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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483


"The Last Class" tells the story of Franz's last French lesson. The Germans have just taken over the Alsace region and have banned the teaching of French in all schools.

At the beginning of the story, Franz is blissfully unaware that the Germans are taking over. Even when the Blacksmith, foreshadowing the grave news Franz is about to hear, tells him to get to school quickly because it's not safe, Franz presumes he is only joking.

So Franz made haste at last, although he was sure that the blacksmith was not in earnest, and he arrived all breathless, at his class.

Though Franz's naive tone continues through the story, at times it seems mixed with a sad feeling he doesn't quite comprehend. When he finds out this will be his last French lesson, for example, he feels a sense of guilt about how he had previously just wasted time in class.

Franz’s last lesson in French! And he could not write it without mistakes! He remembered all the time that he had wasted, the lessons he had missed in hunting for birds’ nests or skating on the river. He thought of his books that would remind him always now, of his laziness–his grammar, his history, a present from his friend, the schoolmaster, from whom he must part now with so much pain.

His teacher, Monsieur Hamel, confirms these thoughts to him. In his words, there is a sense that they are all at fault for the German invasion. If people had been more diligent in their efforts to learn French, and perhaps Monsieur Hamel in his efforts to teach it, then it would have been more difficult for another culture to take over.

"Ah, that has been the great fault in our Alsace, that of always putting off learning until another day. In the meantime, all the world has been quite right in saying of us, ‘How is it that you pretend to be French, and yet are not able to read and write your own language!’ Of all who are here, my poor little Franz, you are not the only one at fault. We all must reproach ourselves."

Monsieur Hamel expresses the doom he feels at the German occupation when he states

He said that he wanted it [French] treasured in Alsace and never forgotten, because, when a people fall into slavery it is almost like holding the key to their prison if they can speak to each other in the same tongue.

The reader can see the importance he attaches to language. It is particularly poignant when Monsieur Hamel is lost for words at the end of the lesson.

"My friends," he said, "my little friends, I–"

But he could say no more; he was not able to speak the words. He turned to the blackboard and, taking a piece of chalk, he wrote upon it,

Vive la France!”

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