Pere Goriot

Pere Goriot Quotes and Analysis

“Ah! If I were rich, if I’d kept hold of my wealth instead of giving it to them, they’d be here now, falling over each other to kiss my cheeks! I’d be living in a grand house, I’d have fine rooms, servants, a fire, all to myself; and my daughters, their husbands, their children, would all be here, in tears. All of that would be mine. Instead, nothing. Money buys everything, even daughters…”

pg. 244-245

On his deathbed, Goriot finally comes to the tragic realization that his daughters never truly loved him. This bears a strong resemblance to King Lear, since both characters realize that purchased affections are short-lived and shallow, just like the money that bought them. Even as he realizes that money is the way to his daughters' heart, Goriot wishes he had just adjusted his strategy accordingly. He is regretful to accept that money motivates their affections, but once he admits this, he imagines that he had better used his money to buy their loyalty.

“Do you know how a man makes his way here? By brilliant genius or by skilful corruption. You must either cut your way through these masses of men like a cannon ball, or steal among them like a plague.”

pg. 97

In this extract, Vautrin speaks like a true Machiavellian, telling Eugène that the only way for a man to make his way in the world is by giving up on his morals and doing what is necessary. Vautrin compares possible modes of social progress to dangerous things like a plague and a cannon shot, which foreshadows his future plan for Rastignac to gain a fortune by arranging the death of another man. Vautrin accepts that there will be casualties, and that this is simply the cost of rising in the world.

“When Youth lapses into error, it dares not look into the mirror of its conscience, whereas Ripe Old Age has already seen itself reflected there: therein lies the difference between these two ages of man.”

pg. 105

Here, Balzac compares the two main characters, Goriot and Rastignac. Rastignac quickly forgets about “his virtuous resolve” and his aspirations to do the right thing when he sees himself well dressed. Rastignac is also unwilling to be truly honest with himself and reflect on the way he is not living up to his idealized hopes. Goriot, as a much older man, is more self aware and honest with himself.

“On seeing Monsieur de Trailles, Rastignac had understood the influence that tailors exercise over the lives of young men. Alas! There is no middle ground: depending on his skill, a tailor is either your worst enemy, or a friend in need.”

pg. 87

After getting a glimpse of high society, Eugène starts to understand how important it is to be well dressed and “look the part” if he wishes to become successful. This proves to be a very true assumption when he manages to leave a good impression at the ball thanks to his expensive suit. He may not be a wealthy man but he can act and dress like one, which is enough to fool society. This quote shows how much power superficial appearances can play in achieving status and influence, but also how members of high society are often deep in debt. Once he commits to a good appearance, Rastignac has to live up to it and continue to spend money he doesn't have so that he can look well-dressed.

“On their way back to the Maison Vauquer, old Goriot and the student talked about Delphine in increasingly enthusiastic terms, which led to a curious battle of words, as each sought to express the intensity of his own passion. Eugène could not help but see that the father’s love, untainted by self-interest, far out-stripped his own in scope and persistence. The idol was always beautiful and pure in the father’s eyes and his adoration was nourished as much by the past as the future.”

pg. 199

With these lines, Balzac once again shows the contrast between Eugène and Goriot. Both men love Delphine very much but there is a difference between them. Rastignac is easily able to see her flaws because his love is not paternal, and he is not related to her by blood. He loves Delphine, yet he’s aware of her faults. But Goriot loves Delphine as a father, and he idolizes his daughter so much that he is unable to see the poor way she treats him even after he is warned about it multiple times. By the end of the novel, Goriot has been crushingly disappointed by Delphine's refusal to come to his deathbed whereas Rastignac has made a calculated decision to use Delphine for his own purposes.

“Listen! The heart of poor, unhappy and needy young woman is a sponge, the most thirsty for love you will find, a dry sponge which swells as soon as it receives a single drop of sympathy. Courting a young lady who is lonely, impoverished and despairing, who has no idea that she’ll be rich one day - why! - it’s like having a quint and a quatorze in your hand, or knowing what numbers will win the lottery; it’s like playing the stock market on a tip-off! You are laying the foundations for an indestructible marriage.”

pg. 100

Vautrin sees women as opportunities, rather than people. He advises Eugène to invest in a seemingly poor girl and make her fall in love in order to take advantage of her wealth later on. This shows Vautrin’s Machiavellian ideals once again and this becomes a cause of conflict for Eugène as he tries to make up his mind later on. He feels badly seducing Victorine whom he knows is innocent and trusting. Rastignac also feels some loyalty to Delphine, and feels guilty about pursuing both women at the same time.

"The more coldly calculating you are, the further you will go. Strike without pity and people will fear you. Accept men and women as mere post horses to be left worn out at every stage and you will reach the summit of your ambitions."

pg. 72

Madame de Beauseant speaks these lines to Rastignac as she advises him how to make his way in the world. She is similar to Vautrin in believing that Rastignac needs to be ruthless and self-centered. From her position within elite society, Madame de Beauseant has seen how cruel that world can be, and she also shows that most people act in their own best interests. She knows that Rastignac is young and she wants to give him every chance of being successful in his quest, so she gives him very frank advice. Ironically, Madame de Beauseant turns out not to actually follow this advice herself because her love for the Marquis d'Ajuda makes her vulnerable and trusting.

"When I became a father, I understood God. His presence is everywhere, since all created things come from him. That is how I am with my daughters. Only I love my daughters more than God loves the world."

pg. 120

Goriot speaks these lines to Rastignac as he mediates on the experience of fatherhood. Goriot sees fatherhood as an almost divine experience, and it is the experience that has truly given his life meaning. Unlike most of the other characters who are driven by money and ambition, Goriot is actually able to focus on how love has transformed his life. At the same time, in the post-Revolutionary era where traditional religion had been largely undermined in France, Goriot's reference to God signals that he is old-fashioned, and perhaps out of step with pragmatic modern life.

"He knew intuitively that she was quite capable of treading on her father's body in order to go to the ball."

pg. 232

This quote shows Rastignac's disgust with the realization that Delphine will never give up on her social ambitions, and that she won't put her father's needs ahead of her own. Rastignac's love for Delphine has led him to make excuses for her selfish behavior, but when she refuses to go to her father's deathbed, he has to confront the truth about her real nature. Nonetheless, even after the ball, Rastignac continues to plead with her to come see Goriot. By the end of the novel, Rastignac still plans to continue his relationship with Delphine because he knows that she will be useful to him.

"Young men are almost all subject to a law which seems inexplicable but is in fact to be accounted for by their very youth and headlong pursuit of pleasure. Rich or poor, they never have enough money for the necessities of life, whereas they can always find enough for their whims."

pg. 140

Balzac writes wryly about how Rastignac's youth makes it hard for him to spend money in a responsible way. Rastignac is young, excitable, and impulsive, and he is not good at distinguishing his priorities. Paying for food and lodging seems less important to him than gambling and wearing fashionable clothes. In this quote, Balzac offers a somewhat sympathetic portrait of Rastignac by implying that the young student is not any more reckless than anyone else, and that almost any young person would likely fall victim to the same temptations.