The Last Class Summary
by Alphonse Daudet

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The Last Class Summary

"The Last Class" begins with young student Franz walking very slowly to school because he has his French class, and he says that the "lesson for the day would be on participles about which Franz did not know a word."

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To delay the inevitable scolding he will receive, Franz takes a longer route through the fields and sees a blacksmith putting a notice up outside the mayor's house. The signs usually tell people news about Alsace's battle with the the Germans, which in recent years had been mostly bad news, so Franz asks the Blacksmith if anything new has happened. The blacksmith, however, just tells him: "It is not safe. Run along quickly to school."

Franz thinks that the blacksmith is jesting until he arrives in his classroom to find everyone silent and people from the village, including an old soldier, sitting solemnly on the benches at the back. Franz is still expecting his school master to scold him, but instead he tells him to sit down, he has something to say.

My children, this is the last time that I shall teach your class. The order has come from Berlin that no language but German shall be taught in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. Your new master arrives to-morrow. To-day, you will have your last lesson in French. I pray that you will be very attentive.

Monsieur Hamel calls on Franz to recite the order of the French participles, but Franz gets it wrong. Again the school-master is uncharacteristically easy on him. He implies that is too late for the people in Alsace to learn French and that "we all must reproach ourselves."

Monsieur Hamel continues to teach them what he says is "the most beautiful language in the world." For the the writing part of the lesson, he hands out fresh copies "like little flags, floating all over the schoolroom from the tops of the desks." and the children for once work diligently.

At the end of the lesson, Monsieur Hamel tries to say a few words as a way of goodbye, but his words catch in his throat. All he can do is write "Vive la France" on the board.

Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Last Class” is the tender story of a young Alsatian boy and his last French lesson. The setting is an unnamed town in Alsace, and the story takes place near the beginning of the Prussian occupation of Alsace and Lorraine, about 1873. Little Franz is the narrator of the story. Having gotten a late start on this beautiful warm morning, Franz rushes to school. He is fearful that Monsieur Hamel will scold him because he is late and has not prepared his French lesson on participles.

On his way to school, Franz passes through the town square, and in front of the town hall he sees a small group of people reading notices posted on a grating. These are notices posted by the Prussians concerning orders issued from headquarters. While Franz is running across the square, Wachter, the blacksmith, calls to him that there is no need to hurry. Franz thinks that Wachter is teasing him.

Out of breath, he arrives at school. To his dismay, there is no noise or confusion to cover his entrance. Instead, this day, there is the silence and stillness of the Sabbath. Frightened and red-faced, he enters the classroom; instead of giving Franz a harsh scolding, however, Monsieur Hamel gently directs Franz to his seat.

Once settled in his seat, Franz begins to notice the differences that this day has brought. Monsieur Hamel is all dressed up in his Sunday best, the clothes that he wears when prizes are given or on inspection days. Franz’s classmates are especially solemn this day. Then his attention is drawn to the back of the room, where villagers are seated, and to Hauser, there with his old primer spread across his knees. Everyone has an air of sadness and...

(The entire section is 988 words.)