Character Analysis Père Goriot


The title character is the object of Balzac's deepest analysis. His irrational passion is powerfully shown, carefully explained, constitutes the dramatic element of the novel, and progresses to a sublimely tragic climax.

Balzac carefully shows us how in Père Goriot a wealthy merchant's passion has grown and has overwhelmed him. From then on, the old man lives only for his daughters, adding sacrifice to sacrifice, bleeding himself of his money and of his life, and, when finally there remains nothing to give, he withers and dies.

This strange passion inextricably combines two elements: animality and sublimity. We have seen throughout the book the animalistic behavior of Goriot toward his daughters, a behavior often compared to that of a dog. Balzac said of him, in reply to criticisms: "Old Goriot is like a murderer's dog, who licks the hand of his master when it is soiled with blood; he does not argue, he does not judge, he loves." And, indeed, his passion has annihilated every other human feeling: He would murder, steal, and "sell Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost" to spare his daughters. At the same time, Balzac elevates him to a type, a creator, a godlike figure, capable of infinite passion and abnegation, which will culminate in the ultimate sacrifice of that "Christ of Paternity."