“You’ve chosen a magnificent prison, but it is a prison nonetheless.”
– Judge Claude Frollo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
I am not thinking about the recent election in my nation, but it would be fairly appropriate. 😛
At this point in the story, the sassy gypsy lady, Esmerelda, has taken shelter in the famed cathedral, and the rule is, once you are inside, you are safe. However, the insane villain of this story, Frollo, is not about to let her slip through his fingers, posting guards at every entrance. She is safe from physical harm, but she is also trapped, unable to leave without getting arrested, chained, thrown into a terrible cell, likely tortured, and eventually killed.
Sheltering in the cathedral is obviously the better option, but being safe is not the same as being free.
That has to hurt especially for a gypsy, as they are famous for never settling long in one place, with the entire sky overhead and the endless road before them. One can hardly think of a starker contrast than being trapped within walls of stone. Even if the people within those walls are friendly, even if there were some luxury to be had, even if the walls and floors and ceilings are breathtakingly beautiful, being unable to leave, to go, to even step outside for so much as an instant would surely be galling to a wanderer. Every shaft of sunlight they can only see from a distance, every breeze they can only hear but never feel, every laugh they hear just beyond those doors, would surely seem a mockery, something they lost and can never have again, not if they value their lives.
A cage made of gold is every bit as confining as a cage made of iron, and all the more insulting for the presumption that we would willingly trade our freedom for something shiny, a little so-called luxury.
In the story, or at least Disney’s version of it, Esmerelda soon escapes the cathedral with the help of a new friend. Every moment she’s free is a risk, and eventually she and her people are caught. She is tied up to the stake, about to be burned, when Frollo offers to spare her, so long as she becomes his. It is the ultimate golden cage he offers, to be a slave, his personal slave, in exchange for letting her keep her life. She refuses.
What Esmerelda understands is that such a life would not be living. It would just be mere lingering indefinitely at Frollo’s whim, while all her loved ones have been killed. Her very soul is disgusted by that idea.
Slavery is only one step removed from death, sometimes even worse than death, even when the chains are made of gold.
And be our chains and cages made of stone or iron or gold, the soul of man does not fare well within them.
Of course, choosing freedom over safety, and death over slavery, comes with some very real hazards.
But what else can we do, if we want our children to live free?