The Last Lesson Summary and Analysis
A detailed summary of the last Lesson
Written by Alphonso Daudet, ‘The last Lesson’ is set in the days of the French-Prussian war. The story describes a day in the life of a school going child named Franz, who dreads attending French classes but feels terrible to know that French will no longer be taught in his school following the Prussian invasion of France. France had lost two districts – Alsace and Lorraine, and Franz's school was located in Alsace.
It was a warm day and Franz was unaware of the Prussian win and how it will change his life. He had started for school late and feared Mr. M. Hamel, his French teacher will scold him. M. Hamel would ask questions on participles today but Franz hardly knew a word about them. He thought he could spend the day outdoors listening to the chirping of birds. He saw Prussian soldiers drilling in the backyard of the sawmill and wanted to stay and watch. However, he resisted the thought and hurried to his school.
There was a bulletin board before the townhall where people had gathered to read the notices. The Bulletin board was their main source of information on the war and other things. However, Franz hurried past the bulletin board uninterested. He heard the blacksmith calling from behind that he was not going to be late for school today. He thought the blacksmith was making fun of him and almost breathless, he reached M. Hamel’s small garden.
Everything appeared still and calm beyond expectations today. Everyday when the school opened there was too much hustle and bustle there. From opening and closing of desks to the repeating of lessons and rapping of rulers on the table, all made it difficult for students to focus. The school appeared as calm as if it was a holiday.
Franz saw his classmates sitting inside the class and M. Hamel walking with his terrible iron ruler under his arms. He was feeling embarrassed and afraid to enter. However, M. Hamel did not scold him but spoke kindly and asked him to take a seat. Franz took his seat and saw that his teacher was dressed slightly different than he did every day. He was wearing his green coat, frilled shirt and his little black cap that he wore only on special occasions. Franz was already feeling surprised to find everything so calm. He was even surprised to see some village people sitting on the back benches that were empty generally. There were several people he knew like the Old Hauser, the ex-mayor, and former postmaster apart from the other faces he recognized. Old Hauser had a primer before him and everyone along with him bore a sad look on their faces.
M. Hamel settled in his chair and announced gently to the class that it was going to be his last day in the school and their last French lesson. He wanted everybody to listen attentively. Orders had come from Berlin to teach German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine instead of French. There was a new teacher arriving tomorrow. M Hamel’s words sounded like a thunderclap. So, this is what it was all about and that’s why the blacksmith had called from near the bulletin board.
SUGGESTED READING: THE LAST LEAF SUMMARY AND ANALYSIS
Franz had never felt more interested in his French lesson than today. Now that he would not have a chance to learn French again, he felt sorry for having missed his classes. His books had always seemed a burden but now they were like his old friends that he might lose. He could not imagine his teacher leaving either. M. Hamel would be gone and Franz would miss his ruler and his crankiness.
He had put on his best clothes today and now Franz knew the reason and why the villagers were sitting there on the back benches with sad faces. They were here to show their respect to the master who had served the school faithfully for forty years and for their country that was not theirs anymore. While Franz was thinking, his master called out his name. It was his turn to recite but he knew nothing about the participles and got messed up after a few words. He was looking down holding on to the desk with his heart beating loudly. M Hamel said he would not scold Franz today. He just wanted him to know that as a French man, it was essential for him to learn his language. People must not leave learning to tomorrow thinking they have got plenty of time. They never know when it is too late to learn something so important in life. What if some German asked him why he did not know French despite being a French man?
Well, it was not all his mistake because his parents also had not cared for his French lessons. The master's words had grown slightly emotional. If parents send their children away to work on farms or mills, just to make a little more money, they will keep missing their classes, and something very precious in life. M. Hamel thought he himself was also to blame because he had many times sent Franz away to water the plants in the garden during the class. Many times, the master had taken a leave to go fishing and let students have a holiday. At last, the master returned to the French language and that it was the most beautiful one in the world, clear and logical, and something that deserved to be preserved and protected. Even during a foreign invasion, when people are enslaved, language holds the key to liberty. He opened the grammar book and read away the lesson. Franz was amazed to see how well he understood every word that day.
That day, everything seemed so easy and interesting. Franz wondered if he had never listened carefully to his master or if the master had never explained things as patiently as on that day. It looked like Hamel was going to fill everything in their minds in just a day. The student was as eager to learn as the master was to teach. The grammar lesson was followed by a writing lesson. The master gave them new copies with France, Alsace, France, Alsace written in beautiful round hand. They looked like little flags hanging in the school. Every-one was working quietly and only the scratching of pens was to be heard. Pigeons cooed on the roof and Franz thought if the Germans could even make the birds sing in German.
Whenever Franz looked up, he saw the master looking here and there in the class as if trying to memorize all he had watched for years. He was going to miss it all, the garden, the benches and desks, and the Walnut trees in the garden. The schoolmaster's family would leave the country next day. After the writing lesson, a history lesson followed. Old Hauser was crying in the back row, and it amused everyone so much that they wanted to both laugh and cry. Franz was going to remember his last French lesson so well. He never had a more interesting and easy lesson in his life. The Church clock announced twelve and then the Angelus. The class heard the Prussians returning from the drill and the sound of their trumpets. The master knew it was time to leave and while he wanted to talk, he could not speak. His voice grew emotional and trembled. So, he picked up a chalk and wrote on the blackboard, as large as he could, ‘Vive La France’. The school was dismissed and the students could go home.
SUGGESTED READING: CHARACTERS IN THE LAST LEAF
An analysis of The Last Lesson – short story by Alphonso Daudet.
The short story, The Last Lesson highlights the central role of language in people’s lives and the progress of society. While language is mainly considered important in terms of communication and the expression of thoughts and ideas, it plays a much larger role in the context of the human society. While the story has a patriotic tone, it also highlights the role of language in the making of human society and civilization.
The master highlights the role of language as a tool to fight oppression and the method to retain one’s original identity and position in the human society. Language and culture are two important assets that should be preserved at all costs during a foreign invasion. Societies cannot progress without preserving their languages and cultures.
Franz is the central character in the story, who finds a day how much he has missed by avoiding his French lessons. At a critical turn in his life, he recognizes the value of language in his life. Franz has been avoiding French lessons considering them complex and had been wasting his time outside.
However, on that day when France had lost two districts, one of which where Franz lived and where his school was located, he took his last French lesson from his master. The master was about to leave the school since Berlin had ordered to teach German instead of French in the schools in the two districts to establish German supremacy in the areas it has conquered from France.
Franz is still a young boy who has hated his master’s ruler and his crankiness. He has also hated his books and considered them a burden, but now he is going to miss them all. The author highlights the role of language in terms of uniting people in the face of a foreign invasion. Franz might not be able to understand the situation as clearly as the master or the elders do, but he knows well how French connects him with the others in his society and brings them together.
Language flourishes in a free society and it is also the key to our freedom. However, one way of oppressing the people is to oppress their language and culture. The Prussian win was followed by the control of language. The author makes a sarcastic note of the foreign government's attempt to forbid the teaching of French in local schools. Franz thinks if the foreigners would be able to make even the French pigeons coo in German, which shows that disallowing schools from teaching French will not eliminate French from the French people's lives. The Prussians could challenge their sovereignty and integrity but not eliminate their language and identity. The Last Lesson proved really valuable for Franz and he is going to remember it all his life. The main theme of the story is the role of language in the making of the human society. Destroying language and culture destroys the society, its unity and integrity. When the master writes 'Vive La France' on the blackboard at the end of the class, he confirms, the author's belief in language as a tool to achieve freedom and sovereignty and to preserve national integrity.
What makes a nation great, if not its language and culture. The story also establishes the relevance of language in terms of international peace and political relationships.