The story is set during the Franco-Prussian War. The Germans captured the French districts of Alsace and Lorraine. The new master was supposed to come to a school in Alsace the next day to teach German instead of French. The story explains the impact of this news on the life of a school in Alsace.
Table of Contents
The Story at a Glance / Summary
The Prose “The Last Lesson” written by Alphonse Daudet tells of the year 1870 when France was attacked and captured by the Prussian forces under Bismarck. The French Alsace and Lorraine districts went into Prussian hands. In the schools of these two districts, the new Prussian rulers discontinued teaching French. They asked the French teachers to leave. The storey describes one such French teacher’s last day, M. Hamel. Hamel. Mr M. Hamel had been transferred and could not stay in his old school any longer. Still, with the utmost devotion and sincerity as ever, he gave his last lesson to his students. The storey portrays the pathos of the whole situation as to how people feel when they don’t learn their own language and then lose an asset in M. Hamel. Hamel. Franz, one of his students, who feared the French class and M. That day, Hamel, the iron rod, came to school thinking that he would be punished because he had not learned his lesson. But he found Hamel dressed in Sunday clothes when he reached school, and all the old people of the village sitting there. It was because of an order placed on the bulletin board. That was the first day when, for the first time, he realised that French was important to him, but it was his Last Lesson in French.
Dominant Theme Raised in the Text – Linguistic Chauvinism
“Chauvinism” is a commitment to something or against it, just based on what you feel (not necessarily what you may know). So, the concept that one’s language is superior to that of others is linguistic chauvinism. Generally, this occurs when the language is that of the ruling class.
The overt preference for one language over others is linguistic chauvinism. Language is known to be the cultural identity of a specific group of people who use it. Therefore, imposing some other language hammers their emotions on individuals and is a step towards annexing their relationship with their culture. The pride of that country is the language of any country. Not only does it define the culture, but it also tells us about the country’s people, literature and history. Language is just the medium of communication for some individuals, but it is the issue of life and death for others.
“The Last Lesson” very prominently raises the issue of colonial and imperial powers’ linguistic and cultural hegemony (supremacy, control) and their desire to control the world and influence their cultures and identities.
The Last Lesson raises the burning question very innocently with the words of little Franz, “Will they make them sing in German, even pigeons? “This raises the issue of the immorality of imposing imperial languages and cultures on the colonies. The child questions that when even birds and animals cannot be forced to give up their language and speak to others, what forces a man to think that it would be prudent to force other human beings to accept any language other than theirs forcibly.
The language of a country is not only a means of communication for the people but also a link for identity as soon as the native language is taken away from the people. It’s not only a loss of convenient communication medium but also a loss of identity for people because of what they were and what they could become. When a little child like Franz can think of the irrationality behind snatching away people’s rights of language and identity, then why can’t warlords and colonisers understand the facts?
Answer the following in about 30-40 words.
Q. What was the narrator’s greatest fear as he walked towards the school?
Ans. Franz had started late for school and thus was afraid of being scolded. His fear gripped him further for he was also unprepared. He had not learnt his lesson regarding the rules of participles and thus dreaded the teacher’s anger.
Q. What did M. Hamel say about the French language?
Ans. M. Hamel told them that French was the most beautiful language in the world. It was the clearest and the most logical language. He asked them to guard it among them and never _ forget it. He gave a reason also. When a people were enslaved, as long as they held fast to their language, they had the key to their prison.
Q. How and why was M. Hamel dressed differently that day?
And. M Hamel was dressed differently on that day, wearing his fine Sunday clothes,
beautiful green coat, frilled shirt and the little black silk, all embroidered. He never used to wear these except on inspection and prize days. He knew that it was his last lesson and it was in honour of this last lesson that he had put on his fine clothes.
Q. Why did M Hamel write ‘Vive La France ‘on the blackboard?
Ans. M Hamel wrote the words Vive La France!’ in big letters on the blackboard before dismissing the last class. He was unable to speak as his own sorrow was choking him. He still wanted to express his feelings as he was a true patriot. He wrote the words which meant, ‘Long Live France!’ and couldn’t say anything more and the last lesson was over.
Q. “We’ve all a great deal to reproach ourselves with”. said M Hamel. Comment.
Ans. M Hamel reproaches himself for his student’s unsatisfactory progress in studies because he has given them his own personal work to do during school time.
Besides, he also gave them a holiday when he wanted to go fishing. He also tells the villagers that they should reproach themselves for not having learnt their language.
Q. What reasons did M Hamel give for their lack of interest in learning French?
Ans. The lack of interest in learning French was due to the attitude of:
(II) the parents who wanted their children to work on a farm or mill to earn.
(II) the students who were reluctant to learn and often put off the lesson for the next day.
(IV) M Hamel as he asked them to water the flower and gave them off when he had to go for fishing.
Q. How did Franz find teaching and learning that day?
Ans. Franz found teaching and learning very interesting that day. He was very attentive and careful. Franz also realized that M Hamel had never explained everything with so much patience. It seemed almost as if the poor man wanted to give them all he knew before going away. M Hamel wanted to put it all into their heads at one stroke as it was their last lesson.
(e) What was the narrator’s greatest fear as he walked towards the school?
(f) What did M. Hamel say about the French language?
2. Answer the following questions in 120-150 words:
(a) How did M Hamel react when Franz failed to recite rule for the participle?
Ans. Franz’s name was called to recite the rule for the participles. But he got mixed up on the first word. He was standing there, holding on to his desk, his heart beating and not daring to look up. But M. Hamel instead of scolding told Franz that he must feel bad enough. He said that every day we think that we have plenty of time and we will learn it on the next day and now you see where we have come out by putting off learning till tomorrow. Now those fellows out there will have the right to say to you, “How is it; you pretend to be Frenchman, and yet you can neither speak nor write your own language?”
Then M Hamel told Franz that only he was not to be blamed. His parents were not anxious enough to have him learn. They preferred to put Franz to work on a farm or at the mills, so as to have a little more money. M. Hamel blamed himself for it also.
He said that quite often he had been sending Franz to water his flowers instead of learning his lessons and when he wanted to go for fishing, he would just give him a holiday.
(b) What impression do you form of M Hamel on the basis of your study of the story “The Last Lesson”?
Ans. We get a clear–cut portrait of a traditional teacher in Hamel. He was a hard taskmaster, sincere in his duties and a well-wisher of his students. A sudden surge of patriotic feelings in his heart made him a missionary. He appealed to the people to safeguard their own language and culture as language would keep them free and united, Hamel was a highly respected figure. The gathering of village elders in his classroom clearly proved it. Hamel was a staunch lover of France. Foreign rule and forceful imposition of German increased his patriotic fervour. He aroused patriotic feelings in the hearts of his students and the village elders alike.
(c) What message did the writer convey in “The Last Lesson”?
Ans. The author Alphonse Daudet wants to emphasize to his readers that they should always be loyal and proud of their country and mother tongue. He wants the readers to be aware of the great importance of learning their own language and never forgetting it no matter what the circumstances. In this chapter, the Prussians order the French to speak and study only German and prohibit the learning of French. Hence, the writer wants to convey that only if people ‘hold fast’ to their language, they will be able to enjoy free and respectable lives.
Q. Franz thinks, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons ?” What could this mean?
Ans. Alphonse Daudet’s ‘The Last Lesson’ very prominently raises the question of
linguistic and cultural supremacy of the colonial and imperial powers and their lust for controlling the world and influencing their cultures and identities. Prussiansacquired 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 then 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, the 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.
- What did Franz notice that was unusual about the school that day?
What was the “thunderclap” the narrator received as M. Hamel began the lesson?
How did Franz’s feelings towards schoolwork and schoolbooks suddenly change?
Why had the villagers occupied the backbenches of the class that day?
“We’ve all a great deal to reproach ourselves with”. What does M. Hamel mean by these words?
How did the people react when they realised that they will never be able to learn their language?
How was M. Hamel’s last class different from his previous classes?
The people in the story suddenly realize how precious their language is to them. What shows you this? Why does this happen?
Long Answer Questions
1. Justify the title of the story “The Last Lesson”.
Ans. The title “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet is apt and appropriate. The whole story focuses on the last lesson delivered by M. Hamel. The lesson reveals how much people should care about their language. It is for the first time that people came to realize the value of their language.
The story highlights a situation where the people of Alsace felt that there was plenty of time to learn their lessons and so did not give due importance to school. They sent their children to work on farms and mills instead of having them learn their lessons. Even Franz looked for opportunities to escape school and was never serious about learning his lessons. Quite unexpectedly they receive orders from Berlin that French will no longer be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. It is then that they realize what they had been evading all this while will now be deprived to them. They awaken to the course of safeguarding their language and reach to attend the last lesson taught by M. Hamel, the French teacher. The story evokes a consciousness in the reader that he must learn his lessons in time. One can never apprehend which day of life he may be learning his last lesson.
2. When people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison. Comment.
Ans. The last lesson by Alphonse Daudet beautifully brings to light the brutality of war which makes man insensitive to human feelings and emotions.
Mother tongue helps a person to express his feelings and thoughts intimately. Conquerors try to subdue and control the people of the enslaved territory by enforcing many measures such as imposing their own language. The enslaved natives also become victims of a restrained and confined life with no hope of breathing freely in their own motherland. At such times of enslavement, it is their language, the mother tongue which keeps their identity alive. It is the key to their prison as the mother binds them together. It constantly reminds them of their enslavement and brings them together urging them to fight for the liberation of their motherland. M. Hamel, the French teacher reminds his countrymen to safeguard their language to liberate themselves and maintain their identity.
3. Franz thinks, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” What could this mean?
Ans. Alphonse Daudet’s Last Lesson highlights linguistic chauvinism. Acquisition of power over the Alsacians has made the Prussians so dominant that they have even imposed their language on them.
Franz means that their pride cannot make them master their minds and their hearts. They had grown up to use French as their language. It would be unfair and unkind to take it away from them. This language was natural to them as the cooing of pigeons. It would not only be difficult, but almost impossible, to rob them of it. It will be difficult to accept the language that is being imposed on them. It causes pain to undo a known language and to learn to communicate in another language. The purpose of the language is to be lost. In addition, the French bound them as brothern.
Franz mocks the Berlin order that imposed the German language on the French people. Powerful Germans can defeat France, but they can’t force pigeons to coo in German. In fact, no language can be imposed on those who do not want to learn, especially a foreign language.
4. Give a character sketch of M. Hamel on the basis of your study of the story, “The Last Lesson”.
Ans. The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet centres around the French Teacher, M. Hamel, who was asked to leave. The Berlin Order prohibited the teaching of the French language in Alsace and Lorraine. The order stated that German was to replace French.
M. Hamel appears to be the epitome of an ideal teacher. The narrator is established as a strict stereotyping teacher. It’s very special that his students are aware of their lessons. The author feels he’s insensitive to the feelings of his students. Later, through the course of the floor, he emerges to be a facilitator. His dominant tone becomes gentle, showing concern for the education of his students. He’s a guide and a friend and advises innocent villagers to shift their priorities and pay more attention to learning. M. Hamel, too, is a true patriot who loves both his country and his language. He is a man of courage and profound emotions who teaches perfection to the very end. At the end of the day, he proudly writes “vive La France” on the blackboard. M. Hamel is the ideal teacher, a true guide, a philosopher and a patriot.
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 in the beginning of the story. It is said that first impression is the best impression. Is it true in the 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”. Indeed, in one meeting, one cannot be judged. Actually, one or more meetings are not enough to judge the personality of a person. At different times, each person reacts differently to different situations. It is not, therefore, a matter of single appearances to form a judgement on a person. It could be a preconception. Nowadays, every person seems to be social and gentle. They’re trying to be presentable in society. It doesn’t matter what their background is. One’s clothes, gestures, habits, etc. do not define one’s personality in a single appearance. Time should be taken to form an opinion on a person. Different situations reveal different aspects of one’s own personality. Sometimes life is too short to know a person. But sometimes even a few seconds is enough to know one’s true face. It is therefore not a matter of first or last impression, but of the time needed to know one in the right colours.
Q. While speaking his mouth choked and wrote, “Vive La France” and finally by a 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 a 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 the love of one’s own customs, culture, mother tongue, motherland and all that is associated with one’s motherland. One should be proud of what his country has given him. People have begun to adopt Western culture in the Indian context. They are in the “Modern” race. It’s as surprising as it is pitiful. As an Indian, we have a rich and diversified culture that has also attracted foreigners. Many patriots have sacrificed their lives in the name of their country, which has also attracted foreigners. Many patriots have a feeling that cannot be filled in the hearts of the Indians, but that should arise and be inculcated in the future generation of the country. Students or young people in the country need to be Indianized. The adaptation of different cultures is not bad. But to forget our own culture is not done for the sake of others. The need of the hour is to instil moral values, virtues, love of humanity and motherland among the Indians. Patriotism is an undying and unmatched spirit that cannot be sacrificed for anything.