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The Last Lesson – Alphonse Daudet – Introduction

 This is a story of change seen through the eyes of a child. In 1870 when Prussian forces
under Otto van Bismark attacked and captured parts of France. The historically French
districts of Alsace and Lorraine were governed by the Prussians. The new Prussian rulers
discontinued the teaching of French in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The story describes
the day when the new rules came into effect and depicts the stoicism of one teacher as he
deals with losing part of his identity.

Main Points
 1890, the year Prussia conquered two states of France – Alsace and Lorraine.
 A boy from Alsace is on his way to school. He is unwilling to school and scared of his
teacher, Mr. Hamel.

 The boy’s name is Franz and he is very lazy.

 While passing the Town Hall, Franz sees so many French citizens crowding in front of
the bulletin board. They are reading the latest order from the Prussians, their enemies.

 The order said, “No French school will hereafter teach French. All French teachers are
hereby ordered to leave the country. Students should attend their schools and learn German as
their language. Teachers are already appointed.”

 Franz cannot read the order. After halting for a while, Franz runs off to his school.

 In the school Franz is told of the new order and of his teacher’s leaving the school.

 Although never interested in learning, Franz for the first time felt like blaming himself.

 He listened to Mr. Hamel’s last lecture. Wonder! He understood every word, every
grammar, every rule.

 The last class transformed his life and attitude. He saw how important it is to be literate,
how essential it is to love one’s mother tongue and how painful it is to be denied the right to
learn one’s mother tongue!

Background
Two states of France, Alsace and Lorraine, were conquered by the Prussian troops in the
beginning of the 1890 Franco-Prussian war. (The war lasted for only one year) The new
government imposed rules and bans on the French people. The last of the bans was the ban on
the learning and teaching of French.

Ban and its impact

The news of the ban was displayed on the bulletin board in front of the town hall. People
crowded there to read the bulletin. They were very much shocked and sad. They had to accept
the ban under great resentment. They realised how much they loved their mother tongue.
They saw how important their language was. They didn’t want to lose their language. They
discussed their fate, shared their bitterness and felt helpless.

Franz, the lead character


It was at this time Franz was rushing to his school. He was a student of the elementary school
in Alsace run by Mister Hamel, the teacher who taught them French. He was, as usual, late.

A blacksmith, Mr. Watcher, saw him dashing by. Watcher expressed his anger and
helplessness at the ban on French by asking Franz not to go in such a hurry as there was no
more French to be learnt. But Franz hurried on, because he didn’t understand what Mr.
Watcher meant.

Franz reaching school


Once outside the school, Franz wondered at the silence around the school. It was never silent
like this! Was it Sunday? He wondered. He waited for the noises from the school to get in
without being noticed but there was not a sound. Finally he had to go in in front of all. To his
amazement he was not punished for his late coming. M. Hamel, the cranky teacher, asked him
to get in and regretted having begun the class without Franz. Franz took his seat.

The unusual classroom


Among others Franz noticed that the classroom was full and there were some old villagers
sitting in the back benches. M. Hamel announced that it was their last French class as the
Prussians had banned French in schools and introduced German instead. It was shocking
news for Franz. Only then he understood why the people had been staring at the bulletin
board. He too felt his love for French returning. He hated the Prussians for every reason. He
began to love his teacher, classroom, books and lessons. He felt sorry for not learning his
lessons, for postponing his study and for not realizing the greatness of his language.

M. Hamel’s speech
Franz heard his teacher praising French, blaming French parents for not sending their children
to school and children for not attending school. He also blamed himself for not being a
committed teacher. M. Hamel said that language is very important for a nation because the
unity of a nation mostly depended on its language and no aggression can make such a united
nation its slave. There was complete silence in the class. Even the children made a sound.
They were all sad. Franz heard pigeons cooing on the roof of the classroom and wondered if
the Prussians wound impose a ban on their cooing-language the next day. He heard an old
man, Hauser, reading lessons with the children. He too was crying.

The class is dismissed!


It was noon. The Prussian soldiers went marching by the school. Their sounds frightened
everyone. If they noticed that a class was still progressing, they could have arrested M.
Hamel. But M. Hamel showed amazing patriotism. He wanted to say, “Long live France” but
he could not. Either he was overwhelmed by emotions or he was scared of the Prussians. He
went to the black board and wrote as big as he could: viva la France! Long live, France!
In short
The people of Alsace and Lorraine had true love for their nation and their mother tongue,
French, but they were not keen enough to learn it. They always put off learning for another

day. Parents used to send their children to mills and fields to make more earning rather than
sending them to learn. M. Hamel’s school was rather a mess. The children used to howl. The
teacher was very cranky yet there was no peace inside the classrooms. Due to the scarcity of
teachers, all the students sat in a hall. The back benches were always empty.

One day Alsace was conquered by the Prussians. They imposed a ban on teaching French in
the schools of Alsace and Lorraine besides introducing their language German as the official
language. As per the ban all the French teachers were to quit the territory in no time. The ban
gave a heavy impact on the people. The ban was a blot from the sky. The people of Alsace for
the first time realized how much they had loved their mother tongue. The last lesson turned
out to be a new lesson for the young and old. They learnt the importance, greatness and
sweetness of the French language. They wished they could learn it in an hour. They realized
that the cause of their defeat was their illiteracy.

Short Questions & Answers


1. How did the classroom look different that last day? Whose presence was
extraordinary?
For the first time in its existence, M. Hamel’s classroom looked like a classroom. There was a
deep silence in the class. No one spoke a word. All were sad. Besides, the presence of the
villagers there was extraordinary.

2. What did Franz notice that was unusual about the school that day?
Franz had expected to meet the usual scenario on reaching the school. There used to be great
bustle, which could be heard out in street, the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated
in unison very loud and the teacher's great ruler's rapping on the table. But that day it was all
very still and as quiet as Sunday morning. The students were already in their place, the back
benches were filled with villagers, and M. Hamel was beautifully dressed.

3. Describe the atmosphere of the school on usual days.


On usual days the school did not look like a school. The noises inside the school could be
heard out in the street. Children were in a playful mood, opening and closing their desks and
shouting their lessons in chorus. The teacher had to use his ruler to silence the class.

4. What did Watcher mean by saying Franz would get to his school in plenty of time?
Answer-1: Watcher, the blacksmith, meant it ironically. He meant there was no more French
taught in the school as per the ban imposed by the Prussians and it would take a long time to
get it back and therefore there was no need to hurry to his school.

5.What attracted Franz on his way to school?


Franz was attracted by the warm weather outside. The birds that chirped at the edge of the
forest and the Prussian soldiers who were drilling also slowed down his interest to go to
school.
6. Why was Franz late for school that day?
Franz was instinctively not interested in learning French language. That day he had to learn
the rules of Participles and he was least prepared for that and was therefore afraid of his
teacher, M. Hamel. Moreover, he was allured by the attractions on the way to school.

7. What had been put on the bulletin - board?


Usually the bulletin-board had news of lost battles, the drafts, and the orders of commanding
officer. But the latest news was about German rulers order banning the teaching of French in
Alsace and Lorraine.

8. "When a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they
had the key to their prison". Comment on the basis of the story "The last Lesson"?

Political enslavement is a curse for any nation as it deprives it of its identity. The natives of the
country do not enjoy any kind of freedom, be it physical or mental. The ruling government or
the powerful compels them to abide by the rules justified or unjustified. At such time it is their
language, mother tongue which keeps their identity alive. It is their language which unites
them against the foreigners who have invaded their motherland. It is also the key to their
prison as the mother tongue binds them together. It constantly reminds them to their
enslavement and brings them together to fight for liberation of their motherland. M. Hamel in
the chapter "the last lesson" reminds his countrymen to safeguard their language after they
received orders from Berlin banning the teaching of French in Alsatian school. The natives can
liberate themselves only if they recognize and maintain their identity through their mother
tongue.

9.Franz thinks, `Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons"? How does the
expression evoke feelings of indiscriminate domination by man?
Man has an inherent desire for power and unfortunately when he achieves it he uses it
wrongly. He wants absolute enslavement and thus wants not only land but wants to master the
mind and heart also. The story which is set in the Franco — Prussian war, brings the dominant
nature of man (Germans). Prussian had acquired the districts of Alsace and Lorraine in the war
but it was not only that they wanted; they even wanted to take their language from them. They
released orders not to teach French anymore and only German would be taught. Franz who had
developed a sudden love for French was very sad and felt it was like mastering the forces of
nature and enslaving them too. During his last lesson in French when he heard pigeons on the
roof-top cooing, Franz ironically says this statement, whether they will make these pigeons
also sing in German.

Q.5:- The story "The last lesson" is all about 'Linguistic Chauvinism'. Comment?
A.5:- Linguistic Chauvinism means the strong and unreasonable belief that your own country
and language is the best and important. Man finds himself in the confinements. The story "The
last lesson" is all about linguistic chauvinism. Acquisition of power over the Alsatians made
the Prussians so domineering that they imposed even their language on them. Their pride in
their language was so fixed that they even forgot to respect the language of the others (People
of Alsace). The rulers wanted to dominate even on the minds and hearts and wanted them even
to think in their language, thereby causing the loss of their too tall identity, The story thus
highlights linguistic chauvinism which is becoming a major cause of war and political
disturbance in the world

Theme

Alphonse Daudet expounds the themes of freedom and patriotism in his short story “The Last
Class.” Courage, the importance of education, and the preciousness of one’s own language are
interrelated themes.

The people of the town and of Alsace have already had their freedom taken from them. A
reminder of this loss appears in the second paragraph, where mention is made of the Prussians
drilling in Rippert Meadows. Another reminder is the posting of news on the grating in the
town square in front of the town hall. Here the townspeople come to learn of any new
regulations that are to be imposed on them. Even as Franz sees the people reading the notices,
he expects more bad news, battles lost, requisitions made. There is an aura of helplessness that
comes with this loss of freedom. The atmosphere of this day, however, is not like that of other
days even under the Prussian occupation. The sadness, solemnity, and quietness of the
classroom seem to forebode something worse to come. The gentle tone of Monsieur Hamel is
not the usual voice that has instructed these young people. His is usually the confident,
commanding voice of self-assurance, scolding, prodding, and encouraging his students to learn.
Today the sense of defeat and loss of freedom is even greater than that usually evoked by the
simple presence of the Prussians and their initial occupation of the country that Monsieur
Hamel loves.

Analysis
The language that Daudet uses in “The Last Class” is straightforward and earthy, depicting with
poetic simplicity the setting of the story and the people who are the heart of it. The tone and
mood blend into a tender sadness yet maintain the intensity of purpose intended by the author.
The reader is immediately drawn into and made a part of the story through Daudet’s skillful
realism.

It is easy to visualize the scene and feel as Franz must feel on this beautiful, warm day. The
temptation to enjoy the outdoors and the call to responsibility at school are so humanly
portrayed that the reader can easily identify with Franz. The descriptions of the outdoors and of
the interior of the school are indeed tableaux, but tableaux that radiate the warmth of the sun
and encourage the reader to participate in the last lesson. One can share Franz’s embarrassment
at not knowing his lesson, and one can participate in the emotional distress that marks
Monsieur Hamel’s testimony to courage and patriotism. The reader is both an observer looking
through the window and a student or villager sitting on a bench in the classroom.
An almost spiritual quality is felt when the Angelus rings—a sense of freedom. This is
countered, however, by the trumpet blast of the Prussians—enforcing the realization that
freedom must be won again.

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