Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot Literary Elements


Realist novel

Setting and Context

Paris, 1819

Narrator and Point of View

The narrator is an omniscient third person who does not interact with any of the people in the story.

Tone and Mood

The mood is grim, depressing, and sad, and the narrator uses a mournful and often cynical tone.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Goriot and Rastignac are presented as protagonists. The scheming Vautrin and Goriot's daughters Delphine and Anastasie are antagonists.

Major Conflict

There are two key conflicts in the story. Rastignac is trying to scheme and seduce his way into high society so as to advance his material interests. He is tempted by Vautrin's proposal to gain a fortune by marrying Victorine Taillefer and then arranging the death of her brother so that she becomes a wealthy heiress. Meanwhile, Goriot is being bankrupted by his daughters, who fleece him financially and string him along by manipulating his love for them.


The climax of the first conflict occurs when Vautrin is revealed to be a wanted criminal, the Death-Dodger, and is arrested. The climax to Goriot's plot occurs when he dies without either of his daughters arriving in time for him to still be lucid.


Goriot's doom is foreshadowed throughout the book, as he sacrifices one prized possession after another to earn money to support his daughters.


"I have no troubles but theirs," says Goriot, referring to his daughters. He is not concerned about living in poverty, but only worries that his girls are well provided for and happy. In reality, the man is thoroughly enmeshed in his adult daughters' financial dealings, and he ruins himself financially in order to help enable their increasingly selfish behavior.


Much of the plot echoes and contains allusions to Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, in which an elderly man is mistreated by his two cruel and selfish daughters. Balzac also alludes to other recent works of Realist fiction, including Walter Scott's novel The Heart of Midlothian.


See the "Imagery" section.


Rastignac desires financial stability, but in order to get it he must marry wealth or at least acquire a wealthy mistress. In order to do this he must spend money, which he does not have.



Metonymy and Synecdoche



The city of Paris is personified throughout the novel, but nowhere more explicitly than in the penultimate paragraph. Depending on the translation, it is rendered as: "Now, it is between the two of us" or "Henceforward, it is to be war between us." Rastignac intends to confront, master, and ultimately dominate the city of Paris as represented by its corrupt society.