About the Author: Alphonse Daudet (13 May 1840 – 16 December 1897) was a French novelist. Some of his famous work includes three Tartarins Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon year 1872, and the three-act play L’Arlésienne. But Fromont jeune et Risler aîné (1874) at once took the world by storm. It struck a note, not new certainly in English literature, but comparatively new in French. His creativeness resulted in characters that were real and also typical. His other work includes Jack, a novel about an illegitimate child, a martyr to his mother’s selfishness, which followed in 1876, served only to deepen the same impression. Daudet died in Paris on 16 December 1897, and was interred at that city’s Père Lachaise Cemetery.
Summary of The Last Lesson – Class 12 CBSE
The story begins with young Franz who got late for school on a gentle morning. Franz was scared that his teacher, Mr. Hamil, was going to scold him as he had not prepared his French lessons on participles on which he was supposed to be questioned. He was tempted by the chirping birds and the drilling of the Prussian soldiers but somehow managed to hurry off to school. On his way to school he had to pass the town hall and noticed a crowd in front of the bulletin board. He immediately recalled the incidents in the past when the bulletin board only gave them bad news- the lost battles, the orders of the commanding officer and so on. However, he hastened off to school but to his surprise, he school was abnormally “still”. Usually there is a lot of hassle during the school hours caused by the opening and closing of desks, repetition of lessons in unison, e teacher’s ruler rapping on the table and more. BUt today everything was as quiet as a Sunday morning. When Franz finally reached the classroom, he saw all his classmates seated in their places while M. Hamel was seen walking up and down with his ruler. He was terrified to get inside the class. But M. Hamel did not reprimand him for being late, instead, he kindly asked him to sit on his place.
As he sat down at his desk he suddenly noticed his teacher’s dress for the day. He was dressed formally in his “beautiful green coat”, his frilled shirt and his black silk embroidered cap that he wore only on inspection and prize days. This added to the strangeness of the day and suggested that today was a special day. Again, he noticed that the back benches that are usually empty were filled with the village people including old Hauser, the former mayor, the former postmaster and a lot of other people. Franz was unable to figure anything out as everything about the day was unusual. He sat down there wondering what was going on when M. Hamel announced that today was the last French lesson that he was going to give as an order had come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. Even though Franz feared his master and had no idea about French participles, this news came as a shock to him. He barely knew any French. He felt really sorry for not learning his lessons properly. He regretted the times he seeked bird’s eggs or went for sliding on the Saar and not learning his lessons. The French books that seemed to be a burden on him suddenly became something that was too precious to give up. Even though M. Hamel was a strict and cranky teacher, the idea of not being able to see him again made Franz sad.
Now everything made sense to him. He realized why M. Hamel was wearing his formal clothes and why the old men of the village had gathered in the back of the room. Their presence was a tribute to the master for his selfless and faithful service for forty years. They also felt sorry for themselves that they had not gone to school for longer.
When M. Hamel asked Franz to recite the rules of participles, he wanted to get it right but he was too nervous and mixed everything up. M. Hamel did not scold him for not being able to answer correctly. Instead he says that it is because the students have often postponed their learning till tomorrow. They always feel that there is time to learn and now that the time has come when they are not left with any choice, they are unable to answer. He further adds that Franz’s identity as a Frenchman did not have any weightage as he could neither speak nor write his own language. M. Hamel does not only blame the students for this situation. He feels that the parents are not very interested in their children’s education. They would prefer to see the children working and earning a little for the family rather than learning French. He also blames himself for engaging Franz to water his flowers instead of learning his lessons. He felt bad for giving a holiday to the students when he had to go fishing.
Hamel goes on to describe the French language as the clearest and the most logical language in the world. He felt that people should always cling to their own language as he believes that when people are enslaved, it is through their language that they can find the key to their prison. When we are imprisoned, they most freedom that we can enjoy is in speaking or writing in our own language. M. Hamel taught them grammar for the last time. To his surprise, for the first time Franza understood everything. The fact that he was never going to learn French again made him listen to M. Hamel very attentively. M. Hamel also explained everything with a lot of patience, It seemed like he wanted to share everything he knew about the French language at one go. He wanted to impart all his knowledge to his students before going away.
Following the grammar lesson was a lesson in writing. Everyone was “set to work”. Contrasted to the daily cacophony, the only sound that was heard was the scratching of pens. Franz suddenly heard a pigeon cooing and found himself wondering if they would be made to sing in German as well or not. This brings forward the critical question of linguistic chauvinism and denial of the freedom of one’s own language.
As Franz looked up from the desk, he saw M. Hamel sitting idle. He fixed his gaze at everything in the room from time to time. It seemed like he wanted to capture everything about the school room in his mind. He had been living there for the past forty years and now he was made to leave the country. This was a difficult time in his life and yet he was courageous and determined to teach till the very last moment. The babies were babbling and old Hauser put on his spectacle and attempted to spell the letters. His voice was quivering with emotions.
Finally it was time for the class to get over. M. Hamel stood up and attempted to say his last words but he choked. He was deeply soaked in emotions and could not utter anything. He turned to the blackboard and wrote “ Vive La France” with a hope that the French language will be appreciated for what it is.