The Last Lesson

The Last Lesson Summary and Analysis of Paragraphs 15 – 22


Hamel says that the French language is the most beautiful language in the world. It is the clearest and most logical language. They must guard it amongst themselves and never forget it, because when people are enslaved, if they retain their language it is as if they hold the key to their prison.

Hamel then opens a grammar book and reads. Franz is amazed to see how well he understands the lesson. Everything Hamel says seems so easy. Franz also thinks he has never listened so carefully, and Hamel had never explained a subject with so much patience. It seems to Franz that Hamel wants to give everything he knows before going away, putting everything into the students’ heads in one stroke.

After grammar Hamel leads a lesson in writing. Hamel distributes slips of paper for the students to copy. On each piece of paper Hamel has written in beautiful round cursive “France, Alsace, France, Alsace.” The papers are hung from the rods at the top of their desks. To Franz they look like little flags floating everywhere in the room.

Each student sets to work in total silence, aside from the scratching of pens on paper. Some beetles fly in but nobody pays attention to them. Pigeons on the roof coo very low: Franz wonders if they will make even the pigeons sing in German.

Whenever Franz looks up from his writing he sees Hamel sitting motionless in his chair, gazing at different areas in the room as if trying to imprint in his mind how everything looks. Franz marvels at the idea that Hamel has spent forty years teaching in the schoolroom, with his garden out the window and the class in front of him. The only difference is that the desks and benches have worn smooth, the walnut trees in the garden have grown taller, and the hopvine Hamel planted has twined around the windows and up to the roof. Franz imagines how it must be breaking Hamel’s heart to leave it all, and for Hamel to hear his sister in the room above, packing their trunks in preparation for leaving the next day for the country. But Hamel has the courage to teach every lesson to the last.

After writing Hamel leads a lesson in history, and then the youngest students chant their ba, be, bi, bo, bu vowel sounds. At the back of the room, Hauser puts on his spectacles and, holding the old textbook in his hands, spells letters with the youngest students. Franz can see that Hauser is crying. His voice trembles with emotion, and it is so funny to hear him that everyone wants to laugh and cry. Franz comments that he remembers it well, that last lesson.

The church clock strikes twelve, followed by the Angelus prayer. At the same time Franz can hear the Prussians’ trumpets sounding under the classroom’s windows. Hamel stands up from his chair, looking very pale. Franz has never seen him look so tall.

“My friends, I-I,” Hamel begins before becoming choked up. Failing to go on, Hamel turns to the blackboard, lifts a piece of chalk, and with all his might writes as large as he can, “Vive La France!”

The story ends with Hamel leaning his head against the wall. Without making a sound, he motions to the class with his hand, as if to say, “It’s over…Go away.”


Hamel shows his sentimentality and nationalistic spirit when he speaks of French as the most beautiful and logical language in the world. Faced with cultural erasure, Hamel recommends that his fellow Alsatians do what they can to keep their language, as it is the key to maintaining an identity independent of the German empire’s oppressive imposition of German-only instruction. Hamel emphasizes his point with a simile, saying that if enslaved people retain their language, it is as if they hold the key to their prison.

Another instance of situational irony arises when Hamel begins reading from the grammar book: Franz finds that the lesson enters his mind more clearly and easily than ever before. Knowing that their language, culture, and identity as French people are under threat, Hamel, Franz, the students, and the assembled townspeople participate in the morning’s lessons with great focus. Despite knowing that the Prussians will send him to the country the next day, Hamel gives his last lesson his all, demonstrating his continued belief in the value of education.

Daudet amplifies the nationalist sense of duty in the schoolroom by likening the copy slips Hamel distributes to his students to little flags planted on each of their desks. By elegantly writing the words 'France' and 'Alsace' next to each other, Hamel uses the copy slips to reminds his pupils not to forget that Alsace originally belonged to France.

The themes of regret and the value of education in the face of cultural erasure arise with the detail of Hauser reading along with the youngest children. The image implies that Hauser stopped going to school at an infant’s age, and has now come to the last lesson to refresh his rudimentary knowledge of French now that the language is under threat. The tears falling from Hauser’s eyes suggest he regrets not having learned when he had the chance. By depicting their limited literacy of their native language, Daudet shows how people like Hauser and Franz are particularly vulnerable to the imposing forces of cultural erasure.

The story ends with Hamel failing to address his class with any further spoken words. Becoming choked up with emotion, he instead turns to the blackboard and summarizes what he would like to impart in the motto “Vive La France” (translated as "Long Live France" or "Hooray for France"). The nationalistic and triumphant quality of the phrase contrasts with Hamel’s defeated demeanor: having written “Vive La France,” Hamel leans his head against the blackboard and motions for his class to leave him alone. With this image, Daudet illustrates how Hamel, a humble schoolteacher, is helpless when under the thumb of geopolitical forces that decree the end of his career and everything he has known.