Throughout the novel, and especially in the second chapter of Book IV, Hugo goes to great rhetorical lengths to connect major works of architecture, such as Notre Dame, with the spirit of the culture that built it. Thus, he characterizes theocratic societies and the edifices they produce as immutable, fearful of progress and subject to the caprices in symbolism inherent to the age. These structures contain a wealth of information that endures long after the people who create them. As such, the buildings of antiquity transmit knowledge and symbolize the ideological framework of a given age.
Esmeraldas Baby Shoes
When Esmeralda was kidnapped as a baby by the gypsys her mother was left with only one of her tiny red shoes. Her mother became the Sachette of the Tour-Roland and spent the next fifteen years suffering and using the shoe as a relic to pray for the return of ther daughter. The gypsys gave Esmeralda the other shoe and told her that so long as she retained her virtue it would help her find her real mother. The tiny shoes symbolize the purity and innocence of childhood and act as a connective device between Esmeralda and her mother. The Sachette believes that so long as she suffers and prays to the shoe she will retain the memory of her baby and see her again. Esmeralda believes that so long as she retains her virtue the tiny shoe, which she wears in an amulet around her neck, will reunite her with her mother. Significantly, when mother and daughter finally meet they recognize each other only because the other possesses the matching shoe.
Black Magic and the Devil
The 15th century in France was marked by widespread superstition and nearly universal belief in the power of the devil to enter human affairs for the purpose of causing mischief. Thoughout the novel several objects and characters are misconstrued as products of black magic and the devil. These symbols include Quasimodo because of his deformity, Claude Frollo because of his fanatical zeal for arcane knowledge, the dried leaf left in the widows drawer which is mistaken for the coin purportedly given by the “specter priest”, and Esmeraldas goat Djali. Because many people at the time believed that the devil sometimes took the form of a goat, poor Djali is sentenced to die along with Esmeralda for the crime of practicing black magic. While its true that the goat is able to perform many seemingly miraculous feats, these tricks are simply trained responses to certain cues. The poet Pierre Gringoire develops sympathy for Djali and rescues her from the gibbet.
The Printing Press
Near the beginning of the story, the kings bookseller laments that the rise of the printing press, which he calls “That German pest,” is taking all his business and disseminating dangerous knowledge. Later in the story, Cluade Frollo asserts that the printing press and the books it produces will destroy the intellectual authority of the church and Pierre Gringoire, the aspiring poet, gleefully anticipates having his work printed on a press. These examples illustrate the manner in which Hugo uses the printing press as a symbol of the great changes sweeping Europe in the late fifteenth century – changes which would make inexpensive books available to the public, changes which would lead thinkers to ponder their society beyond the framework imposed by the church and changes which would allow a struggling author like Gringoire to easily and readily see his work in print.