Criminal Viewpoint: De Balzac

Father Goriot by Honore De Balzac is a story about the happenings at a boarding house and its fascinating guests. The boarding house was known as a place that was welcoming to all, no questions asked. One of the guests, Vautrin, represented the traits of the flâneur. He had exceptional knowledge of the city and was constantly sneaking in and out to wander the streets of Paris. The other guests find his manner shady and mischievous. “Vautrin himself was so close and secretive he seemed to have something of the profound and unmoved serenity of a sphinx, seeing and hearing all things and saying nothing,” (De Balzac) in the way of the flâneur. When advising a student of the ways of Paris he explains “you are too young to know Paris thoroughly yet; later on you will find out there are what we call men with a passion,” (De Balzac) alluding to the criminal nature of some men in Paris that were not what they seemed. Vautrin made the point that he was not to be messed with, if the guests knew what was best for them they would remain on his good side. He is not afraid to kill a many, but “Only when it is absolutely necessary to do so, I do my best to kill him properly” (De Balzac). This man was cynical and intimidating, it was clear that he has nothing holding him back or keeping him attached to any location. The flâneur is able to be successful because they operated on their own and had nothing to lose. Some of the guests were surprised by Vautrin’s arrest and continued to see him as innocent, seeing him as, ” poor M. Vautrin that they made out to be a convict” (De Balzac). It was important to focus on the character of Vautrin because he represented the flâneur of 19th century Paris. He was intimidating and mischievous and most important is able to remain mostly anonymous among the guests. Even surrounded by people he does not reveal what he does each day or any information about his past. Like the flâneur, Vautrin used his knowledge of the city and invisibly as a tool for criminal behavior.  The flâneur was not afraid to hurt someone who wrongs him, reinforcing that he was not to be messed with. Overall the flâneur is shady, while people are unable to find out little to nothing about him, he knows more than he should about everyone else, giving him the upper hand in the situation.

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