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“He saw corruption everywhere, but within,” sings Clopin as he introduces Claude Frollo in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. This line particularly stands out to me because Frollo is a villain who believes he’s right in every way. He believes his treatment of Quasimodo is just, he believes the gypsies should be dealt with revilement, and he believes he must shepherd others in his professed righteousness. He sings:
You know I am a righteous man
Of my virtue I am justly proud
You know I’m so much purer than
The common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.
Since Frollo gives to the poor, takes in a scorned and ugly “monster,” pursues injustice, prays, and attends mass, he believes he’s doing good. He thinks God and the saints should be pleased with him, because he’s checked all the boxes. But he fails to notice all the virtues he’s neglecting—mercy, compassion, and love, for starters.
Claude Frollo is abusive, cruel, and above all arrogant. In trying to become a better person, there’s always the danger of pride. Pursuing virtue is a noble endeavor; I believe kindness, selflessness, charity, patience, love, and honesty should be encouraged. But I know I must keep in mind the danger of being so caught up in the right that I stop recognizing when I’m wrong.
Many people in the film such as Esmeralda, Phoebus, and the Archdeacon recognize Frollo’s wrong actions and they even call him out on it. However, whenever Frollo is confronted, he gives excuses and tries to justify himself.
Archdeacon: See there the innocent blood you have spilt on the steps of Notre Dame.
Frollo: I am guiltless. She ran. I pursued.
Archdeacon: Now you would add this child’s blood to your guilt on the steps of Notre Dame.
Frollo: My conscience is clear.
In the past, I’ve been over-critical, especially while critiquing others’ writing works. It wasn’t until I noticed from cumulative feedback and taking advice from others that I realized I wasn’t being honest, I was being too harsh. I was been so concerned about being the innocent one in that situation, that I was just giving honest feedback, that I failed to recognize when I was indeed the guilty one.
Even when Frollo recognizes in himself that he is sinning by lusting after Esmeralda, he blames her for his faults and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. I know I’ve wanted to blame others for what I’ve done wrong, because I don’t want to take the punishment or I don’t want to feel guilty.
It is the gypsy girl
The witch who sent this flame
It’s not my fault.
At the beginning of the film, the narrator says that the story of the mysterious bell ringer “is a tale of a man and a monster.” Most assume that he is referring to Quasimodo as the monster and Frollo as the man, but the last line of the song questions these presumptions: “Now here is a riddle to guess if you can, sing the bells of Notre Dame. Who is the monster and who is the man?”
I find it ironic that in all of Frollo’s attempts to be righteous, he is indeed the monster, not Quasimodo. Quasimodo believes he is the monster, but he has more virtues than Frollo had ever displayed. Frollo let his obsession with righteousness turn him into a monster. He lacks introspection and humility. It takes humility to recognize when we are wrong, to apologize, and to change.
I don’t want to do wrong things in the pursuit of “spreading good.” I don’t want to be so consumed in my struggle to be good that I stop seeing good in others and hurt those around me. If I do I’m not better than Frollo. I want to be the woman instead of the monster.