A Comparison of "Old Goriot" and "King Lear" Essay

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"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child." (Act 1 scene 4 lines 282-3) This quotation may have been taken from "King Lear" but it is also very apt for Balzac's novel "Old Goriot." Both stories tell of misplaced loyalties, thankless children and self-knowledge, which comes too late. Both eponymous characters surrender their fortunes to their daughters, excepting Cordelia in "King Lear", only to find themselves outcasts. Old Goriot starts out as a wealthy retired merchant, but ends the tale a pauper in a pauper's grave. He lived in a boarding house moving progressively down in room size and luxury the longer he is there. Old Goriot becomes the butt of all the jokes at the boarding house after Madame…show more content…
Michonneau is an old "huckster" and even the Duchess de Langeais favours Rastignac with "an auctioneer's glance." Madame Vauquer measures the care and attention she pays her guests in direct proportion to the amount of rent they pay. This is highlighted as, with each downgrading of room Goriot moves from being the landlady's favourite tenant to her favourite joke. Goriot is only following the trends of the time. In giving his daughters the appearance of a rich background he is enabling them to traverse the higher echelons of their society. As Rastignac quickly discovers, in order to even be acknowledged as breathing one must have fountains of money behind them: "The demon of luxury gnawed at his heart, a fever for gain seized him, for money dried his throat." In desperation Rastignac turns to his family, upon receiving the money he declares: "Yes, success, whatever the cost! No wealth on earth could repay such devotion." Unlike Goriot's daughters, he seems to appreciate everything his family sends him and how hard it is for them to do just this. At least at first, then he is merely justifying his claims to himself. Vautrin, on the other hand, tells him that he is behaving towards his family in the same way that Goriot's daughters are behaving towards him.

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