The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet (Detailed Study)

Background

The story is set in the days of the Franco-Prussian war. The French district of Alsace and Lorraine were captured by Germans. The new master was to come the next day in a school  in Alsace to teach German in place of French. The story tells the effect of this news on the life at a school in Alsace.

The story at a glance

The prose ‘The last lesson ‘ written by Alphonse Daudet narrates about the year 1870 when the Prussian forces under Bismarck attacked and captured France. The French districts of Alsace and Lorraine went into Prussian hands. The new Prussian rulers discontinued the teaching of French in the schools of these two districts. The French teachers were asked to leave. The story describes the last day of one such French, M. Hamel. Mr M. Hamel had been transferred and could no longer remain in his old school. Still he gave his last lesson to his students with utmost devotion and sincerity as ever. The story depicts the pathos of the whole situation about how people feel when they don’t learn their own language and then losing an asset in M. Hamel. One of his students Franz who dreaded French class and M. Hamel ‘s iron rod, came to the school that day thinking he would be punished as he had not learnt his lesson. But on reaching school he found Hamel dressed in Sunday’s clothes and all the old people of the village sitting there. It was due to an order on the bulletin board. That was the first day when he realised for the first time that how important French was for him, but it was his LAST LESSON in French.

Bit/Bits

  • 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. Very lazy and very illiterate.
  • While passing the Town Hall, Franz sees so many French citizens overcrowded 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 is illiterate so he 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 him life and aptitude. 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!

Dominant Theme raised in the text

LINGUISTIC CHAUVINISM

“Chauvinism” is a devotion for or against something, just based on what you feel (not necessarily what you may know).  So,  Linguistic chauvinism is the idea that one’s language is superior to that of others. This happens generally when the language is that of the ruling class.

Linguistic chauvinism is the overt preference for one language over others. Language is considered to be  the cultural identity of a particular group of people who use it.  Hence, imposing some other language on the people hammers their emotions and is a step to annex their relationship with their culture. The language of any country is the pride of that country. It not only defines the culture but also tells us about the people,literature and history of of the country.Language for some people is just the medium of communication but for others it is the question of life and death.

‘The Last Lesson’ very prominently raises the question of linguistic and cultural hegemony of the colonial and imperial powers and their lust for controlling the world and influencing their cultures and identities.

The Last Lesson raises the burning question very innocently through the words of little Franz that “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” This raises the question of immorality of imposing imperial languages and cultures on the colonies. The child questions that when even the birds and animals can’t be forced to abandon their language and speak others then what forces the man to think that it would be prudent force other human beings to forcibly accept any language other than theirs.

The language of a country is not only a medium of communication for the people but also the link for identity, once the native language is snatched away from the people. It’s not only the loss of convenient communicating medium but also the loss of identity for people for what they have been and what they might become. When a small child like Franz can think of the irrationality behind snatching away the right of language and identity from people then why can’t the war lords and colonizers understand the fact?

Sub Theme

Attitude of teachers and students towards learning and teaching

Main Characters

1. M. Hamel

  • Sincere French teacher
  •  knows subject well
  • Passionate about French
  •  considers French-clearest, most beautiful, logical
  •  feels-key to person’s sense of freedom
  •  advises to hold on to French
  • Proud of being French
  •  upset by occupation of Alsace by German
  • attached to town, school, people
  • Hard Task Master
  • particular about discipline and learning
  •  students scared
  • last day – exercises on all aspects of language
  • Sensitive, Honest
  • blames himself for selfishness
  • emotional by sound of Prussian soldiers

2. Franz

  • Sensitive, Honest
  • Blames himself for ignoring lessons
  •  Wonders if pigeons will coo in German
  • Understands feelings of Hauser
  • Loves outdoors, sunshine, birds, butterflies, collecting bird’s eggs
  • As a student, repents,
  • Good observer, notices changes.
  • Empathizes with M. Hamel
  •  Understands emotions, accepts him with faults

What did Franz notice that was unusual about the school that day?

Ans. Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street. But it was all very still that day. Everything was as quiet as a Sunday morning. There was no opening or closing of desks. His classmates were already in their places. The teacher’s great ruler instead of rapping on the table, was under M. Hamel’s arm.

What had been put up on the bulletin-board?

For the last two years all the bad news came from the bulletin-board. An order had come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The Germans had put up this notice on the Bulletin board.

What change did the order from Berlin cause in the school that day?

Mr. Hamel had put on his best dress – his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt and the little black silk cap, all embroidered. The whole school seemed so strange and solemn. On the back benches that were always empty, the elderly village people were sitting quietly like the kids.

How did Franz’s feelings about M. Hamel and the school change?

Franz came to know that it was the last lesson in French that M. Hamel would give them. From the next day they will be taught only German. Then he felt sorry for not learning his lessons properly. His books, which seemed a nuisance and a burden earlier were now old friends. His feelings about M. Hamel also changed. He forgot all about his ruler and how cranky he was.

“When a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they have the keys to their prison.” What could this mean?

Ans. Language is an important aspect of the culture of any nation. Native language unites the people of a particular area or nation. During colonization colonizers enforce political domination by exerting their rules and regulation over the people of colonized nation and enforce cultural domination by imposing their own language on them. In some cases, colonizers prohibit the teaching of the native language and try to deprive the people of their identity. In such cases ,when people are attached to their native language, their identity would be kept intact. Their language is the key to their prison as their language keeps them united against the invaders and urge them to fight against the enslavement.

Q Franz thinks, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons ?” What could this means?

Ans. Alphonse Daudet’s ‘The Last Lesson’ very prominently raises the question of linguistic and cultural hegemony of the colonial and imperial powers and their lust for controlling the world and influencing their cultures and identities. Prussians acquired the districts of Alsace and Lorraine in Franco-Prussian War , but they were not satisfied with mere political domination ,they desired to enforce their own language on the people of the defeated nation. They released the order that from now German would be taught in schools rather than French. Franz wondered whether they would make even pigeons sing in German. It means that they had grown up using French as their language and now snatching away their language from them would be unfair and unkind. The language was as natural to them as cooing is to the pigeon. So, compulsion to speak another language is like dominating the force of nature and enslaving it. As it is next to impossible to alter the way pigeons sing, in the same way it is difficult for people to accept a language which is forcibly imposed on them. Adopting a new language causes pain and discomfort.

VALUE BASED QUESTIONS   

The Last Lesson Q. Franz’s feelings about M. Hamel and school changed gradually by the end of the text, though he had a great disliking for both the beginning of the story. It is said that first impression is the last impression. Is it true in context of “The Last Lesson”? Definitely not. Write a small paragraph of about 100 words penning down your views on, ‘A person can be best judged in his first appearance only’.

Ans: A well-known dictum states that ’appearances are deceptive’. In fact, it is true that one cannot be judged in just one meeting. Actually, one or more meetings are not enough to judge a person’s personality. Every person reacts differently on different situations at different times. So it is not a matter of single appearances to form a judgment about a person. It might be a prejudice. Now-a-days every person appears to be social and gentle. They want to be presentable in the society. No matter what their background is. One’s clothes, gestures, habits, etc. do not define one’s personality in just one appearance. Due time should be taken to form opinion about a person. Different situations reveal different aspects of one’s personality. Sometimes a life remains short to know a person. But sometimes even a few seconds are enough to know one’s real face. Hence, it is not a matter of first or last impression but the issue of time, needed to know one in one’s right colours.

Q. While speaking his mouth choked and wrote, ‘Vive La France’ and finally by gesture he said: “School is dismissed – you may go.” These lines show that M Hamel was greatly attached to his motherland, profession and mother tongue. In other words, one should be attached to his own land, cultures and customs. But today’s Indians are drowned in the western colours. It shows that there is need to spread awareness about the feeling of patriotism and other related factors. Write a paragraph in about 100 words highlighting the issue. Ans.                                      

  Patriotism-An Unmatched Spirit

Patriotism is defined as one’s love for one’s customs, culture, mother tongue, motherland and everything what is associated with one’s motherland. One should be proud of what one’s country has given to him. In Indian context, people have started adopting western culture. They are in the race of being ‘Mod’. This is really surprising as well as pathetic. As an Indian, we own a rich and diversified culture which has attracted foreigners too. Many patriots have sacrificed their lives in the name of their country which has attracted foreigners too. Many Patriots have a feeling that cannot be filled in the hearts of Indians but it should be arisen and inculcated among the future generation of the country. The students or the youth of the country need to be indianised. Adaption of different cultures is not bad. But forgetting our own culture for sake of other ones is not done. The need of the hour is to inculcate the moral values, virtues, love for humanity and motherland among the Indian youth. Patriotism is an undying and unmatched spirit that cannot be sacrificed for anything.

Q. Read the following question and answer the question that follows: Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote as large as he could – “vive la France!” Abraham Lincoln, a former president of America said’ “I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him.” After reading  the lesson and the above quote of Abraham Lincoln you being to reflect on the lost spirit of patriotism amongst the youth in India due to which there is no respect for once countrymen and no determination amongst the youth to lead the country to be a better future. Write an article in about 100 words for a national magazine on the need for revival of patriotic spirit amongst the youth of India.

ANS: The Need for Revival of Patriotic Spirit amongst the Youth in India”

India has been the land of proud martyrs who embraced the gallows for their ideals, where every drop in freedom fighter’s blood fought not for itself but for nation. Today, the same India stands famished and starved of the true patriotic spirit. Our youth appears to be driven more by a crazy love for a superficial self-advancement than anything else for our young boys and girls, country holds on better value than just a geographical identity. Undoubtedly, ‘patriotism’ needs to be redefined and revived in India. We probably find our patriotic spirit stirred up when there is an Indo-pak cricket match or when terrorists bomb our trains. But we definitely forget it when we cast our vote in the elections, when a hungry beggar asks for a rupee, when we shamelessly throw garbage on the roads and so on…. Patriotic emotions cannot be engendered in a windfall. They will have to be engraved on tender hearts that will remain placid. Our education policies thus needed to be revalued and reformed. More national awareness and respect should be embedded into the scholastic curriculum. This could be nothing more than a sincere devotion for making a peaceful-loving, uncorrupt, crime-free, unpolluted and patriotic India. Small actions persuaded with a notion of doing good to other countrymen is true patriotism. Today, our country wants awakened citizens to move forward and it is in this sphere where we have to exercise our true patriotic spirit.

Short Questions:

  1. What was Franz expected to be prepared with for school that day?

Ans. That day Franz was expected to be prepared with participles because M. Hamel had said that he would question them on participles . Franz did not know anything about participles.

  1. What did Franz notice that was unusual about the school that day?

Ans. Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street. But it was all very still that day. Everything was as quiet as a Sunday morning. There was no opening or closing of desks. His classmates were already in their places. The teacher’s great ruler instead of rapping on the table, was under M. Hamel’s arm.

  1. What had been put up on the bulletin-board?

For the last two years all the bad news came from the bulletin-board. An order had come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The Germans had put up this notice on the Bulletin board.

  1. What change did the order from Berlin cause in the school that day?

Mr. Hamel had put on his best dress – his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt and the little black silk cap, all embroidered. The whole school seemed so strange and solemn. On the back benches that were always empty, the elderly village people were sitting quietly like the kids.

  1. How did Franz’s feelings about M. Hamel and the school change?

Franz came to know that it was the last lesson in French that M. Hamel would give them. From the next day they will be taught only German. Then he felt sorry for not learning his lessons properly. His books, which seemed a nuisance and a burden earlier were now old friends. His feelings about M. Hamel also changed. He forgot all about his ruler and how cranky he was.

LONG QUESTIONS

 

Q“When a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they have the keys to their prison.” What could this mean?

Ans. Language is an important aspect of the culture of any nation. Native language unites the people of a particular area or nation. During colonization colonizers enforce political domination by exerting their rules and regulation over the people of colonized nation and enforce cultural domination by imposing their own language on them. In some cases, colonizers prohibit the teaching of the native language and try to deprive the people of their identity.

In such cases ,when people are attached to their native language, their identity would be kept intact. Their language is the key to their prison as their language keeps them united against the invaders and urge them to fight against the enslavement.

 

Q Franz thinks, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons ?” What could this means?

Ans. Alphonse Daudet’s ‘The Last Lesson’ very prominently raises the question of linguistic and cultural hegemony of the colonial and imperial powers and their lust for controlling the world and influencing their cultures and identities.

Prussians acquired the districts of Alsace and Lorraine in Franco-Prussian War , but they were not satisfied with mere political domination ,they desired to enforce their own language on the people of the defeated nation. They released the order that from now German would be taught in schools rather than French.

Franz wondered whether they would make even pigeons sing in German. It means that they had grown up using French as their language and now snatching away their language from them would be unfair and unkind. The language was as natural to them as cooing is to the pigeon. So, compulsion to speak another language is like dominating the force of nature and enslaving it. As it is next to impossible to alter the way pigeons sing, in the same way it is difficult for people to accept a language which is forcibly imposed on them. Adopting a new language causes pain and discomfort.

Answer the following in 30-40 words each.

  1. Why was Franz afraid to go to school that morning?
  2. What temptations did Franz overcome to proceed to school? (p-2 ,para-1)
  3. What was the significance of the bulletin-board in the town hall? (p-2, para-2)
  4. Why was Franz blushing and feeling frightened when he entered the class room? (was late ,easily noticed as everyone was settled)
  5. How and why was M. Hamel dressed differently that day?(p-3 ,last para)
  6. Why were the old men of the village present in the class room? (p-5 ,1st para)
  7. How was the order from Berlin going to make a difference to the lives of the students?(not study the native language , will be compelled to study a foreign language)
  8. How did Franz’s attitude towards his books change after he heard about the order from Berlin? (p-4 ,2nd last para)
  9. What happened when Franz attempted to recite the rule for participles in class? (p-5 ,2nd para: “But i got mixed up…….look up”
  10. What does M. Hamel find wrong with the attitude of Alsace towards learning? (puts off learning till tomorrow)
  11. How does M. Hamel held parents and himself responsible for students neglecting learning?(p-5 ,2nd last para)
  12. How does M. Hamel praise the French language? (p-5 ,last para)
  13. How is the mother tongue important for the enslaved people?
  14. Why was Franz able to understand everything?(Franz- listening carefully ,Hamel-explaining everything with patience)
  15. How had the school changed in the forty years of M. Hamel’s stay ?(p-8 ,para-1)
  16. “I never saw him look so tall”. Who is the person mentioned? What does the speaker mean by the above statement?
  17. Why did M. Hamel make a gesture to the students to leave?(was choked up ,overwhelmed with emotions)

18.How does M. Hamel evoke feelings of patriotism in the class ?

 

Answer the following in about 150 words each

  1. Justify the title “The Last Lesson.”
  2. In the story M. Hamel emerges not only as a dedicated teacher but also as a sensitive and

understanding human being”. Elaborate the character of M. Hamel in light of the above

3*. “The importance of a thing dawns upon us when it is no longer with us”. Do you

agree ? Give reasons based on the text ?

  1. Language becomes a tool in the lands of the conquerors to establish their superiority over the loser. Critically analyse the statement with reference to the lesson.
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