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Set in the Prussian occupied part of France, this story highlights the virtues of culture, language, and nationalism. It reiterates the fact that unless people learn and preserve their own culture and language, they cannot stop it from being erased and dominated by other cultures and languages.
Franz – A Lazy Boy
The story is centered on a young energetic boy named Franz. Like other kids his age, Franz loves to play and have fun outside with his friends and is often lazy in completing his school tasks.
One such morning, Franz is scampering to his school with a feeling of dread in his heart. He knows that he did not memorize his homework and fears a scolding from his French teacher Mr. Hamel in the classroom.
On his journey, he observes Prussian soldiers doing their regular morning drills and exercises which has a huge impact on the French locals who stay intimidated by this display of military strength and muscle. He soon comes across a crowd that is surrounding the village’s notice board.
Massive Gathering at School
He is surprised by such a massive gathering but decides to refrain from peeking at the notice board in order to reach his school in time. He eventually opens the school gate only to find it in eerie silence.
Normally, the schoolyard is bustling with noise and action but all seems dormant and quiet that morning. He enters the class and expects to be punished by Mr. Hamel for being late.
Much to his astonishment, the teacher is very understanding and only nods him to take his seat. However, this is not the only surprise that is in store for Franz. He observes the village elders are also gathered inside the classroom and the whole atmosphere is of sadness and trepidation.
He stares at his teacher who is dressed immaculately as if it was a special day and his confusion intensifies. To end the suspense, Mr. Hamel finally drops the hammer and declares that he will not be taking any more French language lessons from that day onwards.
An End to French Lessons
The teacher explains that the colonial authorities have decided to put an end to French lessons in school in order to clamp down on French people and culture. Suddenly, Franz realizes the subject of interest near the village notice board.
It also dawns on him the error of his ways and the neglect he has always shown towards his studies especially his mother tongue. However, his thoughts are interrupted when Mr. Hamel orders him to show the class his homework.
Regretting his failure to complete his task, he fears the worst but his teacher does not punish him. Instead, Mr. Hamel uses the time to emphasize a very important lesson.
His Suggestions to People
He informs the people that it is their ignorance and neglect of their own language and culture that has led to their suppression by a foreign army, culture, and people. He asks them to take pride in their own language and help preserve it.
He encourages them to protect their identity and take pride in doing so. Franz is also repentant about his lack of care in his studies. He remembers all the moments he wasted on frivolous activities etc.
Mr. Hamel asks them to write their final assignment in French and they also do it with renewed passion and zeal. When the military drills end, they all realize that it was the end of the class for the day and end of their French learning for good, at least at the school.
Mr. Hamel announces the majesty of his culture and language with a triumphantly written ‘long live France’ in his native language.