Success: Love, Money, Power
Isnt it a fine game to play, after all, to be alone against mankind and to have luck on your side (p. 125) states Vautrin.
Honore de Balzac, in his novel Old Goriot, places us, the readers in Eugene de Rastignacs mind. The position in which Balzac prepares the readers to learn about Paris and Parisian life is set up brilliantly. What better way to teach the readers that to have them experience the main characters experiences. The lesson Honore de Balzac shares with us and his Eugene de Rastignac is that in Paris, Parisian success is solely a ruthless game of love, money and power. Throughout Old Goriot the prominent theme is success. All Balzacs characters have their own tales of triumph and adversity, as well as choosing which path leads to success, and this leads the readers to the opening of the novel.
There are four characters whom of which Balzac puts great emphasis on their lives. These characters are Old Goriot, Vautrin, Madame la Viscomtesse de Beauseant, and Eugene de Rastignac. Two of Balzacs creations, Vautrin and Madame de Beauseant, have their theories of how to gain success through means of love, money and power. Old Goriot and Eugene de Rastignac serve as players in the game of Parisian life.
In Paris and the Parisian life, Balzac bestows us, the readers and Eugene three ways of life to choose from. All three lead to some type of success- no one person can correctly define the meaning of success- and all lead to death. The three options are obedience, struggle, or revolt.
In the social strata of Parisian life, Old Goriot rests at the bottom. This is because he chose obedience and his family as his pathway to success. In all reality Old Goriot did reach his goal of being successful because he once was a great vermicelli maker. But because of his love for his daughters, he blindly sacrificed his love, money and power for their lives. Old Goriot says Work forty years of my life, carry sacks on my back, lard the
earth with my sweat, and pench and save my whole life long for you, my darlings, who
made all work easy for me and every burden light, only to see my fortune, my life, so up in
smoke! If that were so I should go raving made, and die (p. 247). As stated earlier each path to success results in an inevitable death. Therefore, the quotation by Old Goriot proves to be true, because the conclusion of the novel ends with his burial.
Mystery fills both the readers and Eugene when it comes to the character of Vautrin. In Old Goriot Vautrin – As sure as my name is Cheat he says (Vautrin, p. 124) – is the villain, and is Eugene de Rastignacs enemy, granted Monsieur Rastignac is the hero. Vautrin, whos alias is Jacques Collin, has chosen the path to success through revolt and danger. Vautrin makes a very important offer to Eugene, where Monsieur Rastignac is forced to make a decision between struggle and revolt, for he has already done away with obedience by taking leave from his family to concatenate the aristocrats. Vautrin says to Rastignac, Fifty thousand young men at this very moment are in your position and are racking their brains to find a quick road to success…You may judge of the efforts you must make and the bitterness of the struggle. You must devour each other like spiders in a pot, seeing there are not fifty thousand good positions for you. Do you know how a man makes his way here? By the brilliance of genius or the cunning use of corruption. You must cut a path through this mass of mean like a cannon-ball, or creep among them lie a pestilence. Honesty is of no avail (p. 129). From that quote Vautrin has just proven that he has no heart for love and will fight against envy, slander, mediocrity, against the whole world (Vautrin, p 131) to succeed in money and power. But, because in Parisian society, you cannot have one without the other, and Vautrin wants only money and power. Vautrins road to success will eventually lead to the deaths of others and his very own.
Madame la Viscomtesse de Beauseant is the third character in Balzacs novel who has chosen to succeed in Parisian society. She has chosen the way of struggle. Though the people revere Madame de Beauseant as the queen of Parisian society and yes, she is at the height of the Parisian strata; she has had her fair share of trials and tribulations. Madame la Viscomtesse has accomplished and succeeded in love, money and power. Though she has been forsaken by her lover, it has only made her a stronger woman. The
Madame la Viscomtesse de Beauseant had this advice to accord to the Monsieur Eugene
de Rastignac, … Treat this world as it deserves…The more cold bloodedly you calculate
the farther you will go. Strike ruthlessly and you will be feared. Regard men and women only as you do post-horses that you will leave worn out at every stage and so you shall arrive at the goal of your desires (p. 103). In saying this to young Rastignac, Madame de Beauseant advanced Monsieur Eugene further along on his journey of aristocratic life in Paris. The last of Madame la Viscomtesses advice to Rastignac is that of, Take care that you do not belong to either class (p. 104). This is the key to the success of Monsieur Eugene de Rastignac.
As Eugene grows throughout the novel Old Goriot, he finds himself drifting between the paths to success, though he must choose one to follow. As Madame de Beauseant states, In Paris social success is everything, it is the key of power (p. 104). Balzac leads the reader to believe that Eugene has chosen the path of struggle, just as Madame la Viscomtesse once did, and with this Eugene begins to sway about the Parisian strata. As his imagination soared among the giddy heights of Parisian society a thousand dark thoughts stirred in his heart, his views grew broader and his conscience slacker. He saw the world as it is; saw how laws and moral judgments are without power among the rich, and found in success the ultima ratio mundi (Balzac, p. 105). As Rastignac continues to expand and ascertain more about Parisian life, Balzac delineates him as, In short, the fledgeling bird has found he can use his wings (p. 119). Balzac also bestows a bit of his own insight on success for Eugene, …the young man who can jingle a few fleeting gold coins in his pocket savours the full flavour of his pleasures, tastes them drop by drop and turns them on his tongue; he floats above the earth,he word poverty for him no longer holds a meaning, the whole of Paris is his (p.119). For Eugene and the reader the remainder of the novel is an intensive growth spurt in the Parisian society. However in the conclusion Balzac lets us know that Rastignac refuses any particular way to success and that the young Monsieur Rastignac will rise above the aristocrats and succeed without their rules. Balzac reveals this major turning point in Rastignac’s like during the final passage, He eyed the humming hive with a look that foretold its despoliation, as if he already felt on his lips the sweetness of its honey, and said with superb defiance, Its war between us now! and by
way of throwing down the gauntlet to society, Rastignac went to dine with Madame de Nucinger (p.304).
Overall, throughout the novel of Old Goriot the theme of success is extremely dominant. Balzac tells a tale of the Parisian society of 1819 and its rules of life. When Balzac introduces his hero, the Monsieur Rastignac, he proposes a challenge to these laws of obedience, struggle or revolt and the social strata of Parisian life. In the concluding passage of the novel we, the readers, and Eugene de Rastignac both become aware that he must choose his own path to be successful in love, money and power.