Le Père Goriot By Honor de Balzac Summary and Analysis Part 6

Summary

In the afternoon of the same day, Bianchon asks Eugène to look after Goriot. The old man's condition has grown worse, and Bianchon does not think he will live long, but he still wants to fight the disease. Of course, they will need some money. Bianchon does not have a penny left and Rastignac only twenty francs. The young medical student decides to get the needed medicine on credit at the dispensary where he works. In the meantime, Eugène is to apply hot mustard poultices on the old man's feet and legs.

The two men return to Goriot's room. Eugène is appalled by Goriot's livid face and haggard eyes, and by the miserable condition he is living in, the dirtiness and the dampness of the room, and the heartlessness of his two daughters.

As Bianchon is telling Eugène to take care of the old man and to observe his symptoms in order that he, Bianchon, and his teachers might learn from them, Goriot suddenly speaks up and asks Eugène if his daughters had a good time. Bianchon tells Rastignac that Goriot asked about his daughters many times, calling them by name, thinking of nothing else but of what they might be doing. The medical student departs and Rastignac is left alone with the old man. Eugène sadly acknowledges that noble thoughts and feelings, as displayed by Mme. de Beauséant and Old Goriot, cannot prevail in such a society. What a contrast between this drab picture of a man dying in poverty and the brilliance and riches at the ball!

At that point, Bianchon comes back breathless and tells Eugène a surgeon at his hospital recommended a huge poultice to cover the patient's spine, should he recover consciousness. When Eugène thanks him for what he is doing, Bianchon replies that, after all, it is an interesting case from the scientific point of view. Eugène is shocked at this detached attitude, but the young student tells him that he still can feel for his patient and leaves.

Alone with Eugène, the old man starts talking again, his delirious speech broken by flashes of consciousness.

Old Goriot had not recognized Bianchon and tells Eugène a young man spent the night burning his fuel and that he has no money left for firewood. Eugène reassures him; then Goriot asks for his daughters, sure that they are coming. He says that it is a shame that he will die because his daughters, especially Delphine, will suffer so much. After a few words on how hellish it is for a father to be without his children, he recalls the time of the girls' childhood, when they lived happily together, when he was the whole world for his daughters. This monologue is interrupted by horrible pains, as if his head is being split.

The pain subsides and Goriot keeps asking for his girls, explaining that if they are so long in coming, it is because of their wretched husbands. At that point, another fit of delirium seizes him: He wants to get well in order to go to Russia to manufacture starch and make another fortune. It is at that moment that Christophe comes in to say that neither of the daughters will be coming at this time. Mme. de Restaud has told him that she has some important business to discuss with her husband concerning her life and that of her children. Christophe adds that he could not see Mme. de Nucingen; her maid told him she was asleep and could not be awakened until midday.

Rastignac, thinking the old man is now asleep, lets out a horrified exclamation. But Goriot is not asleep. He starts bitterly complaining about the heartlessness of children who have received everything from their father and want to give nothing. "I have known it," he adds, with tears on his face, "but I dared not believe it." He reproaches himself for having given away his fortune, saying that his daughters would still be with him if he had not, for all they wanted was his money, and when he had none left, they turned away from him and started noticing the blunders he made in their society. He adds that in spite of the scorn his daughters have shown him, he has returned to see them "as a gambler goes to the gaming table." He then starts demanding his rights as a father — a father being, he says, the foundation of society.

His speech at this point becomes more and more senseless, for the final stroke is approaching. He tries again to convince himself that his girls will come, that they are coming, that everything will be all right, that he will make another fortune. But perhaps they won't come, and his long delirium ends with a curse, which he soon forgets, thinking that Delphine is in the room.

Eugène, alarmed at all this raving, decides to try to fetch Anastasie and Delphine. Goriot urges him to convince them to come, not to bring them by force, especially Delphine. Tell Delphine, he says, that if she does not come you won't love her any more. Rastignac leaves, assuring the old man he "shall see them." As Rastignac leaves, he hears Goriot blessing his daughters.

Just then Bianchon comes into the room and, looking at the patient, tells Eugène that it is almost the end. Rastignac, pale as a corpse, tells Bianchon of the sufferings of the old man and that he has felt like crying at this tragic situation. When Bianchon reminds him of the financial problem, Eugène offers his watch and tells his friend to pawn it while he goes to see the old man's daughters.

He is coldly received by M. de Restaud, who says that his wife has not yet accepted his terms and that, therefore, he forbids her to leave the house, and that it is quite immaterial to him whether Goriot lives or dies. Anastasie, who has heard the conversation, tells Eugène, with tears in her eyes, that she cannot bring herself to accept her husband's terms and that if her father knew what torture she is going through, that he would surely forgive her.

Arriving at Delphine's house, Eugène finds his mistress in bed. She explains that she caught cold the night before and that she is afraid of pneumonia. Eugène tells her that her father is dying and calling for her and she should go to him. Delphine replies that she does not believe her father is so sick, but that she will go, after seeing a doctor for herself. Then she notices that Eugène is not wearing the watch she gave him. After some hesitation, Eugène tells her that he has pawned it to secure money for her father. At these words, Delphine gets out of bed, gives her purse to Eugène, and says that she will go and see her father immediately. As Eugène leaves, she asks a maid to fetch her husband.

Eugène feels relieved when he returns to the boardinghouse, for he will be able to tell the old man that at least one of his daughters is coming. In Goriot's room, he finds Bianchon and a surgeon applying cauteries to the patient's back to relieve the congestion. When Goriot see Rastignac, he asks him if his daughters are coming. Eugène replies that Deiphine will arrive shortly. The physician takes his leave, saying that the case is hopeless but that sometimes nature accomplishes miracles. He asks that the sheets be changed.

Eugène goes downstairs to find Mme. Vauquer setting the table. Upon hearing his request for new sheets, the landlady tells him that Old Goriot is penniless and that if she gives him sheets, she is not likely to see them again, as the old man will very likely be buried in them. Eugène runs back to Bianchon, asks him for the money he got for the watch, and finally gets worn-out sheets by paying for them.

Back in the room, the two young men proceed to undress Goriot, who starts crying for a locket that they had to remove from the old man's chest when they put blisters on him. Eugène picks it up and finds that the chain is made of a plait of hair, undoubtedly belonging to Mme. Goriot, and inside the locket are curls of hair taken from Delphine and Anastasie when they were children. When Goriot gets it back, he utters a groan of satisfaction, joy spreads over his tortured face, and in a last moment of consciousness, he calls his girls by their pet names.

At that very moment, footsteps are heard, but it is not, as Eugène thought, Delphine — it is the maid, who says that, after a terrible dispute with her husband, her mistress fainted and is not in a condition to come. It is too late anyhow, replies Eugène.

Mme. de Restaud comes in unexpectedly, telling Eugène she could not come earlier. She kisses her father's hand and asks for his forgiveness and tells Eugène that she may as well die. Her lover has deserted her, she had to leave the rest of her fortune and the future of her children to her husband, and she has been so cruel to her father. At that point, Goriot's eyes open in a last muscular contraction. A few moments later, he will be dead.

Except for Eugène and Bianchon, the boarders react very selfishly at the news. They simply don't want to be bothered and minimize the tragedy, remarking that Goriot is much better off dead than alive. After dinner, Rastignac and Bianchon go out to find a priest to attend Old Goriot. Then Rastignac sends a letter to the two girls' husbands, asking for money to take care of the funeral, but there is no reply and the two friends have to finance all arrangements.

When they have the old man laid in a pauper's coffin, Bianchon is so furious that he asks Eugène to have the following carved on the headstone: "Here lies Monsieur Goriot, father of the Comtesse de Restaud and the Baronne de Nucingen, buried at the expense of two students."

Back at the boardinghouse, Eugène finds Mme. Vauquer in the dead man's room stealing his gold locket. He furiously takes it away from her and tells her that it will be buried with the old man so that he may have at least a part of his daughters with him in the grave.

Goriot's funeral is that of an indigent man. Followed only by Eugène, Bianchon, and the handyman, Christophe, his coffin is taken, after a quick seventy-franc church service, to the graveyard, accompanied by the same mourners and by two empty carriages bearing the coats of arms of the Restauds and the Nucingens. When the coffin is lowered into the tomb and earth is thrown on it, Rastignac cannot help but cry. With these tears of sorrow, "Eugène de Rastignac's youth ended," and, on top of a hill dominating Paris, he shouts a warning: "Beware Paris, here I come — "; he then leaves to have dinner with Mme. de Nucingen.

Analysis

In a powerful, realistic way, this part brings to an end the tragedy of the father and Rastignac's social education. Neither the summary nor the commentary can do justice to these splendid pages, which should be read extensively to be fully appreciated.

The agony of Old Goriot, his ravings of despair, have attained the summit of pathos, just as the old man, having reached the limit of human endurance, groans his life away in possibly the most beautiful and everlastingly moving pages of the whole book.

As for Rastignac, he is still "in hell." His last feelings of compassion, of altruism, have disappeared with the death of Old Goriot and with the tears he shed over his tomb. He is ready now, with cold calculation, ruthlessness, and cynicism — all the deadly weapons he has been taught to use — to fight a winning battle against Paris.

Thus ends this remarkably powerful novel, a literary monument, that gives us a penetrating insight into human beings and the society in which they evolve. It is a brilliant and complex masterpiece to which one could apply André Gide's comment, "more perfect, it would not be so gigantic."

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

After seven years of marriage, Mme. Goriot




Quiz