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The Last Lesson
1) What was the narrator’s great dread when he started for school & why? How did he plan to escape the scolding? What was much more tempting than the rules for participles? ‘I had the strength to resist’. What does he resist & how? What does this show about him?
Ans–Dread was of a scolding from M. Hamel who would be asking questions on participles that day & the narrator hadn’t learnt them. He felt that he would run away & spend the day out of doors as it was warm & bright outside. The chirping of the birds in the woods & the Prussian soldiers drilling in the open field was much more tempting to see & enjoy than the rules for participles. But he resisted this temptation by saying that he had strength to resist all this & hurried off to school. It shows that he had self-restrain.
2) What is the significance of the terms ‘the Prussian soldiers were drilling’, ‘draft’, ‘lost battles’?
Ans–They all remind of the Prussian invasion of France & the soldiers were getting military exercises in & around the town to highlight the loss of political freedom & force their presence on the people of Alsace. ‘Draft’ is a scheme or a written version of a speech or document enforcing compulsory military service for the people of Alsace by joining the Prussian army. ‘Lost battles’ are the wars they have lost against the Prussian army. All these terms highlight the grim atmosphere of the war.
3) The school child’s plight is similar to the condition of the soldiers drilling. Comment.
Ans–The child’s wanting to run away is a symbol of his love for freedom like other children but like the soldiers, he too is bound to the system. He like the soldiers can’t break free whether he likes his school or not.
4) Who was Wachter? What is the significance of his comment “You’ll get to your school in plenty of time”?
Ans– He was a blacksmith who stood with other people & his apprentice reading the bulletin board & commented thus in response to the order he had read which barred the teaching of French in schools. Franz did not understand the significance of his words & thought that he was making fun of him as he was hurrying to school for being late so that he could escape a scolding from M. Hamel.
5) Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle. Comment. ‘Now it was all so still!’ Explain. What does he refer to? Why was it like a Sunday morning? ‘The whole school seemed strange & solemn.’ Why? How?
Ans– When school began the bustle could be heard in the street. The sound of the opening & closing of desks, lessons repeated in unison loudly & the teacher’s ruler rapping on the table could be heard daily. But today all was still. It was like a quiet Sunday morning as through the window he saw his classmates sitting in their places, M. Hamel walking up & down with his ruler under his arm & the atmosphere was tense & grim.
6) How was the commotion significant for Franz? What had he counted on & why? Why did he blush & feel frightened? The narrator’s plan to enter school unnoticed was foiled. How?
Ans– The narrator was late to school & wanted to enter the class during the bustle to escape being noticed so that he would not be scolded by M. Hamel. But when he entered, the school atmosphere was so still & silent that he felt frightened & blushed to enter the class by opening the door in front of everybody.
7) ‘But nothing happened’. What had Franz expected to happen? How did M. Hamel behave & appear different from other days?
Ans–The statement is ironical as Franz had expected to be scolded by M. Hamel for being late to school and not learning the rules of participles, but he talked to him very kindly & asked him to take his seat quickly as they were beginning with their lesson. He saw that the usually vacant back benches were occupied by the village elders. After he got over his fright he saw that his teacher was dressed differently as he did on inspection or prize days. He wore his beautiful green coat, frilled shirt & little black embroidered silk cap. He was surprised as it was not a special day & yet there were so many changes in the school & teacher’s behaviour & appearance.
8) What surprised Franz most in the class? Comment on the significance of ‘Everybody looked sad’. Who & why?
Ans– On the back benches that were always empty, he found villagers like old Hauser, the former mayor, the former postmaster & many others sitting. They had brought old primers & held them open ready for them to read. They all looked sad because it was the last French class & lesson they were attending according to orders from Berlin & they all realized their mistake of postponing the learning of French till now & the lack of political freedom & identity they would face from the next day.
9) What did M. Hamel announce mounting his chair? Which words were a thunderclap for the narrator & why? Whom does he call ‘wretches’ & why?
Ans– The announcement of M. Hamel was a thunderclap when he said that an order had come from Berlin to teach German in the schools of Alsace & Lorraine & the new master would arrive the next day. He requested everyone to be attentive as it was their last French lesson. Franz calls the Germans as ‘wretches’ who had put up this order on the bulletin board of the town hall.
10) Explain the significance of Franz’s comment “My last French lesson”. What was his reaction to hearing M. Hamel’s announcement? ‘Absence or parting from something can make us realize its worth’. Comment. ‘Dire situations turn out to be lessons in life’. Comment. How is Franz’s reaction ironical?
Ans– After the announcement, he realizes & regrets the fact that he hadn’t given any importance to the learning of his mother tongue & now had to part with it forever. Regrets – He hardly knew how to write. He didn’t learn his lessons wasting his time seeking birds’ eggs or going sliding on the sear. His books that seemed a nuisance & heavy load ( like books on grammar, history of saints) now seemed to be old friends whom he couldn’t give up. Mr Hamel who seemed to be cranky with his ruler was now someone important for Franz. He had hated things till now but parting from them changed his feelings, which is ironical.
11) What looked like flags & what is the significance of the term ‘flag’ & the words written on the new copies? Explain the significance of ‘will they make the pigeons also sing in German?’
Ans–The new copies which M. Hamel had brought for the students for a lesson in writing with ‘France, Alsace, France, Alsace,’ written on them looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school- room. These words & the term ‘flags’ highlight the sense of nationality & patriotism & the sadness at being deprived of political freedom & identity. The significance of ‘Will———- German?’ is to show the plight of the people who were free as pigeons (which is a symbol of freedom) but are now forced under Prussian dictatorship. They are forced to suffer under linguistic chauvinism where German instead of French would be compulsory for them.
12) How does the theme of The last lesson by Alphonse Daudet relate to the subject of language and culture?
Answer: Alphonse Daudet’s ‘The Last Lesson’ very prominently raises the question of the linguistic and cultural hegemony of the colonial and imperial powers and their lust for controlling the world and influencing their cultures and identities.
The Last Lesson raises the burning question very innocently through the words of little Franz that “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” This raises the question of immorality of imposing imperial (royal/colonial) languages and cultures on the colonies. The child questions that when even the birds and animals can’t be forced to abandon their language and speak other languages then what forces the man to think that it would be a prudent force for other human beings to forcibly accept any language other than theirs.
The language of a country is not only a medium of communication for the people but also the link for identity, once the native language is snatched away from the people. It’s not only the loss of convenient communicating medium but also the loss of identity for people for what they have been and what they might become.
When a small child like Franz can think of the irrationality behind snatching away the right of language and identity from people then why can’t the warlords and colonizers understand the fact?
Justify the title – ‘Last Lesson’
The story ‘The Last Lesson’ highlights the human tendency that there is plenty of time to do things and hence man keeps postponing the lessons of life, oblivious to the fact that life is subject to change. The people of Alsace always thought they have plenty of time to learn the lesson and so did not give much importance to the school. They preferred their children to work on the farms and mills instead of having them learn the lessons. Even Franz the narrator always looked for opportunities to skip the school to collect birds’ eggs. However the unexpected happens and the order is received from Berlin regarding the teaching of German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. It is then that they realize that what they had been evading all this while will now be deprived to them.
The last French lesson taught by M. Hamel symbolizes the loss of language and the loss of freedom of France. It becomes an emotional lesson rendered by M. Hamel to the villagers signifying the changing order of life, its sensibility, its emotions and rule. The marching of soldiers under the windows represents the dawn of Prussia in France and the defeat of the French people, its language and culture.
The story is aptly titled as it evokes a consciousness in the reader not to put off the things that he can do that day. M. Hamel’s bold ‘Long live France’ on the blackboard becomes an emotional evidence of his sadness, patriotism and finality that is reflected in his motionless posture, his fixed gaze on things in the classroom and his eventual words- ‘School is dismissed – You may go’.