The Last lesson is a short story set in a time of War, where the territories of Alsace and Lorraine went into the hands of Prussia. This happened during 1870, When Otto von Bismarck's army stormed the area and held it under control. Earlier on, the territories of Alsace-Lorraine belonged to France. This Franco-Prussian or Franco-German war is also called the War of 1870.
AUTHOR: The author of this short story is Alphonse Daudet. He was born in 1840 and died in 1897. He was a French novelist and therefore he wrote this short story from the perspective of defeated. He is also known as the author of sentimental tales about provincial life of France. Franco-German War had a profound impact on his life. He was a part of French Naturalism movement. He had also been a school teacher which is why his short story presents such a fine description of school life.
SUMMARY: The story starts with the description of a boy named Franz, who is very scared of his French teacher M. Hamel. M. Hamel is a very strict teacher and Franz has a poor command over French language. This day, when the story starts, Franz has to answer M. Hamel on questions related to participles and so he is really scared. Franz thinks of bunking his class and spending his time outdoors but his innerself stops him from doing that, so he finally decides to attend the school. By the time he decides to attend his class, it already grows very late so he is rushing to his school; the blacksmith named Watcher, after reading the bulletin board, asks Franz to go to school steadily and to not hurry up. Franz thinks that Watcher is making fun of him so he doesn't pay any heed to what Watcher told him and rushes off to school. When he reaches his class, he is all out of breath and his heart starts pounding but unlike usual days M.Hamel treats him rather kindly and asks him to sit down. After a few minutes of being seated when finally Franz could gather his senses, he notices that the villagers are seated at the back benches which ususally were empty, the school has pin drop silence in it, and M.Hamel is wearing his beautiful green coat and his silk cap. He is dressed in such a manner as he used to get when there was some ceremony at school. Then finally when M.Hamel says "this is the last lesson i shall give you" , Franz is shaken to his core and becomes very sad. He now understands what was the news on that bulletain board that compelled Watcher to ask Franz to go school slowly. Franz suddenly starts missing his teacher M.Hamel and his French language, over which he has not gained any command. After watching the pigeons, little Franz thinks to himself that will the prussian army make the pigeons also sing in German.
When Franz is questioned about the paticiples, he is hardly able to speak the first word about it. Franz is really embarrased but M.Hamel consoles him, saying that it is not only Franz's fault but also the mistake of his parents and teacer for that matter. M.Hamel is very sad at the fact that when the Prussian people will ask the people of Alsace and Lorraine about their language, they wont be able to speak it properly and will become a subject of mockery in front of defeaters. M.Hamel teaches the last lesson with all his enthusiasm, he wanted the students to grasp as much as they can, and the French language which appeared so difficult to Franz earlier, now becomes suddeny very easy for him. The reason for this ease might be that it was the last class of French lesson because the next day they will be taught German, one other reason for it was that M. Hamel taught the students with all his effort, it was probably his best class in which he taught the students very energetically. ALas! the bell rings and M.Hamel is so chocked that it becomes hard for him to speak, so, he gestures the students to leave the class and he bids farewell by writing on the board "Vive La France" which means long live France.
Themes: 1 Identity crises: The short story depicts the theme of identity crises which Alsace-Lorraine faced after losing the battle to Prussia. We see an emotion of sadness and chaos displayed through the story. All the people have become quiet, there is pin drop silence, every one is carrying a pale look after their defeat.
2 Linguistc chauvinism: Linguistic means related to language. We see how the victor becomes authoritative even over the language of defeated class and how the defeated class is remained with no option except to accept whatever is dictated to them and even after loving their native language so much, they finally have to accept the language of ruling class.
3 Displacement: A theme of displacement is evident in the story. Taking the example of M.Hamel whose occupation has ended because of the ban over language, there are many people who lose their occupation as a result of war and therefore they have to leave their country.
4 Uncertainity: We see how uncertain Franz becomes about what is going to happen next , so, he thinks whether the rulers will also make the pigeons sing in German because no one knows what this war will bring forth to them.
5 Innocence versus experience: In the days before the territories of Alsace-Loraaine were lost, every one was so innocent, M.Hamel was obsessed with gardening, Franz took pleasure in exploring the outside world but the moment people of the town hear the news, they suddenly becomes serious about life. Now, M.Hamel wants to teach students very sincerely, the students want to learn, people of the town are also attentive in the class, They have now learnt how worst the consequences of nonseriousness could be.
Symbols: 1 Franz is symbolical of the future of France. He represents the generational failure due to which he couldn't gain command over the language.
2 Bulletin board is symbolical of bad news because it's the time of war and during it the bulletin board always brings bad news, biggest of it being the defeat of Alsace-Lorraine.