Theme of “The Last Lesson” by Alphonse Daudet
The themes of patriotism, freedom of language and the love for one’s mother tongue are predominant in the story. The people of Alsace and Lorraine were denied the freedom to learn their own language by the Prussians.
This story reflects upon the arrogance of the colonizer to forcibly take away the rights of those who are colonized. “The last lesson” stresses on the importance of education and the necessity to respect and learn one’s own language. This story draws our attention to the unfair practice of linguistic chauvinism. It refers to an unreasonable pride in one’s own language while disregarding all the other languages as inferior.
The people living in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine are the victims of this aggressive concept of linguistic chauvinism. They are forcibly made to learn German. In this story, the author brings into limelight the oppression of the majority. This story also makes a universal appeal as it highlights our tendency to value things more when we no longer have access to them. When French was taught in the school, Franz and the likes of him did not take it seriously. The parents also preferred to see their kids working and earning for the family rather learning French.
It is only when they are denied the freedom of knowing their own language, they realize how sorry they are for not paying enough attention to the French lessons and how unfairly they are being treated. The sense of loss is suggested with the mention of the Prussians drilling their land. There is a sense of helplessness that runs throughout the poem. Franz feels guilty for not learning his French lessons properly. M. Hamel feels guilty about not being able to impart all his knowledge to his students. The sense of defeat is evident in his tone which is usually strict and cranky but today he was gentle, quiet and motionless.
It is not justified to take away the natural right of the people to speak their mother tongue. The solemnity of the classroom builds up the mood of gloom and despair. M. Hamel says that the only way to free themselves from the enslavement is by clinging to their own language. In confined existence, the only key to our prison is our language.