What is the significance of the historical context in which "The Last Lesson" is set?
"The Last Lesson" is set during or immediately following the Franco-Prussian War, which lasted for six months from July 1870 to January 1871. Among many significant historical consequences of the conflict was the annexation of the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France within the boundaries of the newly established German Empire. The historical context is significant because Daudet uses the story to illustrate how the geopolitical conflict affected humble civilians living in the disputed region. Franz is just one example of hundreds of schoolchildren who were forced to adopt German as the official language of instruction. Because Franz has only rudimentary knowledge of French grammar and history, he also stands of an example of how susceptible people in Alsace and Lorraine would have been to having German culture imposed on them through language.
How does the idiom "you don't know what you have until it's gone" apply to "The Last Lesson"?
"The Last Lesson" begins with Franz, the story's protagonist and narrator, dreading school and considering skipping. Beyond running late, Franz hasn't prepared for a grammar quiz on participles, and he expects a scolding from M. Hamel. However, Franz's concerns prove inconsequential when he learns that French will no longer be taught in the regions of Alsace and Lorraine. Immediately, Franz's apathetic attitude toward his education shifts: his books, once considered heavy, burdensome adversaries, suddenly seem like old friends; he regrets having skipped school to frolic and to search for bird's eggs; he comprehends Hamel's lesson with a proficiency Franz has never known himself to possess. With Franz's appreciation of the French language only revealing itself to him once he knows the language is under threat, "The Last Lesson" illustrates the concept of only appreciating what you have when that thing is gone.
What is the significance of Monsieur Hamel's garden?
M. Hamel's garden that he cultivates beyond the schoolroom windows is a symbol of how he has dedicated his life to teaching. During the last lesson, Franz comments on how Hamel casts his eyes over the room, absorbing each detail of the classroom and the plants he can see out the windows. In Hamel's forty years of teaching, the major physical changes that have occurred at the schoolhouse are the walnut trees Hamel had planted growing taller and the hops vines framing the windows. By presenting the imagery of the garden in concert with Franz's reflections on the grief Hamel must be feeling as he reflects on his forty years of teaching coming to an end, Daudet positions the garden to be a modest visual manifestation of Hamel's time spent in teaching. Moreover, the garden, with connotations of roots and cultivation of a habit, speaks to how Hamel likely never expected to have to give up his post as a teacher.