Franz receives Hamel’s words as a "great thunderclap." Franz realizes that the village people must have been reading this news at the bulletin board outside town hall. He tries to absorb the information that this will be his last French lesson, and comments that he hardly knows how to write. Now he will never learn; he will have to stop where he is.
Franz blames himself for wasting time and not learning his lessons, and instead spending his time looking for birds’ eggs or relaxing by the Saar river. His heavy books on grammar and the history of the saints seemed such a nuisance only a short while earlier; suddenly they are old friends he can’t give up. Similarly, the idea that Hamel will go away makes Franz forget about the man’s ruler and how cranky he is.
Franz pities Hamel and realizes that it is in honor of his final day teaching that Hamel is wearing his formal clothes. Franz understands why all the men of the village sit in the room: it is because the men regret not having gone to school more. Being there is their way of thanking Hamel for his forty years of faithful service and their way of showing respect for the country that is no longer theirs.
While Franz is thinking about the ramifications of Hamel’s announcement, he hears his name called. It is his turn to recite. He would give anything just to say the dreadful rule about the participle loud and clear, all the way through without making a mistake. But Franz gets mixed up on the first word and stands holding his desk. His heart beats and he doesn’t dare to look up.
Franz hears Hamel say that he will not scold Franz, because Franz must feel bad enough. Hamel says that every day they say to themselves that they have plenty of time, and that they can learn tomorrow; now they see where that thinking has landed them. Hamel says that’s the trouble with Alsace: the region puts off learning until tomorrow. He says the Prussians out there will have the right to point out the irony of how Franz, and everyone else who put off learning, claim to be Frenchman and yet they can neither speak nor write their own language.
Hamel reassures Franz that he is no worse than anyone else though; they all have a great deal with which to reproach themselves. Franz’s parents were not anxious enough to have Franz learn, as they preferred to put him to work on a farm at the mills in order that they might have a little more money.
Hamel says he himself is also to blame: he has often sent Franz to water his flowers instead of having him stay put and learn his lessons. And when Hamel wanted to go fishing, he gave the class a holiday.
The surreal details to which Franz was oblivious in the early portion of the story suddenly make sense when Hamel delivers the news that French will no longer be taught. Now that he is being denied his native language, Franz shifts from having an apathetic attitude toward his studies to regretting that he didn’t pay more attention to his lessons and put more effort into attending school. In this way, Daudet illustrates how Franz understands the value of education only once he is being denied the opportunity to learn.
With this change in attitude, Franz also reconsiders how he views Hamel. Once an intimidating adversarial figure, Hamel loses his frightening air and Franz pities him for having to give up teaching after he has committed forty years of his life to the profession. Franz notes how Hamel wears his best clothes to honor his commitment to his role as an educator and to honor his identity as a Frenchman whose language and culture a foreign power is actively taking measures to erase.
Just as Franz suspected at the beginning of the story, Hamel calls on him to recite the rules of participles. Now that he truly values education and respects his teacher, Franz wishes he could match Hamel’s level of honor and dignity by reciting the rules without mistake. However, Franz cannot perform as he would like and gets tripped up on the first word.
Despite Franz’s expectation of a scolding, Hamel demonstrates his compassion and reflects on how Franz’s apathy about education is not his fault. Hamel believes that all the people of the region hold the attitude that things can be put off until tomorrow—a mode of thinking that has landed them in the situationally ironic position of being unable to write and speak the French language while claiming to be Frenchmen. Parents of the area too often pulled their children out of school so that the children could help on the farm or at the mill.
As his speech continues, Hamel comments that he too is to blame for having been too comfortable with things as they were. Instead of making Franz stay in class, he often sent Franz to water the school garden, and when he wanted to go fishing, he let the students have a holiday. With Hamel’s reflections, Daudet shows how Hamel, like Franz, regrets not having been more diligent when he had the chance.