Father Goriot by Honoré·de Balzac

Père Goriot by Honoré de Balzac

“Father Goriot” focuses on exposing and criticizing the naked money relationship between people in the capitalist world. The novel is set in Paris between the end of 1819 and the beginning of 1820. It mainly tells two parallel and overlapping stories. Retired flour-maker Goriot was neglected by his two daughters and died miserably in the attic of an apartment. The young Rastignac changed constantly under the corrosion of Paris society, but he still maintained justice and morality.

It’s also interspersed with stories about Madame de Beauséant and Madame Vauquer. Through the alternating main stages of shabby apartments and luxurious aristocratic salons, the writer paints a picture of the materialistic and extremely ugly society of Paris. It reveals the moral decay of the bourgeoisie under the control of the power of money and the ruthlessness between people, and reveals the inevitable destruction of the aristocracy under the attack of the bourgeoisie, which truly reflects the characteristics of the Bourbon Restoration period.

In “Father Goriot”, Balzac successfully depicts the complex relationship between class and class consciousness through the fate of Eugène de Rastignac and Goriot. This complex relationship has a historical basis. As two different classes, the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie have different economic bases, lifestyles and values, and occupy a dominant position in different historical periods. In France, in this sense, both the rise of Eugène de Rastignac and the fall of Goriot are the inevitable products of certain historical situations. The context set in the novel is 1819.

Although it was the restoration period of Bourbon, the regression was only partial, and the overall trend of historical development could not be reversed. The capitalist mode of production became increasingly stable, and the bourgeois consciousness inevitably became increasingly dominant. The gradual dominance of bourgeois consciousness not only means that the aristocracy is defeated on the whole, but also means that some individual aristocrats are incorporated by the bourgeoisie, such as Eugène de Rastignac.

This shows that the rule of the aristocracy was not only defeated from the outside, but ultimately collapsed from the inside as well. At the same time, the process eliminated members of the bourgeoisie who were not pure, such as Goriot. The bourgeoisie was consolidated from within. This shows the complexity of the historical process in which the bourgeoisie replaced the aristocracy. The struggle between the two took place not only externally, but also internally, not only in the form of revolution, but also in the form of ideological struggle.

Madame de Beauséant and Vautrin are the smartest people in the world. They had insight into a society that was respectable on the outside but dirty underneath. They were Eugène de Rastignac’s worthy mentors, and without them the young peasant would not have awakened so quickly. However, in addition to the words of these two teachers, it was also due to the example of Goriot that finally enlightened Eugène de Rastignac. We do not say this to regard Goriot as a bad man, or to say that he had done something unseemly.

Goriot died alone after his two daughters had bled him clean of his poor savings, and Eugène de Rastignac was a witness to the whole course of this tragic event. It was from here that Eugène de Rastignac saw through the world’s sordid society and was no longer under any illusion about the so-called justice, affection, friendship and so on between people. Therefore, he was determined to enter the upper class arena as a challenger. Sure enough, after some struggles, when the reader sees the young man again in one of Balzac’s other works, he has already mixed up a personal image.

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