Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to chapter 4 (prose) “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet which is a part of Class 12 Alternative English syllabus for students studying under the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).
Summary: Alphonse Daudet is the author of “The Last Lesson.” The author recounts events in the year 1870, when France was seized by Bismarck-led Prussian soldiers and French teaching was discontinued in several places. This story shows how people feel when they are unable to learn their mother tongue. 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 conquering its French districts of Alsace and Lorraine, Berlin has ordered that German be taught in schools instead of French. It is the last day of M. Hamel’s forty-year career as their French teacher. He is overcome with grief, nostalgia, and patriotism. The village men also attend his ‘final lesson’ to show their appreciation for his hard work. They are disappointed since they did not learn their mother tongue, French, as children.
Franz is surprised to learn that this is his final lesson because he does not speak French. Now, all of a sudden, he is interested in learning it and understands everything that was taught that day! He instantly likes and appreciates his teacher, M. Hamel, for his sincerity and hard effort. He is saddened by his departure and embarrassed by his inability to recite the participles instruction.
M. Hamel reminds them that they are all to blame for not being willing to learn and putting it off until the next day. He blames himself for failing to teach them sincerely. His patriotism is shown in his appreciation for the French language as the world’s most beautiful and logical language. He warns the students to defend their language because knowing one’s language is the key to escaping the prison of enslavement. It will aid them in their escape from the Germans.
They recognise the significance of studying their mother tongue and the fact that they were vanquished by the Germans due to their illiteracy. Franz believes that it is impossible to take away a person’s language because it is natural to each being, whether it is “coo” to pigeons or “French” to Frenchmen.
Answer the following questions briefly.
1. Why was Franz surprised on reaching the Classroom?
Answer: When Franz entered the classroom, he was surprised to see that the backbenches, which were usually unoccupied, were occupied by village people dressed as students. Among those present were Old Hauser, the former major, the former postmaster, and several more. It was also unusually silent that morning.
2. Why had the elders attended the class that day?
Answer: The elders attended the class that day since it was the last day before the order from Berlin that all schools in Alsace and Lorraine should begin teaching in German would be implemented. They came to pay their respects to M. Hamel, who had been teaching them for over forty years.
3. Why was M Hamel leaving?
Answer: M. Hamel was leaving because Berlin had given them the order to only teach German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. Because new teachers would be arriving the following day, there would be no need for French teachers.
4. What did M Hamel say to Franz instead of scolding him when he forgot the participles?
Answer: Instead of scolding Franz for forgetting the participles, M. Hamel advised him to feel sorry for himself. He emphasised their delay in studying, stating that they had always assumed there was plenty of time and would study the next day. With sadness, he stated that their time had come to an end. He also voiced sadness that they could not be called or claim to be Frenchmen because they did not know how to talk or write in their native language. However, he tells Franz that he is not the only one who should be ashamed of himself, but that everyone should be ashamed of themselves.
Explain the following lines with reference to the context.
1. Ah, how well I remember it, that Last Lesson!
Answer: The given sentence is taken from the story “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet. The writer here is talking about Franz’s feelings that he would remember that last day when he apologised for not being interested in studying the lessons and always procrastinating about getting serious about his lessons. He was surprised to find that it was his final French session, and he was disappointed. He immediately expressed his gratitude to M. Hamel for his sincerity and 40 years of hard work. When it was his turn, he was embarrassed because he couldn’t even recite the lesson on participles. In the last class, they grasped the necessity of learning their mother tongue and embraced the French language, believing that only language is the path to escaping the prison of slavery.
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.
Answer: When people are enslaved, as long as they protect their language, it would be as if they had the key to their jail. The foundation of one’s identity and self-esteem is love and allegiance to one’s motherland and mother tongue. Anyone who cannot love his or her country and language cannot love anything or anyone in this world. Our country and language provide us with the most in our lives; if we can’t love them, we are really ungrateful beings.
Many countries around the world secured independence from imperialistic countries by sticking to their mother tongue. Our country, India, was similarly subjected to the imposition of foreign languages by oppressors, but our freedom fighters clung to their languages.
Both the German and the French exhibit language chauvinism in Alphonso Daudet’s chapter Last Lesson. The Germans imposed their language on the French, while the French were concerned and saddened by the loss of their mother tongue. They devised elaborate strategies to safeguard their native tongue.
Answer the following questions in detail.
1. Why did the lesson appear easy to Franz on the last day?
Answer: Franz found M. Hamel’s French class so effortless on that day because he had previously neglected French, but because he knew it was his last French class, he was paying attention and discovered that French wasn’t a difficult subject. Also, it appeared as if M. Hamel intended to offer it to the students and elders before leaving. tried to cram everything into their heads all at once. As a result, on the final day of class, the lesson was easily understood.
2. Provide a character sketch of M Hamel on the basis of the reading of your story.
Answer: M. Hamel was a real Frenchman. After forty years of teaching in Alsace, he had become a part of its people. He was a trustworthy educator. He did not blame poor learning on his students alone. He also held himself accountable for the same. He was quite patriotic in his call to his countrymen to stick to their mother tongue in order to be free of the Prussians. According to him, the French language was the most beautiful, clear, and rational language in the world. He asked his countrymen to protect it and never forget it. He was tremendously committed to the school and all of his kids. He was, nonetheless, a courageous and strong man. He felt deeply sorry for not making earnest efforts to teach his people French. In the end, he grew so emotional that he couldn’t talk.
3. Describe how M. Hamel conducted the last lesson.
Answer: M. Hamel was particularly calm that morning, and the entire class was abnormally quiet compared to other regular days. He was not furious with Franz when he arrived late for class and simply told him to sit down. He began his French language lesson by instructing Franz to repeat the participles, which he failed. He was not disappointed in Franz or any of his students, but rather in the fact that they had not properly learned the French language. He reminded them that language was the only way out of the prison of slavery, and he pushed them to protect their mother tongue. He went on to speak on the French language, claiming that it was the most beautiful language in the world, as well as the clearest and most logical. Everyone sat patiently and carefully listened to every word M. Hamel said, filled with grief and shame that they had always put off learning their language properly, but that it was the last lesson. The entire surroundings were imbued with a melancholy aura, and the class ended as the clock struck twelve. M. Hamel stood up, pale, and attempted to say something, but something choked him and he couldn’t continue. Turning to the blackboard, he took a piece of chalk and scribbled “Vive la France,” which translates as “Long Live France.” He came to a halt, leaned against the wall, and motioned with his hand that class was finished.
4. What does M Hamel say to his class about the importance of the French language?
Answer: During the last class, M. Hamel proclaims “French” to be the most beautiful language in the world. He continues by claiming that it is the best-constructed language, with the most rational and unambiguous phrases. He asks everyone to protect the language because one can never be enslaved as long as one has his/her language. He also believes that everyone should love and respect their mother tongue in order to preserve their heritage and the spirit of their true selves. This demonstrates people’s attachment to their own culture, customs, and country. Pride in one’s mother tongue expresses pride in one’s motherland.
Think and discuss.
1. Explain the concept of linguistic chauvinism on the basis of your reading of the story ‘The Last Lesson.’
Answer: Linguistic Chauvinism refers to the irrational belief that your own country and language are the finest and most significant. The story ‘The Last Lesson’ is about language chauvinism and how man finds himself in its confines. But Hamel’s and the village elders’ love of French does not equate to this. They are, rather, victims of it. Alsace’s French-speaking population is being forced to learn German. The Alsatians’ acquisition of power made the Prussians so powerful that they imposed even their language on the others. They desired to have control over their subjects’ brains and hearts, and they wanted them to think in their language, forcing them to lose their own identity. Thus, the story emphasises linguistic chauvinism, which is becoming a major cause of war and political upheaval around the world.
Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions
1. What was Franz supposed to prepare on that particular day?
Answer: M. Hamel had stated that he would question them on participles that day, therefore Franz was expected to be prepared with them. Franz had no idea what participles were.
2. What did Franz notice about the school that day that was unusual?
Answer: When school started, there was always a lot of hustle and bustle that could be heard all the way down the street. But it was eerily quiet that day. Everything was as peaceful as it had been on Sunday morning. There were no desk openings or closings. His classmates had already taken their seats. Instead of banging on the table, the teacher’s huge ruler was under M. Hamel’s arm.
3. What was posted on the bulletin board?
Answer: The bulletin board had been the source of all bad news for the last two years. From Berlin, an order had been issued to teach solely German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. This notification had been posted on the bulletin board by the Germans.
4. How did Franz’s opinions about M. Hamel and the school change?
Answer: Franz learned that this was M. Hamel’s final French lesson for them. They will only be taught German starting the next day. He felt bad for not paying attention in class. His books, which had before appeared to be a nuisance and a burden, were now old companions. His sentiments for M. Hamel had also shifted. He’d forgotten about his ruler and how grumpy he was.
5. “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” Franz wonders. What does this imply?
Answer: Franz’s remark exemplifies a typical French reaction to the imposition of learning German, the conqueror’s language. Being denied the opportunity to learn one’s mother tongue would sever all ties to one’s motherland. Teaching the pigeons to sing in German demonstrates how far the Germans would go in their linguistic chauvinist ambitions.
6. Why do you think tiny Franz was terrified of being scolded?
Answer: Franz was frightened of being chastised that day, especially because M. Hamel, the teacher, had stated that he would quiz them on participles. Franz freely confesses that he knew nothing about the subject. Also, he had arrived at school late that morning.
7. What was Wachter’s name? What did he ask Franz, and why did he ask it? What was Franz’s reaction?
Answer: Wachter worked as a blacksmith. He was reading the most recent bulletin. He urged Franz to slow down on his way to school. He went on to say that the youngster would arrive at school on time. Wachter had read the most recent bulletin on German teaching. Franz assumed the blacksmith was making fun of him. As a result, he dashed to school, arriving breathless.
8. What three things in school surprised Franz the most on that particular day?
Answer: M. Hamel, the teacher, had first put on his magnificent Sunday clothes—his gorgeous green coat, frilled shirt, and embroidered small black silk cap. Second, the entire school appeared odd and gloomy. Third, the villagers were sitting calmly like schoolchildren on the backbenches, which were typically unoccupied.
9. Why had the villagers come to school on that particular day? How did they appear?
Answer: The villagers had gathered to thank M. Hamel for his forty years of devoted service. They also wanted to pay their respects to the country that was no longer theirs. They regretted not attending school more frequently. They sat quietly and seemed downcast.
10. What caused Franz to avoid school?
Answer: Franz was unprepared for the test on participles. The Prussian soldiers were drilling in an open field behind the sawmill. At the edge of the woods, birds were chirping. He was tempted by these things.
11. How did M. Hamel feel and act in the last lesson?
Answer: M. Hamel was grave and polite in his response. During the writing class, he sat still in his chair. He fixed his focus on one of two things. Perhaps he wanted to remember how everything looked in that small schoolroom. Leaving it all after forty years must have shattered his heart.
12. How did M. Hamel act as the last lesson ended?
Answer: M. Hamel rose up in his chair to respond. He appeared to be quite pale and tall. He wanted to say goodbye, but something choked him. Then, using a piece of chalk, he scribbled “Vive La France!” on the blackboard. He came to a halt. He slumped against the wall, his head down. He made a motion with his hand to the children to allow them to leave as the school day came to an end.
13. What command had been received from Berlin on that particular day? What impact did it have on school life?
Answer: Berlin had issued an order mandating that only German be taught in Alsace and Lorraine schools. This directive has far-reaching consequences for school life. M. Hamel, who had taught French at the village school for the previous forty years, will give his final class that day.
M. Hamel, the teacher, was impeccably dressed in honour of the last lesson. The villagers sat quietly in the back of the classroom. They were both upset and sorry for not attending school any longer. They had come to express gratitude to the master for his forty years of dedicated service and to show respect for the nation that was no longer theirs. In a grave and kind tone, the teacher addressed the students. He urged them to stay quiet and slowly explained everything. He pleaded with them to keep the French alive among them. He was overcome with emotion and was unable to properly bid farewell.
14. Discuss the title ‘The Last Lesson’ and its appropriateness.
Answer: The title of the story is both suitable and intriguing. It is the focal point of the story throughout, and the plot revolves around it. The first part of the story serves as a warm-up for the second part. The extraordinary quietness at school, the presence of village elders, and the teacher dressed for the occasion—the final lesson in French in a French village school in a Prussian-conquered district—all point to the rare and unique occasion. During the last lesson, the teacher wishes to impart all of his knowledge at once. He explains everything patiently, and both students and elderly villagers pay close attention. It was an amazing experience for the narrator. Because the teacher was unable to communicate his emotions due to a blocked throat, he concludes the lesson by writing “Vive La France” on the chalkboard. He motions with his hand indicating the school is closed and that children may go home.