Biographically, Notre Dame de Paris and Noli Me Tangere were the first novels written by Hugo and Rizal. Both writers used historical facts embellished with their own creativity. Hugo, for example, had a thorough research on the Notre Dame Cathedral—even spent a longer time doing this research and digging artifacts in the Cathedral than he did in writing the novel; expended a lot of ink in the sketching and note taking which paradoxically did not take much in the novel’s writing—he used only one bottle of ink for the entire novel. Rizal on the other hand read newspaper articles about his country’s events. He utilized historically correct happenings as discussed in the theses of Camins (1983) and Vinluan (1968).
Notable element of fiction is the presence of conflict. This may be internal or external in type. It arises when the main character is at cross-purpose with himself (internal conflict), with others or with something else (external conflict).
Internal conflict. Maria Clara, who had grown up with the knowledge that she is the biological daughter of Capitan Tiago was devastated when she learns that her real father is in fact her godfather, Fray Damaso, who raped her mother Pia. This becomes even more complicated when she is arranged to marry Linares in order to save Capitan Tiago. Desperately she cries to Ibarra in their farewell scene:
On one of the sorrowfulest of my nights of suffering, a man revealed to me the name of my real father and forbade me to love you—except that my father himself should pardon the injury you had done him.[Rizal: 469]
This nonetheless is a difficult situation knowing Fray Damaso has done injustice to Ibarra’s father, Don Rafael. But Maria Clara declares that the confines of the convent is her resolution to having a dead mother and two living fathers.
In the same confounding situation, Quasimodo, who grew up under the care of Fray Frollo had to choose between the priest and Esmeralda when he whom he knew as his father-master attacks his gypsy friend. Quasimodo in his part tried to save both of the people he loves, but eventually had to result to violent measures when Fray Frollo put to death the gypsy. And that in the same manner he killed Jehan, his so-called brother, Quasimodo pushed Fray Frollo off the cathedral. The hunchback later joins Esmeralda’s remains.
While Maria Clara and Quasimodo underwent an internal conflict with the men who raised them against their loves, the other characters, too, dealt with their own inner conflict. For example, Paquette and Sisa mutually share the same internal turmoil with the search for their child. Although Paquette managed to withstand the temptations of madness, Sisa sadly did not. The latter gave in to madness.
A very controversial conflict is that of celibacy versus sexuality in the part of the priests in both novels. Fray Frollo forcibly wanted Esmeralda:
The priest took her in his arms with violence, and laughed an abominable laugh. “Well, yes, a murderer,” he said, “and I will have you. You shall not have me for your slave; I will be your master…His eyes were sparkling with rage and licentiousness, and his lascivious lips were reddening the young girl’s neck. She struggled in his arms, but he kept covering her with his frothy kisses. [Hugo:169]
Here Fray Frollo metamorphoses into a monster in Esmeralda’s eyes. She constantly fight against him, screaming the name of Phoebus in his face, “the face of death” as she sees it. However, in Maria Clara’s situation, the revelation of her true identity as a priest’s daughter through rape gave a surprising turn of events and clarified a lot of doubts, for example how did it happen that Capitan Tiago has a daughter who is so fair complexioned.
This situation is foreshadowed in Chapter XXIX The Morning. In the said chapter, Fray Salvi is standing stiff so that he will be left unnoticed by the people. But instead, he was greeted by such distress:
In the street under the window was a young woman of pleasing countenance, dressed in mourning, carrying in her arms a young child. She must have been a nursemaid only, for the child was white and ruddy while she was brown and had hair blacker than jet. Upon seeing the curate the tender infant held out its arms, laughed with the laugh that neither causes nor is caused by sorrow, and cried out stammeringly in the midst of a brief silence, “Pa-pa! Papa! Papa!” the young woman shuddered, slapped her hand hurriedly over the baby’s mouth and ran away in dismay, with the baby crying.[Rizal: 230]
Although Fray Salvi is not the father of the said child, there is no denying that his “fever” for Maria Clara is directly proportional to Frollo’s “fever” [Book 9:349] for Esmeralda. This kind of internal conflict in the part of a priest is explained by Damaso when he vehemently tried to dissuade Maria Clara on becoming a nun:
“You don’t know, child, what the life is, the mystery that is hidden behind the walls of the nunnery, you don’t know! A thousand times would I prefer to see you unhappy in the world rather than in the cloister.”
But on another alarming situation is that of Pablo, the leader of the bandits, in Chapter XLV The Hunted when he tells Elias the cause of his plight:
Because a man dishonored my daughter, because her brothers called that man’s infamy to account, and because that man is set above his fellows with the title of minister of God!
Such are the internal conflicts found in both novels. These conflicts possibly amplified the reasons why both Hugo’s and Rizal’s works were considered to be abhorrent.
External conflict. In both novels, the conflict man vs. man (or beast, if it be in the case of Quasimodo) is dominant. For example, Fray Frollo is pitted against Gringoire, Phoebus, and Quasimodo for Esmeralda; Fray Damaso is at odds with Capitan Tiago, Don Rafael, and Ibarra for Maria Clara. In addition, the people of the Court of Miracles fought against King Louis IV (or the government) just as Elias’ bandit friends rebelled against the government for justice and equality.
In addition, there is the conflict generation vs. generation or idea vs. idea in both novels. For example in Hugo’s novel, the Romanticism’s idea is verbally expressed by the students and opposed by the Classicism of the older people in Book I, while in Rizal’s novel the same situation is paralleled in the town meeting where the Liberals, composed of the younger generation, were opposed by the Conservatives, composed of the older generation, in Chapter XX.
Moreover, the conflict science vs. religion is presented in the two novels. For instance in the Notre-Dame de Paris, Fray Frollo dwells in the confines of science, the discipline that questions everything, including religion. Similarly, in the Noli Me Tangere, Philosopher Tasio, who isolates himself in the confines of science, tries hard in convincing the curate on the use of the lightning rod to remedy the destruction caused by lightning in his town.
Furthermore, the conflict cross-cultural relationship vs. mono-cultural relationship is described in the two novels. Esmeralda, who marries the Frenchman Gringoire for example, is described as having an Egyptian-like beauty dressed indifferently from the “proper” French women. Her outstanding dissimilarity from every other woman has earned her a controversial status that seems distasteful. On the other hand, the pathetic Filipina Victorina of the Noli, who is married to the Spaniard Tiburcio, becomes the emblem of laughter in the novel because of her ridiculous pseudo-assimilation of the Spanish culture. While Esmeralda powerfully changes the people that surround her, Victorina preposterously adapts the dominant people’s culture to get respect.
Finally, the conflict concept of religion vs. practice of religion is copiously illustrated in the two novels. For instance, Fray Frollo’s preaching on Christianity in the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral contradicts with his actions, the impure thoughts of and disparaging plans for Esmeralda. Similarly, Fray Damaso’s sermon on moral standards is at odds with his actions, the injustices done to Pia, Rafael, Ibarra, and even Maria Clara.
About the Author: Kathleen B. Solon-Villaneza is currently a University administrator, English language and literature professor, and researcher.