Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Pere Goriot is described as a "Realist" novel in which the author strives to describe people and events as they truly are. What literary techniques does the author use to accomplish this goal?

    Balzac uses long, descriptive passages upon introducing the primary setting, which is the Vauquer house and its various residents. He emphasizes negative physical traits such as Poiret's thin legs and the landlady's girth. He also allows the characters to display petty cruelty, such as when Bianchon uses a metaphor to compare the elderly Miss Michonneau to a worm. Such scenes do not advance the plot, but they paint a very vivid image of the setting and its characters.

  2. 2

    One of Vautrin's most cherished beliefs is that, behind every great fortune, there must have been a crime of some sort, but perfectly concealed. Which plot events support Vautrin's view of the world?

    Victorine inherits a fortune because Vautrin arranges to have her brother killed. Delphine's wealthy husband embezzles (or pretends to have embezzled) her sizable dowry. Goriot himself became wealthy during the French Revolution, at a time when wheat and bread prices were at an all-time high, and people could make a fortune by hoarding flour and grain products. In all of these cases, economic fortune is created by morally dubious actions or convenient coincidences.

  3. 3

    Why are Goriot's daughters in conflict with one another?

    Delphine and Anastasie were rivals even as children. When they married, their father divided his estate in half, leaving himself only a modest income in order to provide both young women with a substantial dowry. Their money does indeed attract prestigious suitors: Anastasie marries a titled French aristocrat, while Delphine marries a banker, who has a greater income but less social prestige. As a result, Delphine is not welcome in Anastasie's more elevated social circles. This state of affairs irritates Delphine. Both daughters also have financial trouble, and compete over their father's scarce remaining resources.

  4. 4

    Why does Madame de Beauseant leave Paris at the end of the novel?

    Madame de Beauseant leaves Paris to live a quiet life in the country because her heart is broken when her lover, the Marquis d'Ajuda, marries another woman. In addition to the emotional pain, she is humiliated: all of Parisian society has known that she was going to be betrayed, and came to her last great ball in order to gawk at her pain and humiliation. She bears her suffering with grace and fortitude, but the episode makes her realize that she does not have any true friends, and society would turn against her to use her as a spectacle for their cruel amusement.

  5. 5

    Is Rastignac a sympathetic character?

    Rastignac is an ambiguous character who displays both positive and negative characteristics over the course of the novel. On one hand, he is greedy and ambitious. He is willing to take money from his family knowing that they need it, just so he can work to further his ambitions. He also pursues an affair with a married woman, and does not reject Delphine even after she displays heartless behavior towards her own father. On the other hand, Rastignac is fiercely loyal to Goriot and takes care of him at his own expense. He shows more love and respect to the elderly man than Goriot's own children do. Rastignac's moral ambiguity is most clear in his actions around Vautrin's plot: he knows the plot is morally reprehensible, and tries to avoid participating, but ends up being tempted to do so. At the last minute, Rastignac plans to warn the Taillefer family, but because he delays he ends up being unable to protect Victorine's brother from death.