F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ and Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunch-back of Notre Dame’ plots are both motivated by the infatuation and obsessive desires caused by lust which leads to some characters’ condemnation to death. Nonetheless, love in both novels seem to be an illusion, a disfigurement of lust, in which Jay Gatsby and Claude Frollo are either already oblivious to it or allow themselves to indulge in their lust and temptations, being principle to the chain of events that follows the novels.
In both novels the characters undergo a change in themselves, which is driven by their lust and longing for something more which alters the way the novels are set. In The Great Gatsby, Gatsby’s name change from James Gatz to Jay Gatsby was the beginning of reinvention of his life. His reasons behind this name “sprang from a Platonic conception of himself,”1 which suggests Gatsby is striving to be the perfect renovation of himself; a reborn god-like figure. This being said, the choice of the verb ‘sprang’ generates imagery dating back to the Greek gods, as Athena similarly “sprang” out of Zeus’ head, just as Gatsby new identity is portrayed as doing. Moreover, the “Platonic conception” is a reference to Plato’s Cave, which is an allegory for the world of illusions replacing the real world as the figures whose reflection are mirrored on the back of the cave are like the persona of Gatsby, they are simply not real. Furthermore, the renewal of Gatsby, due his lust for a better life, ties in with The American Dream. Gatsby is first seen by Nick as “he stretched out his arm towards the dark water…I could have sworn he was trembling,”2. Dr. Anna Wulick suggests this could be Fitzgerald’s critique of The American Dream as it is “the idea that people are always reaching towards something greater than themselves, but it is just out of reach.”3 Gatsby “trembling” illustrates this matter; he could be trembling from reaching out for far too long and still not able to gain what he yearns or merely that he will not give up, no matter how much it may hurt. It is said that ultimately Gatsby’s last goal, despite achieving wealth, is to win Daisy back, as his lover is the ultimate status symbol, which is seen to be impossible towards the end of the novel.
Similarly, in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Claude Frollo was a rational man, particularly in looking after his younger brother Jehan and the deformed boy Quasimodo whom he took as his own. However, Frollo consciously gave in to temptation and sin due to his infatuation with La Esmeralda. Frollo examines the process of a fly being trapped in a spider’s web, in which he says “Alas, Claude! You are the spider. Claude, you are the fly too!”4 He sees himself as the “fly” caught in the web of lust that is consuming him after he withheld his sexual frustration for so long, due to being an archdeacon. The personification of the “fly” may also represent Frollo being caught in the complex web of the church. As the French monarchies began to rise in the 1830s, their allegiances to the Church declined, particularly after the French Revolution. This is like Frollo as his devotion to God deteriorates as he eventually accepts damnation and releases his sexual frustrations on to La Esmeralda. This ties in with the personification of the “fly” as Frollo sees himself stuck within the church but he eventually becomes the “spider” who creates his “web” as traps for La Esmerelda. Moreover, Hugo uses the Cathedral as a concrete structure as well as symbolic as it illustrates further Frollo’s change driven by longing for something more. Frollo is corrupting Notre Dame as he, later in his life, practices alchemy which is condemned by the church. He also uses the Cathedral as a base to lure and perform scandalous behaviour towards La Esmeralda. The changes made within the Cathedral due to Frollo is a mirror representation of the changes Frollo undergo, from being a holy man to falling into his unholy lust.
Furthermore, illusion vs. reality is a major theme that resides in both novels throughout, where lust plays a big role. In The Great Gatsby, Fizgerald suggests that Gatsby may be in love with the thought of Daisy and not necessarily in love with her. He lingers onto the past as he says, “I’m going to fix everything just the way it was before.”5 His lust for Daisy is being portrayed here as he feeds on this illusion that Daisy can revert to how she was “before” and he can recreate the love they shared five summers ago. However, this goes against reality as Daisy cannot regress to her former self due to marital circumstances: “I did love him once – but I loved you too.”6 This suggests Daisy understands her relationship with Gatsby cannot be how it once was as she cries “I love you now – isn’t that enough?”7 However Gatsby does not see this as reality. Moreover, Daisy also lives in an illusionary realm. One of the main reasons she married Tom is because of fortune, wealth and materialistic items as she was born to do. She uses these luxuries as an escape from reality: “And I hope she’ll be a fool – That’s the best thing a girl can be in this world…”8. She wishes her daughter to be a “fool” as she argues it is best to be irresponsible but beautiful rather than worrying about things that matter. This could be rooted in her due to the norms and values of society in the 1920s, where men would take the lead and the rich women devoured in their husband’s wealth. Similarly, Roger Lewis proposes that Gatsby means of expressing his feelings for Daisy is by showing off his possessions as there is an element of love and money being intertwined in TGG. Lewis argues “Gatsby’s love for Daisy is an intense and worked-out variety of that which lovers of all ages have felt; its expression is distinctively that of post war America, of a society that consumes.”9 This could suggest that Gatsby and Daisy’s love is merely an illusion caused by the society they now reside in where possessions and luxuries determine your love for one another. The more possessions a man has consumed, the greater a chance of love. This is seen where Daisy cries over Gatsby’s shirts: “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such – such beautiful shirts before.”10
Similarly, Frollo’s reality was a simple one: “This young brother, without mother or father, this little child which had fallen abruptly from heaven into his arms, made a new man of him.”11 However, his illusion of La Esmeralda being only his drives his reality away as in turn his actions set out the death of Jehan and Quasimodo. Moreover, it could also be suggested that Frollo uses fate as justification for his actions towards La Esmeralda, “It was Fate that caught you…”12 This proposes that none of the characters have free will and that the events that panned out is all because of fate, which Frollo uses as his own defence. This is also reinforced through this metaphor: “The priest, for his part, with outstretched neck and eyes staring from his head, contemplated the terrifying couple – the man and the young girl, the spider and the fly.”13 Frollo sees himself being the “spider” and La Esmeralda as the “fly” as fate, the coming together of the two as a couple could only be established if it was their providence. Therefore, Frollo uses the excuse of fate to allow what he believes as his destiny to occur. However, Frollo eventually admits that “all depends on your will. Whatever you want shall be done.”14 This exemplifies Frollo’s’ assertions about fate as he uses it to refuse to act the way he should, i.e. by letting La Esmeralda go. This also demonstrates his illusions as he knows he has free will but refuses to acknowledge that his ‘love’ for La Esmeralda cannot be reality, thereby blaming fate. However, it could be argued that this was always his reality in the end, after losing his parents to the plague and perhaps he craved someone else, for instance, La Esmeralda, to look after him as he has done to others throughout his life.
Moreover, both authors show that living a lustful life leads to suffering as many characters ended up in misery caused by the actions of those characters that fell into their lustful thinking. In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald uses the metaphor of the “green light” to imply the hoped-for future that Gatsby believes is a necessary to his life: a life of status and to rekindle his love with Daisy – “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms…” 15 Fitzgerald argues here that Gatsby continued to believe that one day his dreams would have been within his grasp, however his dreams and desires were pushed away as the continuation of his journey towards his dreams were elongated to “tomorrow”, suggesting that it was going to be an ongoing cycle which Gatsby battles. Additionally, Nick argues “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”16 Here, Gatsby is compared to the metaphor of a boat that is “ceaselessly” pushed back by the current. This further reinforces that reality will prevent Gatsby’s lustful dreams from coming true. Overall, this is suffering for Gatsby as ultimately, he paid the price considering he lost his life in his quest of rekindling Daisy’s love. It could be argued that this is another critique of the American Dream, where Fitzgerald claims it’s failure – it disproves of the idea that if we keep trying, we will sooner or later achieve our goals. Marius Bewley disputes that The Great Gatsby “is an exploration of the American Dream as it exists in a corrupt period, and it is an attempt to determine that concealed boundary that divides the reality from the illusions.”17 This implies that The American Dream is nothing more than a deception, however Gatsby still falls for it but also falls into his own suffering and damnation, death.
Likewise, Hugo demonstrates suffering in the characters Quasimodo and La Esmeralda as they both suffer terrifically due to the infatuation of Frollo and the society’s norms and beliefs: “…so touching was the protection afforded by a being so deformed to a being so unfortunate as the girl condemned to die and saved by Quasimodo!”18 Quasimodo endures agony for his deformity and not being able to live up to society’s norms of what a human should look like which he craves immensely – “It was the two extreme miseries of nature and society meeting and helping each other.”19 This suggests it is nature to blame for his suffering. Moreover, La Esmeralda is also miserable: society has condemned her to die because of Frollo’s obsessive infatuation. The narrator suggests the coming of these two miseries is “touching” as perhaps these victims of suffering revolt against their miseries as, although La Esmeralda was executed, and Quasimodo died, it could be argued that death eventually was their only way out of torture and suffering. Moreover, Hugo also illustrates suffering in Frollo due to his own lust: “I love you…No fire can be fiercer than that which consumes my heart. Ah! Maiden, night and day…does this deserve no pity? It is a love, torture, night and day, I tell you.”20 Frollo uses “torture” and “fire” as metaphors to compares his love for La Esmeralda, he claims it is the torment of his love, which in fact is lust, is burning inside and out as “no fire” causes more pain than what his heart is consuming. It could also be said that Frollo is comparing his own torture, due to his unrequited love, as to the suffering La Esmeralda has endured as he laughs and mocks when La Esmeralda is being hanged. This is also reinforced as he questions if his torture “deserves no pity?”, which exemplifies further the irrational comparison Frollo makes between his own torture with La Esmeralda’s caused by his infatuation.
Overall, lust has been prevalent throughout both novels which drove the plot immensely. Characters underwent changes, allowed their own illusions to cover the truth of reality and issued many pain and suffering in the characters that delved within the world of lustfulness. Both Fitzgerald and Hugo show in their novels that lustful thinking only has one pathway – death. I would also argue that this is powered by fate, as sometimes your own dreams and desires may not be your personal reality and out of reach as the “green lights” in TGG symbolise. Moreover, Frollo’s unrequited love was also fate, as Notre Dame Cathedral represents a “transitional edifice” as it stood as sanctuary for Quasimodo and La Esmeralda for a certain amount of time but also allowed Frollo to turn into the unholy man he became as he practiced alchemy inside the Cathedral. It is “transitional” as it caters to the fates of each character. In conclusion, Frederick Buechner says that “lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst”. I believe this quote relates to Gatsby and Frollo respectively, as both characters wanted more than what they couldn’t have, and that like the man wanting more salt, their lust was an addiction, wanting the love they craved which ended up being their own undoing.
1 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 4, Page 98
2 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 1, Page 3
3 Dr. Anna Wulick – https://blog.prepscholar.com/the-great-gatsby-american-dream
4 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, VII.V.29
5 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 6, Page 110
6 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7, Page 261
7 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7, Page 261
8 The Great Gatsby, Chapter , Page 118
9 Roger Lewis: Money, Love and Aspiration in The Great Gatsby – http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/lewis-moneylove.html
10 The Great Gatsby. Chapter 5, Page 118-119
11 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Part 4 Chapter 2 Page
12 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, VIII.IV.57
13 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, XI.II.17
14 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, XI.I.49
15 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 9, Page 152
16 The Great Gatsby, Chapter 9, Page 153
17 Marius Bewley: Scott Fitzgerald’s Criticism of America – http://fitzgerald.narod.ru/critics-eng/bewley-criticism.html
18 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, VIII.VI.106
19 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, VIII.VI.106
20 The Hunchback of Notre Dame, XI.I.55