The Last Lesson

by

Alphonse Daudet

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The school master of a small village school in the French region of Alsace-Lorraine. M. Hamel is stern and intimidating to his pupils, among them the narrator of the story, Franz. He has been teaching at the school for forty years. In his classroom, he carries a ruler which he raps against his table threateningly. On the day the story is set, he is dressed in his best finery: a green coat, a shirt with frills, and a silk cap—clothes reserved for special occasions. Despite his frightening demeanor, M. Hamel also has a gentler side, revealed on the day that he announces to those gathered in his classroom that Prussian authorities have banned the teaching of French in the schools of Alsace-Lorraine. On this day of the last lesson, M. Hamel not only reveals his empathy and kindness, but also his dignity and patriotism, lecturing the gathered crowd on the importance of protecting their language and culture in the face of foreign occupation.

M. Hamel Quotes in The Last Lesson

The The Last Lesson quotes below are all either spoken by M. Hamel or refer to M. Hamel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the National Council of Education Research and Training edition of The Last Lesson published in 2015.
The Last Lesson Quotes

For a moment I thought of running away and spending the day out of doors. It was so warm, so bright! The birds were chirping at the edge of the woods; and in the open field back of the sawmill the Prussian soldiers were drilling. It was all much more tempting than the rule for participles, but I had strength to resist, and hurried off to school.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Classroom
Page Number: 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Usually, when school began, there was a great bustle, which could be heard out in the street, the opening and closing of desks, lessons repeated in unison […] and the teacher’s great ruler rapping the table. But now it was all so still! I had counted on the commotion to get to my desk without being seen; but, of course, that day everything had to be as quiet as Sunday morning.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel
Related Symbols: The Classroom
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] the thing that surprised me most was to see, on the back benches that were always empty, the village people sitting quietly like ourselves; old Hauser, with his three-cornered hat, the former mayor, the former postmaster, and several others besides.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Old Hauser
Related Symbols: The Classroom
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] M. Hamel mounted his chair, and in the same grave and gentle tone which he had used to me, said, “My children, this is the last lesson I shall give you. The order has come from Berlin to teach only German in the schools of Alsace and Lorraine. The new master comes tomorrow. This is your last French lesson. I want you to be very attentive.”

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel (speaker), Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Classroom, French
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

My last French lesson! Why, I hardly knew how to write! I should never learn any more! I must stop there, then! Oh, how sorry I was for not learning my lessons, for seeking birds’ eggs, or going sliding on the Saar! My books, that had seemed such a nuisance a while ago, so heavy to carry, my grammar, and my history of the saints, were old friends now that I couldn’t give up. And M. Hamel, too; the idea that he was going away, that I should never see him again, made me forget all about his ruler and how cranky he was.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: French
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

“I won’t scold you, little Franz; you must feel bad enough. See how it is! Every day we have said to ourselves, ‘Bah! I’ve plenty of time. I’ll learn it tomorrow.’ And now you see where we’ve come out. Ah, that’s the great trouble with Alsace; she puts off learning till tomorrow. Now those fellows out there will have the right to say to you, ‘How is it; you pretend to be Frenchmen, and yet you can neither speak nor write your own language?’”

Related Characters: M. Hamel (speaker), Franz (The Narrator), Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Classroom, French
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

“Your parents were not anxious enough to have you learn. They preferred to put you to work on a farm or at the mills, so as to have a little more money. And I? I’ve been to blame also. Have I not often sent you to water my flowers instead of learning your lessons? And when I wanted to go fishing, did I not just give you a holiday?”

Related Characters: M. Hamel (speaker), Franz (The Narrator)
Related Symbols: The Classroom, French
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] M. Hamel went on to talk of the French language, saying that it was the most beautiful language in the world—the clearest, the most logical; that we must guard it among us and never forget it, because when a people are enslaved, as long as they hold fast to their language it is as if they had the key to their prison.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: French
Page Number: 5-7
Explanation and Analysis:

After the grammar, we had a lesson in writing. That day M. Hamel had new copies for us, written in a beautiful round hand—France, Alsace, France, Alsace. They looked like little flags floating everywhere in the school-room, hung from the rod at the top of our desks.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Classroom, French
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

After the writing, we had a lesson in history, and then the babies chanted their ba, be bi, bo, bu. Down there at the back of the room old Hauser had put on his spectacles and, holding his primer in both hands, spelled the letters with them. You could see that he, too, was crying; his voice trembled with emotion, and it was so funny to hear him that we all wanted to laugh and cry.

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Old Hauser
Related Symbols: The Classroom, French
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:

All at once the church-clock struck twelve. Then the Angelus. At the same moment the trumpets of the Prussians, returning from drill, sounded under our windows. M. Hamel stood up, very pale, in his chair. I never saw him look so tall.

“My friends,” said he, “I—I—” But something choked him. He could not go on.

Then he turned to the blackboard, took a piece of chalk, and, bearing on with all his might, he wrote as large as he could—

Vive La France!

Related Characters: Franz (The Narrator) (speaker), M. Hamel, Prussian Soldiers
Related Symbols: The Classroom, The Blackboard
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
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M. Hamel Character Timeline in The Last Lesson

The timeline below shows where the character M. Hamel appears in The Last Lesson. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Last Lesson
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...one morning. He is especially anxious on this day, as he expects his stern teacher, M. Hamel , to question him and the rest of the pupils on participles. The narrator knows... (full context)
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Through a window, the narrator sees his classmates already seated, and his teacher M. Hamel walking up and down with his ruler under his arm. The narrator, terrified and blushing,... (full context)
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To his surprise, M. Hamel speaks to the narrator kindly, referring to him as “little Franz,” and tells him to... (full context)
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M. Hamel mounts his chair, and, speaking gravely and gently, announces to the gathered crowd that this... (full context)
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M. Hamel ’s words also come as a shock to Franz because he suddenly realizes how little... (full context)
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Franz realizes that M. Hamel has on his best clothes in honor of this last lesson that he is giving,... (full context)
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M. Hamel calls Franz to recite the rule for the participle, which, of course, he has neglected... (full context)
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M. Hamel doesn’t scold Franz for not knowing the rule, but he uses the occasion to lecture... (full context)
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M. Hamel continues by saying that the children’s parents have not been anxious to have them learn,... (full context)
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M. Hamel then goes on to speak about the beauties of the French language. He encourages the... (full context)
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...to the French grammar lesson, reading from a book to the students. Franz understands everything M. Hamel says with extraordinary clarity. He thinks that he has never listened so carefully to the... (full context)
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After the grammar lesson, the class proceeds to a lesson in writing. M. Hamel has the pupils copy out the words “France, Alsace,” over and over again. All the... (full context)
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As he writes, Franz glances up at M. Hamel every now and again. The teacher sits motionless, looking at one thing and the other... (full context)
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But Franz is impressed by M. Hamel ’s determination to oversee every lesson until the very last. The pupils move onto a... (full context)
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The clock strikes twelve. Prussian trumpets sound, marking the end of the soldiers’ drill. M. Hamel stands up, pale but tall. He begins speaking, addressing the class as “My friends,” but... (full context)