As an infant, Quasimodo was abandoned by his own mother, who found his misshapen body horrifying and intolerable. Belonging to a wild band of gypsies, his mother exchanged her deformed infant for the lovely infant daughter of Pacquette. When Pacquette discovers that her own baby has been kidnapped and replaced with the little hunchback, she refuses to have anything to do with him. Being orphaned, Quasimodo is given over to the church at Notre-Dame. The churchwomen, who have always championed the cause of abandoned babies and found suitable homes for them, take one look at this deformed infant and proclaim him to be the devil. Since no one will adopt Quasimodo, Claude Frollo, one of the priests of Notre-Dame, declares that he will keep the misshapen baby and raise him.
Under the guidance of Frollo, the little hunchback tries to learn to speak and takes on the responsibility of ringing the great bells of the cathedral. Even though their loud noise causes him to go completely deaf, Quasimodo thinks of the bells as his friends. He often shares his feelings with them since he has no one else to talk to. Because of his ugliness, no one other than Frollo will have anything to do with Quasimodo. In fact, he often must endure the insults and accusations of the people of Paris. As a result, he feels sad, isolated, and lonely.
Entirely committed to the man who has raised him, Quasimodo adores Claude Frollo and will do anything for his "master." When Frollo asks him to help kidnap La Esmeralda, the hunchback does so unflinchingly and thinks nothing about the fact that Frollo deserts him, leaving Quasimodo to take all the blame for the crime. When he is arrested and sentenced to a public flogging, Quasimodo is unconcerned, for he is sure that his master will save him. While he is on the pillory ready to endure his punishment, he is delighted to see Frollo amongst the onlookers and is sure he will be spared. The priest, however, shows his true colors, by disappearing into the crowd and pretending not to know Quasimodo. The hunchback feels totally rejected when his own beloved master ignores his needs.
After he is flogged, the beaten and miserable hunchback begs for water, but no one will come to his aid. Finally La Esmeralda, the beautiful gypsy street performer who he had tried to kidnap for Frollo, steps forward and gives him something to drink. Her kindness towards him awakens feelings in Quasimodo that even Claude Frollo had not inspired. He falls instantly and deeply in love with La Esmeralda.