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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 246

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The Lesson is a play by Eugene Ionesco. The play about a professor who is between fifty and sixty years old and his student, who is about eighteen years of age. The professor has a habit of killing his students, as is evident from a large number of bodies that need to be buried—forty in total. The current student is also not so lucky, as she ends up dead just like the other victims. The play has three characters, listed below:

The professor – He is the main character of the story. He is aged between fifty and sixty years. He is portrayed as the villain of the story, and he is known for killing his students. He kills his current student just like he has done with thirty-nine others before her.

The maid – The professor refers to her as Marie. She is a stout lady between forty and fifty years old. She is worried about the professor's deteriorating health. She is a felicitous character who welcomes the students and assures them that the professor is expecting them. She tries to watch out for the professor’s anger during lessons and keep it in check to minimize the killings.

The student – She is a young girl about eighteen years of age. She visits the professor for a lesson but ends up being another victim of the professor’s heinous acts. The professor kills her, and the maid is tasked with the duty of burying her body.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 408

The professor

The professor, between fifty and sixty years old, who tutors individual pupils for their “total doctorate” examinations. During a session with a young female student, he is meek at first. He becomes more intense and authoritarian as the lesson advances. Eventually, he becomes irrationally, even absurdly, angry; disallowing any interruptions of his barrage on philology, the old man grows increasingly excited. First, he attacks the student using language as a tool of dominance, power, deception, and, in the end, violent cruelty. Finally, he loses all patience and sinks into a homicidal mania. He aids the maid in disposing of the student’s body.

The pupil

The pupil, an eighteen-year-old woman wearing a gray student’s smock with a small white collar and carrying a student’s bookbag. A new student of this professor, the young lady is hopeful of passing a “total doctorate” exam and has engaged the professor as a tutor. As the lesson progresses, she displays an absurd lack of elementary knowledge, such as the capital of France and the seasons of the year; she can add and multiply but is unable to subtract. Faced with what appears to be a remorseless and ominous personal attack, this pupil develops a toothache that eventually spreads over her entire body. Midway through the lesson, she unexpectedly musters enough courage and composure to defy the professor—without success. Reduced to an aching helplessness, the young woman becomes the pathetic victim of the domineering and maniacal professor as her body falls, “flopping into an immodest position in the chair.”

The maid

The maid, also called Marie, a stout woman between forty-five and fifty years old, wearing an appropriate apron and peasant’s cap. She is proper, detached, and resigned but watchful. On one occasion, she interrupts the lesson to warn the professor to remain calm; on another, she interrupts to warn him against moving the lesson into the realm of philology: “Arithmetic leads to philology, and philology leads to crime,” she scolds. The maid seems slightly annoyed at the results of the professor’s stabbing session and calmly complains about the number of students (this is the fortieth) that he has victimized this way, because she is obliged to aid in the disposal of the bodies. Like the professor, she wears a swastika-like armband during the removal of the pupil’s body. With no other apparent concern and in her original attire, she ushers in yet another pupil.




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