What does Balzac try to convey in his novel Père Goriot?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Balzac means to convey two central ideas in Père Goriot, which means Father Goriot. First, he examines over-indulgent parenthood through relationships between Goriot and his daughters, which is rather similar to the relationship between Shakespeare's King Lear and his daughters. Other relationships in Balzac's story also reflect the parental theme. Goriot expresses the theme himself as he says about his daughters, "It was I who made them, they belong to me." Rastignac reflects this theme of over-indulgent parenting in his relationships with Madame de Beauséant: she calls him "Why you poor simple child!"

Second, Balzac conveys the second theme when he examines corruption in Paris society by writing about characters in such detail that they ironically become universal characters, so the corruption evidenced, whether in high society or low, represents universal corruption. Balzac is illustrating that corruption lies in all levels of society from Countess Anastasie de Restaud to Vautrin. Goriot sums it up, while combining both themes, by saying,

"The finest nature, the best soul on earth would have succumbed to the corruption of such weakness ...."

wordprof eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pere Goriot is an examination of a mise-en-scene—the totality of a living moment; Balzac is interested in the physical description of 19th century Paris, but also in the social layers that comprise the Parisian life experience.  He spends as much time describing the world of his landlady on the stoop as he does the two daughters’ lifestyles and Goriot’s own.  Balzac’s greatest contribution to literature is in the details of every layer of Parisian life, not just the social life of the protagonist’s immediate family.  His insights into personality are not so much still portraits as they are moving pictures of the characters in action.  He is attempting to show a world in motion, a living entity known as Paris.