Père Goriot

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The focus of this novel is less on the titular hero than on the young law student Rastignac, who lives in the same boardinghouse and befriends the aging Goriot, whom the other boarders mock and generally shun.

Rastignac’s initiation into the world of wealthy aristocratic society is accomplished in part through the young man falls in love with Goriot’s younger daughter. Torn by conflicting desires to act nobly or to serve his own interests, Rastignac finally stakes his own future on the fickle affection of this woman, who has abandoned her own father in order to rise in the social world of Paris in 1819.

Goriot, who wastes the final portion of his fortune to buy ball gowns for his daughters, succumbs to a mysterious ailment that has resulted from the ill treatment he has suffered at the hands of his ungrateful offspring. Rastignac spends the remainder of his own money to pay for Goriot’s funeral expenses, then resolves to do battle with Parisian society as he overlooks the city from the hill in Pere Lachaise cemetery.

Among the greatest of the tales in Balzac’s sequence on 19th century France, THE HUMAN COMEDY, this novel initiates the reader into the Parisian world of which Balzac was the unparalleled chronicler. In addition, it introduces several of the principal characters whose further adventures will occupy the action of subsequent texts in the sequence: Rastignac, the criminal Vautrin, and Goriot’s daughter Mme de...

(The entire section is 514 words.)