The Last Lesson is a short story written by Alphonse Daudet, a French novelist. Set in the days of the Franco-Prussian (1870-71),it is gives us an evocative account of the havoc war creates in the lives of common people .
The French districts Alsace and Lorraine fall in to German hands during the Franco-Prussian war. The Germans impose various rules and restrictions upon the peace-loving populace of Alsace which includes a ban on speaking French and an imposition of German as the language of the land.
Through the eyes of the young protagonist, Frantz, we see how life in Alsace comes to a standstill due to German occupation. Little Frantz never liked his French lessons nor the strict master with his customary cane.
That particular day, Frantz reaches his class late as usual and hopes to enter unnoticed while there is still commotion in the class room. He is surprised when he sees his classmates sitting quietly listening to his teacher, dressed in his best Sunday clothes. He also notices some village elders like the old Mr. Hauser sitting pensively in the classroom.
When M Hamel announces ‘this is your last class, I want you to be attentive’ Frantz wakes up to the reality. He regrets not being able to answer the questions in the class. He is unhappy that he will not have another chance to learn French. M Hamel too expresses his disappointment at the lack of interest in learning French among the villagers and the students. He too shares the blame for not giving the task due importance. M Hamel asserts that French is the most beautiful language in the world, the most logical and the most clear.
Hamel had the most receptive class in all his 40 years of teaching that day.He urged his listeners to hold their language close to their heart . It was their key to the prison of slavery. Before dismissing the class he writes Vive La France on the board in the hope that the people of Alsace will forever love French.
The story, the Last Lesson is a telling account of the cultural and emotional alienation war and foreign occupation creates in the lives of innocent people.