A part of the collections of novels called “The Human Comedy”, “Le Pere Goriot” is one of the most famous one among all the texts that are included in it. The story starts with the author wondering if the sense of the novel can be understood by non-Parisians and then answering to himself that most probably “Le Pere Goriot” would become known only in Paris. Balzac describes the place where the mansion Vaquer - the place where the novel mostly takes place - is built. It is a bunch of decrepit buildings, dirty and old, with small and smelly streets between them.
During the story we see seven people living in the mansion and renting the apartments there. The best apartments are on the first floor and the higher is the floor the more the rooms resemble just crampy dirty boxes. The first floor is taken by the landlady - widow Vaquer, and the second apartment on the first floor belongs to Mrs. Couture, a widow of the Republican official. Another, smaller apartment on the first floor is rented by a young girl named Victorine Taillefer who lives alone but admires and respects Mrs. Couture like her own mother. The second floor is divided in halves: one half belongs to an elderly man Mr. Poret, a mysterious man named Vautrin lives in the other half. He looks like he is about forty, he tells he used to be a salesman once and wears a weird black wig. The third floor with the worst rooms has the four of them. One is rented by Ms. Michonneau and the other by the hero of our story, Mr. Goriot, who used to make vermicelli, but now is retired. The other two rooms are usually leased to students who live there for a while until they find something better. Now one of these rooms is inhabited by the student named Eugene de Rastignac. The fourth floor isn’t actually a floor, it is an attic where the things are stored, the laundry is dried and there are two tiny rooms for the personnel: a servant named Christopher and a cook named Sylvie.
Every of the aforementioned characters has some of their own defining qualities that makes them unique. They all are of different age, wealth, origins and goals in life. But still, they all are united with the one common concern - money. The life path of each of them is very clear up to stereotypic. The only shadowy persons here are Goriot and Vautrin. Goriot just keeps quiet about his past and the events that brought him to his miserable condition, not caring at all about all the gossips and versions the other inhabitants of mansion build around him. Vautrin isn’t as mysterious, but he has a double nature, being genuinely kind from the one side and cowardly and traitorous from the other side.
Such close cohabitation of the different people leads to lots of love triangles, tangled relationships and countless gossips. Goriot is often the victim of them. At first widow Vauquer, his landlady, starts to show him signs of affection, but the old man doesn’t care. The offended woman immediately goes from sweetness to threats, cutting him off cooked food, water and heating - especially after she saw him with some beautiful and young women and understood that there are very close relationships between them. After the improvised investigation it turns out that Goriot isn’t a womanizer, he just spends time with his daughters. The inhabitants of the mansion are surprised even more: the women look happy and wealthy, why do they allow their father to live in poverty?
In the meantime, Goriot’s financial situation worsens. He has to leave his apartment on the second floor and move to the third, into one of the students’ rooms. He starts eating less and even quits smoking to save money on tobacco. Now he looks even older than he is, and his health is obviously failing him. The changes are so drastic and fast that look almost supernatural, making the rest of the mansion dwellers feel horrified and wonder why his daughters don’t care for him. But the answer to this question is simple: it is Goriot who cares about his daughters. He does everything to earn and save some money to give it to them.
After the story of Goriot the narrative focuses on his new neighbor, Eugene de Rastignac. He is a reckless student, who loves all the joys of flesh available in Paris. Now he is experienced enough to see that loving the right woman may increase his social status, give him wealth and even fame. At the moment, Rastignac is searching for a woman able to grant him everything he desires. He never experienced a wealthy life before, the family of Rastignac is poor and all the hard-earned money went to send him to the capital to study and live a better life than them. After arriving to Paris Rastignac was dependent on his wealthy and noble aunt, Mrs. de Marcillac who befriended all the upper crust members. Speaking to her Rastignac realized that he has chances to enter the high society. His aunt finally recommends him to Ms. de Beauseant, one of the most influential and wealthy women in the Parisian nobility. Ms. de Beauseant indeed helped young Rastignac to enter her circles of the society and he was mesmerized by its wealth and chic. He starts to lust after Ms. Restaud, charming and beautiful, thinking that she should be the daughter of some rich aristocrat. But once the truth was revealed: Rastignac saw Goriot, preparing his last silver plates to sell them and decided to boast about the beautiful lady she courts. Goriot bursts into tears and confesses that alluring and beautiful Ms. Restaud is actually his daughter.
Once Rastignac visits Mrs. Beauseant and she takes him to the theater, making everyone look at them together, gossip and discuss her companion. Rastignac is ecstatic: finally he is the centre of attention. In the theater he meets another beautiful young woman: Delphine de Nuncigen, who happens to be the second daughter of Goriot and Ms. Restaud’s sister. But in the same way the sister’s vanity made them to disown their father, Delphine disowns Ms. Restaud, considers her way below herself and not a sister to her. Rastignac immediately makes Delphine his ultimate goal. He starts to court her intensively (Ms. Restaud already rejected him, because Rastignac unintentionally mentioned her father and she was clearly ashamed of any connection to him). De Nuncigen is flattered by his attention and enjoys it, but doesn’t give anything in return just using her new admirer as a source of compliments.
Rastignac makes more and more acquaintances among the high society. This obliges him to look and behave appropriately and the young student cares more and more about his own looks. Mrs. Beauseant gives him some advice about learning fencing, changing his wardrobe and speaking like a noble person and Rastignac is eager to learn. He is extremely motivated to become rich and famous while he is still young and can be interesting to the rich and noble women. He writes to his family, telling them about his success, flattering them and saying how much he appreciates their help, but all this is just to ask them for more money to spend on fancy clothes, amusements and fencing lessons. His mother is amazed by her son’s success and promises him to sell everything and buy him whatever he needs from shirts to silken handkerchiefs just to let Rastignac to find his place amongst the nobility. But Rastignac isn’t content with what he got: his lust for money becomes only bigger. A descendant of the poor family he becomes drunk on wealth, not knowing how to stop.
But as much as Delphine, Rastignac needs his own admirers. So he continues to tell his fancy stories to Goriot and the old man soon befriends him. From Goriot’s point of view the kind young man brings him news from his daughters. Soon, Delphine invites Rastignac to her mansion and confesses that despite her beauty, status and wealth, she is depressed and unhappy all along, living on the brink of despair. Rastignac listens attentively and then Delphine offers to take a huge sum of money and go gambling to amuse themselves. Not knowing the rules of the game, Rastignac bets on number twenty-one, because he is twenty-one-year old. Suddenly he wins several times. He turns to Delphine and sees a happy smile on her face: the woman claims that Rastignac has just saved her. Then she tells him the rest of the story: she is very unhappily married and had to spend her dowry to continue living in a fancy way she is used to. But now the dowry is no more, and Delphine has no money at all. The woman confesses that her greedy husband gives her only a small amount of money daily for the primary needs and she feels too guilty to ask her father for more, because she understands that she and her sister are killing him. She shares the money with Rastignac and invites him to come with her to dinners and theaters always. Rastignac comes home and tells Goriot the story of the day and what he heard from Delphine. Seeing how much his daughter’s unhappiness hurts the old man, Rastignac gives all the money he has from gambling to him.
Inspired by his success, Rastignac continues gambling but loses time after time. But still he continues to waste money. Vautrin, who Rastignac asks to borrow him some more, warns the young man that keeping living this way will do him no good. But still Rastignac takes the money and soon pays it back. He starts to look closer at Vautrin and becomes slightly scared of him. Vautrin looks like he genuinely cares of him but still there is something very unsettling in him. The real story of Vautrin is revealed to Ms. Michonneau and Poirot who walk in the park together and suddenly meet a person who warns them about Vautrin’s real personality. He appears to be a loan shark in prison and a former convict. After being released he took money from his fellow prisoners to keep it and then help their families and themselves if they were lucky enough to escape the prison. The person offers Ms. Michonneau a deal: to make Vautrin fall asleep with a potion he gives to her and then write some certain words on his back. She agrees.
In the meanwhile, Vautrin offers Rastignac to marry Victorine, who has a big dowry and will provide him a steady source of money. Rastignac doesn’t listen because he is all about Delphine. Ms. Michonneau gives the potion to Vautrin and writes on his skin the words the mysterious person wanted her to. Ms. Victorine receives even more money because of the serious wound of de Taillefer. Rastignac doesn’t get this: he gets a letter from Delphine with another piece of her sad story. She writes that she is looking for an apartment she can move into and take her father with her. She tells that her husband invested the rest of her dowry and his own money to some ventures abroad and she is left without a penny in her pockets. Meanwhile Vautrin gets arrested because of Ms. Michonneau’s excessive gossiping and yells at her that he should give her money for her silence, while being taken away by the police. Mrs. Vaquer is devastated: her income continues to decrease with Vautrin’s imprisonment being the last straw.
Delphine comes to Goriot, complaining him about her situation. Her sister has a similar situation and also runs to Goriot asking for help and crying. Her husband is very ill, and she sold all the family jewelry to pay for his treatment. Goriot, who is ill himself is frustrated: he expected some compassion from his daughters, but they both are just demanding more money from him to solve their own problems. Rastignac occasionally hears about Goriot’s troubles and forges one of the bonds left of Vautrin, rewriting it to Goriot’s name and saving the day. Next time Rastignac attends the ball with Mrs. Beauseant, he sees the sold diamonds and gets depressed because of it. He remembers Goriot, ill and suffering, giving everything so that his daughter can wear these shiny diamonds.
Goriot gets worse and worse. The final betrayal of his daughter took away his will to live. No one notices this but Rastignac, who talks to him every day and tries to cheer him up. Goriot tries to visit both of his daughters, but they keep telling him that they are ill or have much work to do or make other excuses. Goriot can’t believe that they are just hiding from him even when he is approaching his death. He says some bitter words about them, ungrateful and cold, and stops trying to contact them. But Rastignac tries. He comes to Delphine to say her that her father is dying, but she again says that she is too ill to come. Delphine notices that Rastignac’s watch is missing and asks him about it. He replies that he sold it to pay for Goriot’s treatment and leaves to Mrs. Restaud. After his persuasive speech, she agrees to come and see Goriot, but when she finally appears the old man has already passed away. Seeing the dead body of her father, Mrs. Restaud finally realizes how cruel and ignorant she was to him. Her husband, as wel as Delphine’s refuses to give any money for the funeral and neither Mrs. Restaud nor Delphine have the money of their own. Rastignac gathers all his money to give his friend a decent funeral, but he has enough only to pay for the cheapest coffin. Rastignac is the only one attending the funeral ceremony, none of Goriot’s daughters bother to come. Rastignac comes to each of the sisters but they refuse to talk to him. Observing the life and death of Goriot, loveless and miserable, Rastignac cries for the old man. In the end of the story we see that Goriot involuntarily turned Rastignac from a reckless pleasure seeker to an adult man.