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 seems to be an illusion or a dream of desire in which Jay Gatsby and Claude Frollo are either already oblivious to it or allow themselves to indulge in their lust and temptations, being a 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 TGG, 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 to 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 THBoND, 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 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 as an archdeacon 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 the 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.
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