The Last Lesson By Alphonse Daudet
The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet was written in the days of the Franco – Prussian War in which France was defeated by Prussia led by Bismark. The French district of Alsace and Lorraine passed into Prussian hands. It showcases the fact that the oppressor wants not only territory but also dominates over the language and culture of a particular country thus, taking away even the identity of the subjugated people.
Summary and Explanation
“I started for school very late that morning —————– respect for
the country that was theirs no more.”
The story tells us that on that very morning Franz started very late to his school and he had a fear of being scolded by his teacher M.Hamel. M.Hamel had said that he would question them (the class) on participles. The day was warm and so bright, in the open field back of the sawmill, the Prussian soldiers were drilling. But he did not pay any attention to all these and made his way towards the school.
When he went past the town hall he noticed a crowd in front of the notice board. He thought that some bad news must be there. There was a great silence in the school. He thought that he would reach his desk without being seen, but on that day everything was still like Sunday’s morning; He had to open the door and go inside the classroom.
M.Hamel saw Franz and said kindly that he should go to his place. The whole school was looking so strange and serious. The thing that surprised Franz most was to see the benches behind the class were packed by village people. Everybody looked sad.
“ While I was wondering about it all, M. Hamel —————– a great deal to reproach ourselves with ”
The story tells us that when Franz was wondering about all this, M. Hamel sat on his chair, and in a grave and gentle voice, he said, “my children this is my last lesson, which I want to teach you. The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. I want you to be very attentive.”
Franz hardly knew how to write French and he would never learn any more French now. He was not happy. When Franz knew that his teacher M.Hamel had also to leave from here and he would never see him again he forget about the ruler and his teacher’s eccentricity. M.Hamel had put on his Sunday clothes.
The old men of the village were also sorry that they could not learn more and now they were showing their respect for their country. While Franz was thinking all this his name was called. He could not understand the difficult rules of participles, so he could not answer. His heart beating and not daring to look up. M.Hamel said that he would not scold him, but every day we say that we have plenty of time to learn and keep it for tomorrow. It is a problem of Alsace that it leaves everything for tomorrow.
“Your parents were not anxious enough to ———– school is dismissed you may go .”
M.Hamel said that your parents were not worried about your study. Then he went on the talk of French language and said that it was the most beautiful language in the world. We must guard it. When people are enslaved, if they stuck to their language they had the key to their prison,i.e, they could get freedom.
After grammar, there was a lesson in writing M.Hamel had new copies for them and the words written in beautiful round hands ‐France, Alsace, France, Alsace were looking like the flags floating everywhere in the classroom, everyone set to work and it was quiet. On the roof, the pigeons cooed very low and Franz thought in himself, “Will the Germans able to sing the pigeons in German”?
M.Hamel was sitting motionless in his chair. He was only gazing things and it seemed that he wanted to fix in his mind how everything looked in that school-room. He had his own garden outside the window. Everything was there in the same place. Seeing all this his heart broke.
After writing they had a lesson in History. At once the church clock struck twelve. M.Hamel stood up and wanted to say something but he could not go on. Then turning towards the blackboard he wrote: “Vive La France”! and said that the school was dismissed and they might go.
Question 1. What was Franz expected to be prepared with for school that day?
Answer. Franz was expected to be prepared with participles that day for M Hamel, their teacher was to question them on the topic. Franz had not learnt his lessons and feared scolding from him.
Question 2. What did Franz notice that was unusual about the school that day?
Answer. When Franz reached school he noticed there was no great bustle which could otherwise be heard out in the street. No sound of opening or closing of desks could be heard. It seemed as quiet as Sundays. There were no lessons being repeated in unison nor the rapping of the ruler of the teacher on the table could be heard.
Question 3. What had been put up on the bulletin board?
Answer. Since the last two years, the bulletin board had news of lost battles, the drafts and the orders of the commanding officer. That day a notice had been put up stating that only German language would be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine.
Question 4.What changes did the order from Berlin cause in the school?
Answer. There was an unusual silence all around the school. Many village people sat on the back seats of the class of Franz.
Question 5. “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons”?What could it mean?
Answer.The Germans have imposed their own language on the French people, When Franz listens the pigeons cooing from the roof of the school room, he thought whether Germans will make the pigeons sing in German.
Question 6. What changes did the order from Berlin cause in the school that day?
Answer. The order from Berlin caused many changes. That day the school was enveloped in an eerie silence. People realised the importance of learning their language and their patriotic feelings were aroused. Even people who had been busy earning their livelihood, come back to the school as a mark of respect for the teacher. Everybody had a streak of repentance and guilt in their heart.
Question 7. How did Franz’s feelings about M Hamel and school change?
Answer. Franz never liked going to school. His books seemed to be a nuisance to him. Learning was a burden so he had come unprepared to school that day. He wanted to be merry, never worrying about anything. He felt his teacher M Hamel; was a hard taskmaster and cranky.
On that historic day, however, his feelings about his teachers and the school changed. He was taken aback when told that it would be his last French lesson. He regretted having not learnt his lessons and being deprived of the opportunity to learn his own mother tongue. Franz was ashamed of the fact that he did not know how to write. His books suddenly became ‘old friends’ whom he could not abandon. The very thought of Mr M Hamel going away made he forget about his ruler and cranky nature.
Understanding the Text
Question 1. The people in this story suddenly realise how precious their language is to them. What shows you this? Why does this happen?
Answer. When the order came from Berlin that henceforth only German will be taught in schools, people realised that it was the last day to learn their mother tongue. To show their affection for the language, many elderly people came to attend school, occupying the last benches which usually remained vacant. Franz regretted having not learnt the participles when M Hamel suddenly appraised them of the fact that they will become a laughing stock. It is their identity, the ‘key’ to their prison. The strongest evidence of how important is language comes from M Hamel’s mesmerizing last lesson. This happened because of the French language being banned in Alsace and Lorraine.
Question 2. Franz thinks, “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” What could this mean?
Answer. In the Franco–Prussian war of 1870, when France was defeated and the districts of Alsace and Lorraine passed into the hands of the Prussians, orders came from Berlin that only German will be taught in schools. A new master would be coming to teach German. So it was the last lesson in French. Franz and all others present there felt sad and regretted putting off things at a later date. Just then the pigeons on the roof started cooing which made him think will the same orders come for animal kingdom too? Will they also have to forget their own language and learn German?
This points out to the mindset of man in general and conquerors specifically. Man has an intense desire to subjugate others. No wonder, he wants to enslave animals also. Just dominating and ruling over territory is not enough. Captors want to rule over minds as well. That’s the reason why they impose their language on the oppressed. Linguistic chauvinism is the beginning of servitude.
In a nutshell, we can say that Franz’s question is typical because it showcases the streak of authority and supremacy inherent in man. Given a chance, a man might not even think twice before invading the sacred realm of Gods!
Talking About the Text
Question 1. “When people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language, it is as if they had the key to their prison.” Explain.
Answer. The subjugation of a country deprives people of their identity and freedom. One is subjected to restrictions in his/her own land. The worst part is when one has to abide by the diktats of the oppressor.
In these testing times, it is only our mother tongue that binds us together. It becomes a weapon against the tyrants who have forcibly moved into a country. The teacher, M Hamel, is perfectly right when he says that it is a ‘key to their prison’. Language is a catalyst that initiates and sustains the freedom movement. So he reminds his countrymen of the importance of language; it is their identity and only when they fight for it will the future generations remember that they have been enslaved. It is only then they will carry the torch of freedom further.
India, Bangladesh, South Africa are some of the examples in history where the conquered people had their language taken away from them and another language imposed on themselves.
Working with Words
Question 1. English is a language that contains words from many other languages. This inclusiveness is one of the reasons it is now a world language. For example
Petite — French
Kindergarten — German
Capital — Latin
Democracy — Greek
Bazaar — Hindi
Find out the origin of the following words
(i) Tycoon (ii) tulip (iii) logo (iv) bandicoot
(v) barbecue (vi) veranda (vii) robot (viii) Zero
(ix) ski (x) trek
Word = Origin
(i) Tycoon Japanese (taikun)
(ii) Tulip French (tulipe)
(iii) Logo German (logos)
(iv) Bandicoot Telugu (pandikokku)
(v) Barbecue Spanish (barbacoa)
(vi) Veranda Portuguese (veranda)
(vii) Robot Czech (robota)
(viii) Zero Arabic (cipher)
(ix) Ski Norwegian
(x) Trek Dutch (trekken)
Question 2. Notice the underlined words in these sentences and tick the option that best explains their meaning
(a) “What a thunderclap these words were to me!”
The words were
(i) loud and clear
(ii) startling and unexpected
(iii) pleasant and welcome
(b) “When people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison”.
It is as if they have the key to the prison as long as they
(i) do not lose their language.
(ii) are attached to their language.
(iii) quickly learn the conqueror’s language.
(c) Don’t go so fast, you will get to your school in plenty of time.
You will get to your school
(i) very late
(ii) too early
(iii) early enough
(d) I never saw him look so tall.
(i) had grown physically taller
(ii) seemed very confident
(iii) stood on the chair
Answer (a) (i) loud and clear
(b) (ii) are attached to their language
(c) (iii) early enough
(d) (iii) stood on the chair
EXTRA QUESTIONS SHORT ANSWER TYPE
1. What was the narrator’s greatest fear as he moved 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.
2. What was more tempting to Franz rather than going to school?
Ans. The weather was pleasant, warm and bright. The chirruping birds were inviting him, the soldiers drilling in the field were also outdoors and Franz was not prepared with participles.
3. What was the news which was put up on the bulletin board?
Ans. For the last two years all bad news – the lost battles, the orders of the commanding officer was displayed on the notice board. That day, the news that only German would be taught in the school of Alsace and Lorraine was displayed on the notice-board which made the crowd gather there to read
4. What was so unusual about the school on that day?
Ans. Usually, there would be a great bustle of opening and closing of the desk, lesson repeated loudly and the teacher’s ruler rapping on the table but that day was very calm and quiet like Sunday morning. The backbenches which were usually empty were occupied by the village people and M.Hamel wore his special dress and was pacing up and down with a ruler under his arm.
5. Why were the villagers seated on the backbenches?
Ans. All the village elders were seated on the backbenches as a tribute to the teacher who had put in 40 years of sincere service. It was also their way of expressing regret for not learning their mother tongue when they had the chance. They were also expressing their patriotism and solidarity with France
6. Franz didn’t learn French whom did M. Hamel blame?
Ans. M. Hamel didn’t blame Franz for not learning but his parents who were not anxious to have him learn. Instead, they wanted him to work on a farm or at the mill to earn money. Even M. Hamel was also to be blamed for sending him to water the flowers instead of learning and when he wanted to go fishing he declared a holiday.
7. What did M. Hamel say about French language?
Ans. He said that it is the most beautiful language in the world- the clearest, the most logical. He requested them to guard it so that they can be united and fight back for their freedom.
8. What happened when the church clock struck 12?
Ans. The moment the church clock struck 12 the Prussian army came to take over and M. Hamel stood up, wanted to tell something but his voice was choked. He gathered his strength and wrote on the blackboard as large as he could – ‘Vive La France’ and dismissed the school.
LONG ANSWER QUESTIONS
1. Justify the title of the story “The Last Lesson”.
People always feel there is plenty of time to learn—so also in Alsace—now no time—parents not keen—preferred children, work in farms, mill—Franz looked opportunity to escape school—never
serious—receive orders from Berlin—people realize the importance of their language—attend the last lesson by M. Hamel.