The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Oppression in ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’

Viewing a person less of who they are just because of a physical or social attribute that they relate to, is what is known as oppression. It is a social ill that has been present in the society since time immemorial, and due to the societal imbalances, the vice is hard to deal with. In ‘The Hunchback of Notre dame’, oppression is highly practiced and just like any other normal society, dealing with it is impossible. The film highlights different types of oppression and the imbalances that are present in a normal society in a story involving love, hatred, deceit, lust and vengeance. Oppression in the modern society is not much different from that which was there in the past. Therefore, the film, ‘The Hunchback of Notre dame’ can be used to highlight, discuss and demonstrate the issue of oppression in the modern world.

The vice that involves the silencing of the weak by those in power, has been present since medieval days and it has been a serious social plague. Since the days when the film was made and the time in life, which it represents, there have been social divisions and imbalances and prejudicial acts that have been committed especially by those in power. The vice has had various detrimental effects on the society since time immemorial. It has put divisions in the societies, destroyed others and limited social growth in some races and other societies, just but to name a few of its effects. The root cause of the vice stems from the simplest of relationships, those of the husbands and the wives in their homes then they branch out to the workplace where there exists the relationship between the employer-employee

The relationships that could be affected by oppression were the ones that have one party more powerful or with a higher rank than the other. During the middle ages, which were the times when the movie was based on, the oppression was both directly practiced and indirectly practiced. Thus, it would be right to say that the concept of oppression then was not any different to what it is now. However, the methods of administering it might be what have changed. Most schools of thought consider the film obsolete in the depiction of the concept of oppression due to age. They say that the oppression it depicts is not applicable in the society today. However, the film has aspects and elements that can be useful to the modern student in depicting the concept of oppression in the world today.

Quasimodo, the main character in the film, receives the greatest amount of oppression due to his appearance. He was separated from his real mother since birth when his mother denied him and exchanged him for another baby by stealing someone else’s. He does not get the chance to have a happy childhood since the other children look at him as an outcast since he does not look like any of them. Even in adulthood, he is oppressed due to his looks when he is paraded across the town being named the “Pope of Fools”,

“We shall not attempt to give the reader an idea of that tetrahedron nose-that horse-shoe mouth-that small left eye over-shadowed by a red bushy brow, while the right eye disappeared entirely under an enormous wart-of those straggling teeth with breaches here and there like the battlements of a fortress-of that horny lip, over which one of those teeth projected like the tusk of an elephant-of that forked chin-and, above all, of the expression diffused over the whole-that mixture of malice, astonishment, and melancholy. Let the reader, if he can, figure to himself this combination” (The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1939).

…so they said after electing Quasimodo.

Quasimodo is called ugly and termed as the ugliest man in the town of Notre Dame. Ableism is the type of oppression that Quasimodo is goes through. This is the oppression against people with physical disabilities. Ableism in the modern world is seen in mostly in the workplaces where people with physical disabilities like, obesity, acne, blindness, shortness or tall in height are discriminated against. They might not be hired due to their physical characteristics or if already in the workplace, they are unfairly treated by the boss or their colleagues.

Esmeralda, who is another character in the film, is also taken from her mother at birth. She was the one who was exchanged with Quasimodo. Esmeralda’s real mother raises Quasimodo as her own child but still knows that her daughter is somewhere out there. Esmeralda’s biological mother is oppressed since she has her daughter taken from her due to her weakness. Since she encounters gypsies who have supernatural power, she is afraid of fighting them and just gives up. She is not given the opportunity to love and care for her daughter. Due to her weakness, her daughter is taken away and replaced with a hunchback ugly baby.

The French society then is also filled with ableistic oppression since they hold a festival named ‘the festival of fools’. This shows how their society was divided and the rich and able people discriminated the less fortunate. They also select the ugliest person in Paris, a post that the ugly hunchback Quasimodo wins without any opposition. The Archdeacon Frollo is filled with lust for Esmeralda and he plots severally on how he is going to get her. He oppresses her sexually since he knows he is stronger and smarter than she is. He lures her into a trap and ensnares her in way he describes as a fly being caught in a spider’s web. This type of oppression is called sexism. This oppression is mostly towards the female sex. Here, Frollo wishes to take Esmeralda to become his, whether she likes it or not. He uses wit and masculinity to overpower her like ‘a fly caught in a spider’s web’.

Quasimodo is faced with the greatest deal of oppression. He is abandoned from birth, he is outcaste by the whole society because of his appearance and is also outcaste because of his social class. He is a pauper and lives in a shack on the street. He is jeered by the people of Paris anytime he appears there and nobody talks to him. He does not know how to talk since not much interaction is done with him. He experiences a type of oppression known as classism. This is where one is treated unfairly because of the social class that one belongs. Quasimodo has no income and no wealth at all. Thus, he is oppressed continuously by the Paris people. This type of oppression is common in the world today. The rich oppress the poor due to their social standing and everyone is viewed according to their class. In the modern world, social class defines a person. This is very wrong.

Malcolm X says in an article ‘Learning to Read’ that, “Who in the world’s history ever has played a worse “skin game” than the white man.” He talks about the oppressive form known as racism. How the society is divided is not affected by time, the minds of the people who live in it are what dictates how the society is going to be run. The oppressive nature of the society stems from the individuals themselves who make up the whole known as the society. Their mind set, their beliefs, their cultures are what is put together to form the complex compound known as the society. If these qualities of the individuals in the society do not make up a positive mixture, then the society is doomed to oppress each other in all ways. Anyone can be oppresses since the divisions of the society are vast and one could fit in any of the two sides of each division. Therefore, the aspect of time does not affect the oppressive nature of the people. Abletism, sexism, classism and many more other forms of oppression were there in medieval days and are still there up to today. They just do not die but change in intensity and form. It would be correct to state that oppression shall never end since the society and its divisions shall forever exist. It is the hardest form of vice to deal with.




Works Cited:

The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. Dir. William Dieterle. Perf. Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, and Sir Cedric Hardwicke. RKO Radio Pictures, 1939. Film.

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