book, The Last Lesson, written by
French novelist Alphonse Daudet, provides valuable insight about the historical
period that its published during. The
Last Lesson takes place during the 1870s when the Prussian forces under
King Bismarck attacked and captured France. During this time, the French
districts of Alsace and Lorraine went into Prussian rule and the new Prussian
rulers discontinued the teachings of the French language in the schools of
these two districts. The French teachers were asked to leave of these counties
were asked to leave their jobs and were given one last day to teach their
students. The story describes the last day Mr. Hamel, the student’s teacher
taught his class, French. The story is narrated by one of his students, named Franz,
who dreaded French class and came to the school that day thinking he would be
punished as he had not learned his lesson. However, upon arriving at school, he
found his teacher dressed in Sunday’s clothes and all the old people of the
village sitting at the back of the classroom. It was due to an order on the
bulletin board, that stated that the French language would no longer be taught
in schools. That was the day when Franz realized how important French was for
him. Therefore, the book is written about times during The Franco-Prussian War
and its detailed background, which changed France and had a huge effect on
French culture in Alsace and Lorraine.
The Franco-Prussian War was a significant
historical event in nineteenth-century Europe. The war forged the German
Empire, accenting the Franco-German relations after 1871 (Barber 1). The war marked the end of French hegemony in
continental Europe and resulted in the creation of a unified Germany (Anon).
Prussia’s defeat of Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War in 1866, confirmed Prussian
leadership of the German states and threatened France’s position as the dominant
power in Europe (Anon). However, the immediate cause of the Franco-German War
was the candidacy of Prince Leopold for the Spanish throne, which had been left
vacant when Queen Isabella II had been dethroned in 1868 (Anon). The Prussian
chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and Spain’s Juan Prim persuaded Leopold to
accept the Spanish throne in June 1870. This move greatly alarmed France, who
felt threatened by a possible combination of Prussia and Spain directed against
it. In 1870, the French lacked military leadership of the caliber of Napoleon
Bonaparte, making them a weak and easy target (Barry 1). However, the Prussians
did not declare war, it was Napoleon the third of the French who declared war
on Prussia on July 19, 1870 (Webster 1). The French were convinced that the
reorganization of their army in 1866 had made it superior to the German armies.
They also had great faith in two recently introduced technical innovations: the
breech-loading chassepot rifle, with which the entire army was now equipped;
and the newly invented mitrailleuse, an early machine gun. The French generals,
blinded by national pride, were confident of victory (Anon). Therefore, The
Franco-Prussian resulted due to the overconfidence of Napoleon.
The Franco-Prussian War had various
long-term effects in Europe and created a new era in history. In the immediate
aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, many of the educated divisions of Western
Europe felt that Germany had gone too far in its designs to reduce the French
strength, becoming too potent in the process. To them, the war had threatened
the workings of the concert and distorted the balance of power, conjuring a
distinct uneasiness over the new post-war era (Barber 336). Prussian militarism
had triumphed and laid the groundwork for German imperialistic ventures. The Last Lesson is a book about one of
the major cultural changes after the war and possibly the largest effect on the
Franco people. After German forces took over the area, they changed the
language that was taught in school from French to German (Daudet, Paragraph
13). Franz, who narrates the book is illiterate in the French language, but
never realized how important it was to him. However, when Mr. Hamel taught his
students the last lesson in French, Franz realized that French was his mother
language and that it was dear to his heart.
Last Lesson raises the question through the words of
Franz “Will they make them sing in German, even the pigeons?” This raises the
question of imposing imperial languages and cultures on the colonies. After
reading The Last Lesson, and studying
the Franco-Prussian war, it’s clear that Military leaders do not think about
all people. Military leaders such as the German leader only care about one
thing, and that is gaining power and gaining control of land. By changing the
language of a nation, as done in the book you take the peoples’ way
communication and how they identify themselves with others. For example, even
Franz realizes that taking away his mother language takes away the identity and
pride of his people. The Franco-Prussian War and its detailed background, which
changed France and had a huge effect on French culture in Alsace and Lorraine.
Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War the German conquest of France in 1870-1871.
Cambridge Univ. PR., 2010.
Quintin. The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71. The Campaign of Sedan: Helmuth Von
Moltke and the Overthrow of the Second Empire. 2009.
Christopher Ernest. “The “Revolution” of the Franco-Prussian War: The Aftermath
in Western Europe.” Australian Journal of Politics & History, vol. 60, no.
3, 2014, pp. 334–345., doi:10.1111/ajph.12061.
Webster (2015). SATIRICAL JOURNALS AND NEUTRALITY IN THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR.
The Modern Language Review, 110 (2), p. 317.
(2017). Online Available at:
•https://www.britannica.com/event/Franco-German-War Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.