The Last Lesson

About the Authour

Alphonse Daudet, (born May 13, 1840,  France—died Dec. 16, 1897, Paris?), French short-story writer and novelist, now remembered chiefly as the author of sentimental tales of provincial life in the south of France. Formerly, a schoolteacher, he quit it to make a living as a journalist in Paris. He took to writing, his poems collected into a volume called “Les Amoureuses”.

 

Brief Introduction

'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. Now M. Hamel could no longer stay in his old school. Still he gave the last lesson to his students with utmost devotion and sincerity as ever. One such student of M. Hamel, 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 on participles. But on reaching school he found Hamel dressed in his fine Sunday clothes and the old people of the village sitting quietly on the back benches. It was due to an order from Berlin. That was the first day when he realized for the first time that how important French was for him, but it was his last lesson in French. The story depicts the pathos of the whole situation about how people feel when they don‘t learn their own language. It tells us about the significance of one‘s language in one‘s life for the very existence of a race and how important it is to safeguard it.

Main points

1. Franz is afraid of going to school as he has not learnt participles.

2. Wants to enjoy the beauty of nature - the bright sunshine - the birds chirruping in the woods - Prussian soldiers‘ drilling but resisted.

3. On reaching school Franz notices: unusual silence - Villagers occupying the last benches - teacher well dressed – everybody looked sad.

4. M. Hamel announces: Today is the last lesson in French.

5. Franz regrets and realizes why he had not taken his lesson seriously.

6. Understands the reason why teacher is well dressed and villagers sitting at the back.

7. M. Hamel realizes that all three, he himself, the children and the parents are to be blamed for losing respect and regards for the mother tongue.

8. Hamel says: French language – most beautiful, clear and logical language in the world. Always keep close the mother tongue to your heart as it is a key to the prison of slavery.

9. Hamel becomes emotional and writes on the black board ―”Vive La France”

10. Franz remembers the last lesson very well.

 

Summary

The story is narrated by a French boy, Franz. He is lazy but sensitive and likes to play. He dislikes studying French and hates his teacher M. Hamel. After overpowering their districts of Alsace and Lorraine in France, Berlin has ordered that German language instead of French be taught in the schools there. It is the last day of their French teacher M. Hamel, who has been there for forty years. He is full of grief, nostalgia and patriotism. As a mark of respect to his hard work, the village men also attend his ‘last lesson’. They are sad as they did not learn their mother tongue, French in their childhood. Franz is shocked to know that it’s his last lesson, as he does not know French. Now, suddenly, he gets interested in learning it and understands everything taught on that day! He develops an instant liking for the teacher, M. Hamel and respects him for his sincerity and hard work. He feels sad at departing from him and is ashamed for not being able to recite the lesson of participles. M. Hamel tells them that they all are at fault for not being eager enough to learn, putting it off to the next day. He blames himself for not teaching them sincerely. His patriotism is reflected in his praise for the French language as being the most beautiful and most logical language in the world. He tells the class to guard their language as being close to one’s language is the key to escape from the prison of slavery. It will help them in getting free from the Germans. They realize the importance of learning their mother tongue and that they have been defeated by the Germans because of their illiteracy. Franz feels that it is not possible to take away one’s language from a person as it is natural to each being, may it be the “coo” to the pigeons or “French” to the Frenchmen.

The Story Retold

The author was late for school and dreaded scolding from his teacher, Mr M Hamel who was to question them that day on participles. The narrator had not learnt his lessons. It was a bright day and he felt tempted to stay back from school and enjoy the day but somehow he resisted the temptation to do so. While he was passing by the town hall, he saw a crowd in front of the bulletin-board. Since the war was on, all the bad news had come from that board. As he was hurrying past, the blacksmith called out to him and said there was plenty of time to reach the school in time.

When the author reached school, he was very surprised at the eerie silence that surrounded the school. It seemed more like a  Sunday than a working day. He had depended on the commotion to enter the class unnoticed but to his surprise everyone was already in their places and he had to go before everybody. What surprised him even more was that instead of scolding him the teacher was kind and told him to take his place.

After settling, the narrator, Franz noticed that the teacher was wearing his beautiful green coat, his frilled shirt and his little black silk cap with embroidery on it. This attire was worn by M Hamel only on inspection or prize days. The atmosphere that day was very solemn and what surprised him most was when he saw the village elders sitting in the class on the last benches. Everyone was sad. One of the persons sitting there was old Hauser who had even brought an old primer which he thumbed at the edges. He held it open on his knees.

The narrator wondered at the changes when suddenly M Hamel mounted his chair and announced that it was their last French lesson as the order had come from Berlin that only German will be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorriane. The narrator was shocked to hear this and suddenly those books which had seemed a burden became very dear to him. He regretted not having learnt his lessons. Now the narrator understood why Mr Hamel had put on his Sunday clothes and why the villagers were attending the class that day. It was their way of thanking the master for his commendable service of forty years and showing respect to their country. They also regretted missing the school so often. When the class started, the narrator heard his name being called out to recite the rules of the participles which he was unable to do as he got stuck on the first word. He felt very disgusted with himself at his failure to do so. Mr Hamel said he wouldn’t scold him for he was, as it is, feeling so bad about it. Everyday learning had been postponed to the next day and now there was no time left to learn. He further said that they would be mocked by people for calling themselves French although they couldn’t speak or write their own language.

Further, Mr Hamel says even many parents had preferred to send their children to work than to school. Then he confesses that he too was to blame because many times he had given a holiday when he wanted to go fishing. Mr Hamel said that French was the most beautiful language in the world. It was the most clearest and logical. He then opened the book and explained a grammar lesson to them. The writer was surprised at himself for he understood the lesson very well. Also Mr Hamel had explained the lesson more patiently than ever. It almost seemed as if in one go he wanted to give them all that he knew. The grammar lesson was followed by a writing lesson. That day Mr Hamel had new copies for them in which it was written in beautiful round hand — France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the classroom. All the children worked seriously and quietly. Suddenly, the writer heard the pigeons cooing and wondered will they be also made to sing in German.

While the class was doing their writing assignment, M Hamel sat motionless in his chair staring at all the things as if he wanted to remember just how everything looked in that little school room. Since M Hamel had started the school forty years ago, nothing had changed except the desk and chairs had worn off and the trees had grown taller. The narrator wonders that it must be heart-breaking for him to hear his sister moving the trunks in the room above, packing to leave the country next day. Mr Hamel is an epitome of patience that day; a patriot to the core Mr M Hamel was very patient that day. When it was the chance of the babies to chant the alphabet, even the old villagers joined in. Their voice trembled with emotion. At twelve all of them could hear the Prussians returning from drill. At this overcome with emotion, M Hamel went to the blackboard and wrote, Vive La France (Long Live France). He then leaned against the wall and dismissed the class with a gesture. To sum up, we can say that the story is a wake-up call for all those people who keep on postponing things endlessly. Something like this happened with the natives of Alsace. They had to forego learning their mother tongue. In the same vein, the story extrapolates the fact that war makes man inhuman and insensitive to the feelings of others.

Question answers (short)

Q. 1. Why was the narrator scared of going to school that morning?

Answer. The author was late that morning. He was frightened by scolding. He did not prepare the Participles which M. Hamel had asked to question students.

Q. 2. What did Franz see as he passed the town hall?

Answer. When Franz was passing through Town Hall, he saw a huge crowd there. Franz noticed that the crowd was looking carefully at the Bulletin board. Franz feared bad news on the bulletin board.

Q. 3. Who were the village people? How did they look?

Answer. There were former mayors, postmaster and many others in the village. The old Hauser had three corner hat. He came with his old preliminary book. Everyone looked sad.

Q. 4. Why did Mr. Hamel say that it was the last lesson?

Answer. Mr. Hamel said that this was his last lesson. Because Hamel was a teacher of the French Language. The order came from Berlin that only the German language should be taught in Alsace and Lorraine schools.

 

Q. 5. How did Franz’s attitude towards his books and Mr. Hamel change?

Answer. When Franz heard that it was the last lesson of the French language. He was in shock. His books suddenly became his old friend. Franz’s attitude toward books and teachers changed completely.

 

Q. 6. Why had Franz not been able to learn much at school?

Answer. Franz was unable to learn much in school because he used to waste his time in finding eggs from birds and sliding on the Saar. He did not like his book at all.

 

Q. 7. What did Mr. Hamel say about the French language?

Answer. Mr. Hamel says that the French language is the world’s most beautiful language. This is the clearest and Justified language. We should protect it and do not forget it.

 

Q. 8. How did Mr. Hamel bid farewell to his school?

Answer. When the church is twelve in the clock then Mr. Hamel stood up. He tries to say something but he becomes emotionally disturbed. He wrote “Vive La French” on the blackboard. And by the hand gesture, he dismissed the school.

 

Question answer (long)

Q. 9. It was the day of surprises for Franz. What surprises did he notice at school that day?

Answer. For Franz, this school day was a surprise day. There was peace in school. All the students were sitting on their seats and Mr. Hamel was walking in the classroom. However, there was a lot of noise in the school time. Franz planned that he would quietly enter the class without appearing to anyone. He will enter the classroom to take advantage of the noise during school time. He was amazed because the school had silence.

Franz opened the door and entered. He felt that today he will be scolded by Mr. Hamel. But Hamel was very serious and humble, he asked Franz to sit on the seat.

The people of the village were sitting on vacant seats today. All these things made Franz wonder.

Q. 10. ‘Franz hated at first but he suddenly began to like it.’ Comment.

Answer. Franz was a poor boy. The parents of Franz wanted Franz to work on a farm or a factory and earn some money to help the home family. He himself wanted to stay out of the house. She liked to find the eggs of birds. The book of Franz seemed to be a headache and it seemed so heavy that it was difficult to carry the book.

When he came to know that Mr. Hamel was going on forever, he realized how carefree he was to his studies. Now the school had to be taught only the German language. He did not learn the French language. Suddenly Franz began to like his book, teacher and Mr. Hamel.

Q. 11. What ideas of Mr. Hamel’s character do you from after reading “The last lesson”?

Answer. Mr. Hamel was a teacher at Alsace School. His harsh behavior towards students made them appear scary. He was unhappy when the Prussians had occupied a part of France. Mr. Hamel told the people of Alsace that they all kept holding their language firmly Because this language can liberate from foreign rule. He loved his language (French) and also admire. Mr. Hamel says that the French language is the most beautiful and equitable language of the world. He was a truly honest man. Sometimes they closed the school when they had to go fishing.

Q. 12. Draw a character sketch of Mr. Hamel.

Answer. Mr. Hamel was a French teacher. He was always dedicated to school and students. M. Hamel makes fun of children who came late. They did not like the kids coming late. The students were afraid of them because they were strict teachers. His voice was grave and humble. They always kept an iron rod with them. He provided services at Alsace School for forty years. He was a true patriot. They liked fishing so much. Mister Hamel loved his language (French) and also admire. Mr. Hamel says that the French language is the most beautiful and equitable language of the world. He was very emotional. The people of the village loved Mr. Hamel.

 

Q. 13. The people in the story suddenly realize how precious their language is to them. What shows you this? Why does this happen?

Answer: The story was written in the days of the Franco-Prussian war in which France was defeated by Prussia. In this story the French districts of Alsace-Lorraine have passed into Prussian hands. M. Hamel is the teacher of French and a boy, Franz who never serious in the class of M. Hamel. One day he was late for school. He feared that his teacher would scold as he was not very sure about participles which the teacher, M. Hamel, is going to test that day. But finally he decided to go to school. As he entered he saw the crowd has gathered round the bulletin board. He did not stop there. On arriving at school, he noted an unusual silence. He entered into the class and was greeted with a strange sight. The last benches which were always empty were occupied by the village elders who look grim and solemn. Franz noticed M. Hamel was dressed nicely and asked Franz to sit so that he could start his lesson. The teacher made a startling announcement that this would be their last lesson in French as the new teacher would be arriving the following day. He said, “ The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new teacher comes tomorrow. This is your last French lesson. I want you to be very attentive.” There came a sudden change in the minds of the people and they developed a new profound love French. Franz was overcome with a feeling of remorse and regretted for wasting his time in trivial pursuits. He decided to pay attention to the lesson since school had become very important for him. The people and Franz himself realized how precious their language is to them. M. Hamel had been teaching in that school for last forty years. His dedication, devotion, discipline impressed them. He realizes the real worth of his school and the teacher whom they have all taken for granted all these years. M. Hamel in his last address told about the importance of French. He called that it was the most beautiful language in the world. It is the clearest and the most logical one. M.Hamel was overcome by strong emotions and in large letter he wrote on the board ‘Viva La France’ – long live France!

 

Q. 14. Franz thinks:’ “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” What could this mean?

Answer: The Alsace and Lorraine districts were under the regime of France. During the FrancoPrussian war in which France was defeated by Prussia led by Bismarck and both these districts have passed into Prussian hands. Earlier they were learning their own language, French. As per new set up, an order was passed that German was to be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine.M. Hamel who had been teaching the French for the last forty years. In his last lesson he told that from the next day in the schools of both districts would teach only German instead of French from a new teacher. They won’t be learning their own most beautiful, clearest and logical language. He told the importance of their own language, this feeling of M. Hamel aroused their patriotic feelings. There came a sudden change in Franz. He disliked learning German. He heard and saw the pigeons. He immediately remarked: “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” It is meant that the German can impose German language on the people of Alsace and Lorraine but they can’t impose this language on the birds etc. They can enslave the people but have no authority to compel the cooing pigeons.

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