Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Alphonse Daudet expounds the themes of freedom and patriotism in his short story “The Last Class.” Courage, the importance of education, and the preciousness of one’s own language are interrelated themes.

The people of the town and of Alsace have already had their freedom taken from them. A reminder of this loss appears in the second paragraph, where mention is made of the Prussians drilling in Rippert Meadows. Another reminder is the posting of news on the grating in the town square in front of the town hall. Here the townspeople come to learn of any new regulations that are to be imposed on them. Even as Franz sees the people reading the notices, he expects more bad news, battles lost, requisitions made. There is an aura of helplessness that comes with this loss of freedom. The atmosphere of this day, however, is not like that of other days even under the Prussian occupation. The sadness, solemnity, and quietness of the classroom seem to forebode something worse to come. The gentle tone of Monsieur Hamel is not the usual voice that has instructed these young people. His is usually the confident, commanding voice of self-assurance, scolding, prodding, and encouraging his students to learn. Today the sense of defeat and loss of freedom is even greater than that usually evoked by the simple presence of the Prussians and their initial occupation of the country that Monsieur Hamel loves.

Monsieur Hamel announces that today will be his last day to teach. Tomorrow the students will have a new...

(The entire section is 622 words.)