Favorite Characters from Classic Lit: Jude, Gregor and Quasimodo

Quasimodo, the beloved character from Hunchback of Notre Dame. Wikimedia Commons

This list explores three fascinating characters from three distinct national traditions: English, Czech, and French. They represent the range from manhood to monsters.

Jude Fawley (created by Thomas Hardy)

Thomas Hardy’s novels tend to share a few common themes. First, they are often heart-wrenching explorations of humanity, especially human relationships and personal flaws. They are also often tragic in their fatalistic endings, Hardy seemingly obsessed with the incomprehensibility, the unexpectedness, of destiny.

 Jude the Obscure, published in 1895, is a prime example of these themes. Its main character, Jude Fawley, is as luckless as they come. For Jude, the circumstances of his birth seem to foreshadow all that will go wrong with his life, including the limitations on his dreams (coming from the working-class, i.e. “obscure” birth, he is prohibited from pursuing academics). He falls in love with the wrong woman, his marriage fails, and his legacy is catastrophically snuffed-out. Despite this downward spiral, we root for Jude, and his story is still worth reading, particularly as social commentary on the flaws in stringent aristocratic caste systems which disallow individuals from truly reaching their potential.

Significant Quotes from Jude the Obscure

  • “Half an hour later they all lay in their cubicles, their tender feminine faces upturned to the flaring gas-jets which at intervals stretched down the long dormitories, every face bearing the legend 'The Weaker' upon it, as the penalty of the sex wherein they were moulded, which by no possible exertion of their willing hearts and abilities could be made stronger while the inexorable laws of nature remain what they are.”
  • “Jude went out, and, feeling more than ever his existence to be an undemanded one, he lay on his back on a heap of litter near the pig-sty.”

Gregor Sasmsa (created by Franz Kafka)

Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis (1915) is arguably his most famous work, one that is read, at some point, by nearly every serious literature student.

The main character, Gregor, whose metamorphosis unfolds in the story, begins the piece a simple travelling salesman. One night, he experiences vividly disturbing dreams and awakes from them completely changed – in fact, no longer human. Somewhat humorously, his first concerns are not much related to the fact that he is now a “monstrous vermin;” instead, he worries that he has overslept and will miss the train and be late to work! This, if nothing else, gives the reader great insight into Gregor’s character and priorities. It is not until after he interacts with his wife and boss that he begins to wonder if he should be more concerned about what has happened to him. Symbolically, Gregor represents much of the anxieties expressed in twentieth-century literature. There is a sense of both isolation and alienation about him, as well as a certain dispassionate view of such matters as family and professional life. Underneath it all, Gregor’s psyche seems dominated by fears of, and anger toward, authoritarian figures and control.

Significant Quotes from The Metamorphosis

  • "He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling. His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes."
  • “Did he really want the warm room, so cozily appointed with heirlooms, transformed into a lair, where he might, of course, be able to creep, unimpeded, in any direction, though forgetting his human past swiftly and totally?”
  • “‘He must go,’ cried Gregor’s sister, ‘that’s the only solution, Father. You must just try to get rid of the idea that this is Gregor. The fact that we’ve believed it for so long is the root of all our trouble.’”

Quasimodo (created by Victor Hugo)

Although published in 1831, Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a historical novel set in fifteenth-century Paris, France. Quasimodo (literally, “partially formed”) is a bell ringer at the most famous cathedral in the great city. Quasimodo has been made famous in film, particularly a Disney version of the tale, but the story of this horrifically malformed hunchback is much richer and deeper in Hugo’s original classic.

Quasimodo, in addition to being ugly, is also deaf. He is hated and despised by most because of his deformities and deafness; nevertheless, he himself somehow remains a kindhearted man with a compassionate soul. He is also incredibly strong, despite his physical problems. The crux of the story involves his love for Esmeralda, a beautiful Gypsy dancer. Some have narrowed this idolization to a strict dichotomy of “ugly man loves pretty woman,” but it is actually Esmeralda’s compassion which attracted Quasimodo to her. When Quasimodo was being publicly ridiculed in Paris’s Place de Greve, begging only for something to drink, he is ignored and ridiculed by all but Esmeralda, who brings him water. After this, Quasimodo will dedicate himself to worshipping and, ultimately, protecting the Gypsy woman, at great risk to himself.     

Significant Quotes from The Hunchback of Notre Dame

  • “There was scarcely a spectator among the crowd who had either had or imagined that he had ground to complain of the malicious hunchback of Notre-Dame. His appearance in the pillory had excited universal joy; and the severe punishment that he had undergone, and the pitiful condition in which it had left him, so far from softening the populace, had only rendered their hatred more malevolent by arming it with the sting of mirth.”
  • "It is Fate!—Alas, Claude! You are the spider. Claude, you are the fly too! You did seek science, the light, the sunshine; you only wanted to reach the open air, the broad daylight of eternal truth. But while darting toward the dazzling window, which opens into the other world, a world of brightness, intelligence, and science, blind fly, silly doctor, you did not perceive that subtle spider's web, spread by Fate between the light and you; you rushed into it, and now, with mangled head and broken wings, you struggle in the iron grip of Fate!"
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    Burgess, Adam. "Favorite Characters from Classic Lit: Jude, Gregor and Quasimodo." ThoughtCo, Feb. 28, 2017, thoughtco.com/favorite-characters-from-classic-lit-4028048. Burgess, Adam. (2017, February 28). Favorite Characters from Classic Lit: Jude, Gregor and Quasimodo. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/favorite-characters-from-classic-lit-4028048 Burgess, Adam. "Favorite Characters from Classic Lit: Jude, Gregor and Quasimodo." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/favorite-characters-from-classic-lit-4028048 (accessed January 20, 2018).