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In contrast to Quasimodo, the beast in the novel, La Esmeralda is the beauty. Both of them, however, are characterized by a kind heart. Like Quasimodo, La Esmeralda reaches out to others in time of need. She saves Gringoire from execution by marrying him, even though she does not really know the playwright. When Quasimodo has been flogged on the pillory and begs for water, she is the only one who is willing to help him.
Born to a young country girl named Pacquette, La Esmeralda is stolen by a band of Egyptian gypsies when she is an infant. She is then raised by them in the Court of Miracles, the gypsy community in Paris. As a young adult, she becomes a street entertainer, performing tricks with her pet goat. Because of her physical loveliness, she always attracts a crowd. La Esmeralda, not realizing her own beauty, believes the people are charmed by her performance.
Because of her beauty and kindness, a variety of men fall in love with La Esmeralda. Gringoire loves her because she saves him from execution in the Court of Miracles by marrying him. Although she is his wife, La Esmeralda makes it clear that their relationship is only platonic. Claude Frollo falls in love with her for her beauty and lusts after her body. He is determined that if he cannot have her for his own, no one else will have her either. Quasimodo falls in love with her because she is the only person who has ever shown him a kindness. As a result, he becomes her savior and protector. Captain Phoebus pretends to love La Esmeralda so that he can seduce her.
Like Quasimodo, Esmeralda is an innocent. She allows herself to be seduced by Phoebus, thinking he will love her forever. Even though her naivete is born of virtue, it causes her great problems. In the same way that Quasimodo loves Esmeralda, she loves the captain. Even when she thinks Phoebus is dead, she is totally devoted to him. When she learns that he is alive and hears his voice when he comes to arrest her, she emerges from hiding, sacrificing her safety, for a chance to talk to Phoebus in an effort to win back his love.
While Frollo goes to find the King’s army to arrest La Esmeralda, he puts her in Rolande’s Tower in a cell with Pacquette. The two women discover that La Esmeralda is the long lost daughter, stolen from her crib by gypsies. As mother and daughter are reunited, the soldiers arrive to take La Esmeralda away to her death. When Pacquette fights to save her daughter, one of the soldiers strikes and kills her. La Esmeralda is then led to the pillory and hanged before a large crowd. Frollo and Quasimodo see her execution from the tower of Notre- Dame.
Although La Esmeralda is an important, sympathetic, and tragic figure in the novel, she is a static character. Unlike Quasimodo, who undergoes significant changes, she essentially stays the same throughout the book.