Why Can’t Claude Frollo Be Considered a Typical Antihero in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
The definition of the character of one of the principal personages of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo, is a controversial question because the actions and feelings of the priest are contradictory. The significance of this question is explained by the necessity to determine whether archdeacon is a typical anti-hero. Frollo cannot be considered a typical anti-hero because he demonstrates the ability to be caring, magnanimous and noble, he reveals the features of the romantic personality, he is influenced by the religious restrictions, and he aspires to resist the temptation.
The romantic novel by Victor Hugo presents the story of a tragic love intertwining the destinies of several personages. The characterization of Frollo as anti-hero defines the necessity to analyze the personage in details. The term anti-hero describes the principal character “who lacks the qualities of nobility and magnanimity” (Baldick 26). Such a definition implies the determination of the features of the hero focusing on the negative aspects of the character. It is necessary to analyze the personage to identify whether he can be considered a typical anti-hero.
The character of Frollo is controversial because his beneficial actions determine him as a positive personage, but the subsequent behavior reveals his negative features. Gale defines the character as connected with the contradictions because his actions are a combination of the different traits mentioning that “he raises orphans but allows others to be punished for his crimes” (6). The information about the priest demonstrates the duality of his character because at the beginning of the story he appears as the caring and gracious person. Hugo presents the information about Quasimodo mentioning that Frollo “made a vow in his heart to rear the child” (153). The priest adopted the hunchback and cared for his younger brother Jehan. Such an ability to demonstrate interest and concern in other’s destiny and soft-hearted individuality implies that a person possesses the features of magnanimity and kindness. Therefore, Frollo cannot be regarded as a typical anti-hero because the actions he committed in his life imply the ability to be sympathetic and unselfish, to protect the weak and fragile people.
Although being considered a villain in the story, Frollo cannot be determined as an absolute anti-hero because some of the features of his character demonstrate his romantic personality and nobility. He “exhibits many of the traits peculiar to the heroes of Romantic literature” (Yearsley 2). One of the principal characteristics of archdeacon is the aspiration to knowledge. This feature determines the heroes of the Romantic novels who attempt to reveal the secrets of nature and people’s existence. Frollo’s thirst for knowledge defines his desire to explore alchemy and astrology. The character explores various fields of knowledge, reads books, and “lives only in science” (Hugo 151). Although he aspires to use his knowledge and wisdom in personal interests, such an eagerness to develop and define the truth characterizes him as the romantic hero. The theme of this desire is also connected with the duality of the character because he is divided between the necessity to follow the rules of the church and the aspiration to pursue his intentions to deepen his knowledge.
Frollo is influenced by the demands of church restricting his opportunities and actions. He is not able to act according to his desires because he is bound by the regulations and laws of the religious society. Frollo “is both the product of his age and the creator of his own destiny” (Yearsley 6). Such a presentation of the duality of this character implies the combination of the social effect and personal intentions of the archdeacon. Therefore, it is difficult to evaluate the guilt of the character because his actions are determined by various factors including the external influence of the religious and moral rules. As a consequence, Frollo is not a typical anti-hero being obliged to follow the requirements of the church community and being unable to express his feelings and desires. Such limitations define his internal conflict forcing him to convey the tension in the evil acts.
Frollo developed the villainous features as the result of the necessity to obey the physical restrictions of the church. Archdeacon suffers anguish understanding that his doctrinal virtue is questioned by his desires and “the dis-inhibiting and physical draw” (Hammond 6). The character comprehends that he is not allowed to follow personal carnal desires. However, some physical and psychological peculiarities make him succumb to the situation and interpret his actions in a particular way attempting to justify his actions. The character confesses to Esmeralda that he was satisfied to be the example of chastity devoted to science, but her appearance was like a “snare of the demon” tempting him to betray his ideals and beliefs (Hugo 344). The changes in archdeacon’s behavior happen because he is divided between the obligation to neglect the material world and the physical attraction to a female. Such a division defines Frollo`s inability to control the situation resulting in the negative displays of his character which reveals the other aspect of the duality of the character.
The priest cannot be regarded as a typical anti-hero because he attempts to resist the temptation of the demon. Frollo confesses to Esmeralda that the devil often presented women before his eyes, but archdeacon managed to vanquish him (Hugo 344). Also, the character explains that he read books, fasted and prayed to avoid the temptation. Besides, Lang mentions about the “fury of resistance to his passion” narrating about the priest (7). These details about the personage reveal his desire and intention to stay loyal to the principles of the church. He realizes that the physical and material attractions should be neglected by the priest attempting to follow the restrictions of the religion. Therefore, these intentions and efforts demonstrate the desire of the character to maintain the religious principles and laws. Although Frollo finally succumbs to temptation, he cannot be considered a typical anti-hero because at the beginning he aspires to stay loyal to the church.
Thus, the character of Frollo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame is contradictory making him not a typical anti-hero. The duality of the character proves that the priest possesses various traits defining him as a negative and positive personage simultaneously. Such a duality is demonstrated by the ability of the personage to be caring and magnanimous with the orphans and villainous with others; by the attempt to follow the rules of the church and pursue his desires; by the necessity to neglect the material world and the physical attraction to a female. Therefore, the demonstration of the positive features proves that Frollo cannot be considered a typical anti-hero because he has the qualities of nobility and magnanimity.
Baldick, Chris. The Oxford dictionary of literary terms. OUP Oxford, 2015.
Gale, Cengage Learning. A Study Guide for Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Gale, Cengage Learning, 2016.
Hammond, Craig Andrew. “A Mysterious Jewel of Hope, Part-Formed Possibility & Future Redemption: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame as Homo-Absconditus.” Paper presented at the 5th Global Conference:‘Hope: Probing the Boundaries. vol. 10, 2013, pp.1-18.
Hugo, Victor. The Hunchback Of Notre-Dame. Translated by Isabel Florence Hapgood, Anncona Media, 2014.
Lang, Andrew. Criticisms and Interpretations. Notre Dame de Paris, by Victor Hugo, Bartleby, 2007, pp. 7-10.
Yearsley, Scott. “Sexuality in Hugo’s Notre-Dame de Paris.” Stanford French Review 3, 2010, pp. 1-14.