Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336
"The Last Class" has two major characters: the main character, Franz, and Franz's school-master, Monsieur Hamel, who has been teaching French at Franz's school for 40 years. The story has a few other very minor characters, including the blacksmith who tells Franz "it is not safe. Run along quickly to school” and the old soldier who stands silently at the back of Franz's class until he reads out from a spelling book near the end of the story.
Franz is a schoolboy who dislikes learning French, but other than that, the author doesn't directly give the reader much detail about him. He seems to mostly use him in the story to show the reader the potential effects of a premature end of childhood. How will such a young boy cope with the impending German occupation?
At the beginning of the story Franz feels "a great dread of being scolded" by Monsieur Hamel, and by the end he feels a sadness that he finds difficult to put into words beyond expressing sympathy for his school-teacher. In fact he shows a lot more maturity when he thinks "It was breaking the heart of the school-master to leave all these things" than only a half an hour or so earlier when he stood in front of the class "his heart trembling, not daring to raise his head." The author seems to be suggesting that, given the opportunity, children have the ability to understand complex emotions and display profound empathy.
Seen through Franz's eyes, the reader can't help, but feel empathy for the school-master. He obviously cares deeply about his students and deeply about the French language, which he calls "the most beautiful language in the world." Stripped of his usual sternness, Fran states that the school-master "never had he seemed so great to the children."
By the end of the story, Monsieur Hamel is so choked with emotion that he can't get the words out to say goodbye. All he can do is write "Vive la France" on the board.