The Last Lesson by Alphonse Daudet is a story (real) that presents how miserably the French people felt when their enemies banned French language in their schools. A short story for class 12, the Last Lesson makes us think of the importance of one’s own language.

Prussian troops conquered Alsace and Lorraine in the year 1870. They imposed new rules on the people. Today they banned French and introduced their language – German – in Alsace. All the French teachers have been ordered to quit their school. While people discussed their fate in silence, the French teacher was teaching his last class in his school. He was M Hamel. He had been teaching French for the last 40 years but he was not very dedicated. Nor were his students. With the ban imposed, both, the teacher and students realize their fault. They regret their laziness. They blame themselves.

Bit/Bits

  • A German coalition power called Prussia conquered two states of France – Alsace and Lorraine. /alsaas//lorein/ in the year 1870.
  • The new government imposed a number of regulations and bans on the people of these states.
  • A boy from Alsace is on his way to school. He is unwilling to school and scared of his teacher, M. 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 (a huge notice 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.
    • New 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 – for not having learnt his lessons.
  • He listened to M. Hamel’s last lecture. Wonder! He understood every word, every grammar, every rule.
  • The last class transformed his 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!

Terms to Include in your Answers

  • M Hamel
    • Earlier – Rude, lazy, not dedicated
    • Change – Patient, patriotic, a deep love for French, not scolding, understanding
  • Franz
    • Earlier – Lazy, not studious, wandering away from school, never cared about studies
    • Change – Suddenly started loving French, hated the Prussians, longed to study French
  • Classroom
    • Earlier – Noisy, uncontrollable, chaotic, loud, no learning, no teaching
    • Change – Calm, silent, greatly attentive
  • Prussians – Imposed new bans, marched everywhere, disregarded the freedom of the French people, barbaric, unfeeling, insensitive,
  • Ban – No more French, learn German instead, all French teachers leave the country.
  • The Alsace Public

Opening – Franz is Going to School

Two states of France, Alsace and Lorraine, were conquered by the Prussian troops in the beginning of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war. (The war lasted for only one year) The new government imposed rules and bans on the French people. The last of the bans was the ban on the learning and teaching of French.

The news of the ban was displayed on the bulletin board in front of the town hall. People crowded there to read the bulletin. They were very much shocked and sad. They had to accept the ban under great resentment. They saw how much they had loved their mother tongue. They saw how important their language was. They didn’t want to lose their language. They discussed their fate, shared their bitterness and felt helpless.

It was at this time Franz was rushing to his school. He was a student of the elementary school in Alsace run by Mister Hamel, the teacher who taught them French. He was, as usual, late. A blacksmith, Mr. Watcher, saw him dashing by. Watcher expressed his anger and helplessness at the ban on French by asking Franz not to go in such a hurry as there was no more French to be learnt. But Franz hurried on, because he didn’t understand what Mr. Watcher mean.

Questions & Answers

  1. What did Watcher mean by saying Franz would get to his school in plenty of time?
    Watcher, the blacksmith, meant it ironically. He meant there was no more French taught in the school as per the ban imposed by the Prussians and it would take a long time to get it back and therefore there was no need to hurry to his school.
  2. What attracted Franz on his way to school?
    Franz was attracted by the warm weather outside. The birds that chirped at the edge of the forest and the Prussian soldiers who were drilling also slowed down his interest to go to school.
  3. Why was Franz late for school that day?
    Franz was instinctively not interested in learning French language. That day he had to learn the rules of Participles and he was least prepared for that and was therefore afraid of his teacher, M. Hamel. Moreover, he was allured by the attractions on the way to school.
  4. Why was Franz not able to understand if Mr. Wachter was teasing him or not?
    Franz didn’t understand what Mr. Wachter meant by saying there was plenty of time for Franz to get to his school because he was illiterate and therefore didn’t understand the order published on the bulletin board.
  5. What hidden message did Watcher’s advice to Franz contain?
    Wachter’s advice for Franz hid a message for him. Having had no safe way to communicate to Franz and scared of working against the Prussian order, M Wachter was trying to tell him that there was no need to rush to his school as there was no French taught there anymore.
  6. Describe the atmosphere of the school on usual days.
    On usual days the school no longer looked like a school. The noises inside the school could be heard out in the street. Children were in a playful mood, opening and closing their desks and shouting their lessons in chorus. The teacher had to use his ruler to silence the class.

Next – At School

Once outside the school, Franz wondered at the silence around the school. It was never silent like this! Was it Sunday? He wondered. He waited for the noises from the school to get in without being noticed but there was not a sound. Finally he had to go in in front of all. To his amazement he was not punished for his late coming. M. Hamel, the cranky teacher, asked him to get in and regretted having begun the class without Franz. Franz took his seat.

Among others Franz noticed that the classroom was full and there were some old villagers sitting in the back benches. M. Hamel announced that it was their last French class as the Prussians had banned French in schools and introduced German instead. It was shocking news for Franz. Only then he understood why the people had been staring at the bulletin board. He too felt his love for French returning. He hated the Prussians for every reason. He began to love his teacher, classroom, books and lessons. He felt sorry for not learning his lessons, for postponing his study and for not realizing the greatness of his language.

Questions & Answers

  1. How did the classroom look different that last day? Whose presence was extraordinary?
    For the first time in its existence, M. Hamel’s classroom looked like an ideal classroom. There was a deep silence in the class. No one spoke a word. All were sad. Besides, the presence of the villagers there was extraordinary.
  2. Why was that class to be the Last Class?
    Alsace was conquered by the Prussians and as a result a new order came from Berlin to ban teaching of French in the schools of Alsace. The order further said that all the French teachers like M. Hamel had to leave the territory within a day and therefore that class was to be the last class.
  3. How had Franz’ books become ‘old friends for him?
    Friends become sweeter when they depart from us. With the ban on French, his books were also going to separate from Franz and therefore they seemed to be old friends for him.
  4. Franz related the extraordinary changes in the classroom to the ban on French that had been published on the bulletin board. How?
    When Franz passed the bulletin board at the Town Hall, he didn’t know what was so curious about it. Later, when he reached his school there were changes and curiosity there too. Finally when he was told of the ban on French and of M. Hamel’s transfer, he connected the order on the bulletin board and the extraordinary changes in the classroom.

Next – M. Hamel’s speech

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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