Thursday 1 February 2024

The Last Lesson


The Last Lesson

                                   By Alphonse Daudet

Analysis: 


·       The chapter ‘The Last Lesson’ is written by Alphonse Daudet, a French novelist and short story writer.

·      'The Last Lesson' is set in the days of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) in which France was defeated by Prussia led by Bismarck. French districts of Alsace and Lorraine have passed into Prussian hands.

·       The chapter shares Franz’s nostalgic moments at the last lesson of French language offering his tribute to his teacher, M Hamel and his language.

·       It also highlights the significance of a language for the integrity and solidarity of a nation. In order to keep our nation united we must love and learn our national / official language. We must feel connected to and proud of our nation and our language. 

The writer highlights the issue of linguistic chauvinism as he criticises German people for imposing their language on the people of Alsace and Lorraine. Love for one's language is appreciated but asking other people to their language is unethical and domination.

 

Summary /  Synopsis

§  This chapter begins with the narrator starting for school. He was very late and so, was scared of his French teacher, Mr. Hamel’s scolding.  At the town hall there was a crowd in front of the bulletin board which had been giving all the bad news related to war for the last two years.

§  He reached the school and it was a strange quietness all around though usually in the beginning of school, there was a great hustle bustle due to the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated in unison, teacher’s great ruler rapping on the table. That day it was stillness all around.

§  Franz was scared as well as ashamed to enter class but M. Hamel asked him to go to his place and sit. The teacher wore his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt, and the little black silk cap which he wore on inspection and special days. The village people were sitting on the back benches that were always empty. Old Hauser, the former mayor, the former postmaster and many others were sitting to thank the master for his forty years of faithful service and show their respect for the country that was not theirs now.

§  Everybody looked sad and had brought something to Mr. Hamel as it was the last lesson of French language as it was announced by the teacher. He told that the order had come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine and a new teacher would be coming thereafter.

§  Franz grew sad thinking that he would not be able to learn French any more by M. Hamel. Suddenly, he felt attached to his books, class and curriculum which was not so earlier. His name was called to recite. He hadn’t learnt the lesson of participle so he messed with his answers.  M. Hamel told Franz that he had always put his learning off thinking that he had plenty of time but now learning had been put off for uncertain time in Alsace.

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§  He said that not only Franz but all the people in Alsace haven’t paid good attention and due respect to their language and they should be ashamed of this. He reminded Franz how his parents were not willing to send him for learning so that he could work and earn money. He recounted how he himself put off his learning for some or the other work or purpose. Mr. Hamel told that the French is the most beautiful, clearest and most logical language in the world and that they must guard it and never forget it as the language is the key to free an enslaved nation if people love their language and respect it.

§  Then, he started teaching a grammar lesson and Franz understood it very well and easily. Actually he had never listened so carefully and probably he had never explained so patiently. Perhaps Mr. Hamel wanted to give all he knew before going away. They also did writing task for which Mr. Hamel brought new copies with the words — France and Alsace written on them. All were engrossed and writing quietly.

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§  Beatles flew in the room and Franz felt that they also wanted to attend the class and write French. On the roof the pigeons were cooing very low, and narrator wondered if the new authorities would make the pigeons also sing in German as they were asking the people to learn German.

§  He was sad for the teacher who had been there for forty years and was leaving the country next day with his family.

§  Later, they had a lesson in history, others chanted the letters to practise pronunciation, phonetics and spelling. He was surprised to think how well he remembered that last lesson! As the Church clock struck twelve, they heard the trumpets of the Prussians, returning from drill. Mr. Hamel stood up and he appeared to be tall probably due to honour and love for his country. He wrote with chalk on the black board “Vive La France!” but could not speak as he choked with emotions. Then, without speaking a word, he made a gesture with his hand that the School is dismissed and they could go. He was so much overwhelmed with the love for his country and the people that he won’t be able to continue teaching French.

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Back ground

'The Last Lesson' is set in the days of the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) in which France was defeated by Prussia led by Bismarck. Prussia then consisted of what now are the nations of Germany, Poland and parts of Austria. In this story the French districts of Alsace and Lorraine have passed into Prussian hands. In Alsace a new political system was established under which the people there were ordered to learn German.


Message

This lesson gives us an insight about how much significant a language is for the integrity and solidarity of a nation. In order to keep our nation united we must love and learn our national / official language. We must feel connected to our nation and our culture. We should be proud of our language and must not get carried away by foreign influences, language and culture as our language binds us together.

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Character Sketch of M. Hamel

The chapter characterises Mr. Hamel as a passionate, dedicated and committed teacher who spent 40 years of his life teaching French. He is portrayed as a patriotic and nationalistic person whose love for his nation is unfathomable. He got emotional when he saw Prussian soldiers coming back after drill thinking that his nation is enslaved by the Prussians. 

His love for French language is commendable as in his last lesson of French language he was pouring out himself to teach in the best possible manner and as much as he could. Writing “Vive la France” he was overwhelmed with emotions and choked with sentiments to say any words. As a teacher Mr. Hamel is admirable and as a patriot he deserves a salute.

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