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As depicted through Rastignac and Goriot, money
dictates ones status and in the case of Rastignac, is a necessity for his rise
in Parisian high society. In order to launch himself into the elite society in
Paris, Rastignac resorts to evidently more morally corrupt actions in order to
gain the money required. As said by Madame de Beauséant, ‘the more cold-blooded
your calculations, the further you will go’ and a potential wife ‘must be young
and wealthy.’ Due to Rastignac’s persistent nature, he eventually decides to do
this via multiple means. From exploiting his family’s money to establishing a
romantic relationship with Goriot’s daughter, Delphine, Balzac shows Rastignac’s
rapid ascent into Parisian high society by corrupt means. However Balzac has
also chosen to give great detail on Rastignac’s background, his birth into a
noble family who ‘made to educate him in traditions of good taste’ and his naïve,
honest personality. Through doing this, Balzac depicts how the corrupt nature
of Parisian society is able to manipulate the morally sound values of someone
once untainted and also increases empathy for Rastignac.

 

 

As seen between Goriot and his two daughters,
Delphine and Anastasie, Balzac depicts how money can corrupt a relationship
when it is used as a substitute for love. Goriot’s love for his daughters is
clearly shown through his actions and words, ‘I love my daughters more than God
loves the world.’ He gives them very large dowries to ensure a good marriage
into high society and this in return gives him his daughter’s love and happiness.
In return for his actions, he lives alone and in very poor conditions compared
with the luxury his daughters enjoy. However, this does not concern Goriot as
‘his daughters are happy, and smartly dressed, and have soft carpets under
their feet. Goriot states that he ‘shall never feel cold so long as his
daughters are warm; he shall never feel dull if they are laughing.’ Balzac
shows how as Goriot strives to give his daughters everything, the meaning of love
and their relationship is corrupted.

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He also portrays how Goriot sees money as the way
to ensure a relationship with his daughters, and the unconditional love that he
carries for them, hides how his daughters only use him for financial support. Anastasie
and Delphine take advantage of their fathers love in order to further deprive
him of money, ‘to bleed our poor father… of his entire fortune’ and are overcome
by the need to uphold their social standing. On the night of Madame de Beauséant’s
ball, Rastignac sensed that Delphine ‘would walk over her father’s dead body to
get to the ball’. Balzac portrays Goriot’s daughters as money hungry and
selfish as they put themselves before their father to show how even love can
result in corruption.

 

 

Amidst the corruption heavily present in the
novel, Old Man Goriot, Balzac has also portrayed moral moments and actions
performed by characters, which are a stark contrast from the majority of the
novel. Balzac also does this through characterisation and includes this for the
audience to see another side of French high society. An example would be
Vautrin. Although he is portrayed as a villain due to his criminal activities,
his honesty, intellect and relationship with Rastignac pushes the audience into
admiring his character. While Balzac is able to depict an alternate side of
Parisian society through Vautrin, he executes this through Goriot as well. Goriot
ends his life tragically after giving his entire self-earnt fortune to his
daughters with no love in return. Despite this, his love for his daughters is
unconditional, something exceedingly rare in French high society.

 

 

In Old Man Goriot, Balzac strives to portray the
corrupt and immoral actions of those in Parisian society yet also expresses the
many reasons for these actions. Eugene Rastignac is thrusted into the harsh
environment of French society and the slow corruption of a once moral
individual pushes the audience into empathising with his fate. Common human
emotions and characteristics of greed and selfishness are identifiable by the
reader, allowing them to understand the actions of Balzac’s characters. Balzac
wishes to show his audience not only the wrongdoings in Parisian society at the
time but also in our current community.

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