DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Salma Yehia

Due: 2/24/12

Humanities Essay

Education: Wordsworth and 400 Blows

                        The role that education plays on an individual’s life is one of tremendous importance. Both William Wordsworth, in his poems “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned”, and Francois Truffaut, in his movie 400 Blows, provides a guide into the world of education. They establish two contradictory views on education. They provide examples of a world where education is restricted to memorization and strict policies compared to another realm of loose policies and a greater concentration on learning from experience and nature. In Wordsworth’s poems, there is a conflict between knowledge through books and through nature. Truffaut makes a similar comparison by showing a typical French classroom as well as the shrine made to Balzac (a founder of realism In European literature). The theme of education was especially influenced by the time periods and location of these two pieces. Both artists question the purpose and foundation of education. Both Wordsworth and Truffaut highlight different aspects of education that either needs to be reformed or established.

            William Wordsworth, a grand poet of his time, was influenced by the French Revolution and was particularly interested in youth. He had written the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” as an introduction to his poetry in order to defend his tactics and exposition of his principles. In the preface he describes poetry as “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge” and that poetry is the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility” implying his desire for knowledge based on experience and emotions. “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned” are two poems which hold different views on knowledge and how one should gain this knowledge. In the first section of the poem, “Expostulation and Reply”, a man by the name of Matthew urges William to quit dreaming and, instead, to read the books through which the wisdom of the past sheds essential light on the problems of the present. He continues by telling William that he look to “Mother Earth as if she for no purpose bore” him ( lines 9-10). However, Matthew implies that man was supposedly created for more importance than simply to dream off and simply admire nature. We can then assume that the purpose of life is not to contemplate on nature but, instead, to understand practical things through books that can, in Matthews view, educate people more meaningfully.  However, the second section of the poem in which Wordsworth replies, hints towards another form of education. He directs his attention to a type of education in which learning through reflection and experience is ideal.

  The poem, “The Tables Turned”, is somewhat an extension of Wordsworth’s reply in the poem “Expostulation and Reply”. The poem explicitly describes nature as the necessary form of knowledge and rejects books as a means for useful learning. The poem describes books as “barren leaves” which leaves the reader with an image of emptiness and uselessness suggesting that the knowledge in books is decaying as the leaves and that these books hold no great value. Parallel, he gives examples of how nature is fresh and full of sights and sounds (such as the sweet music of the woodland linnet). Nature’s ability to share knowledge is everlasting and even "one impulse from a vernal wood may teach [a person] more of man, of moral evil and of good, than all the sages can". These lines show that Wordsworth cares more about nature than he does about contemporary education. He is implying that any person who experiences the bounties nature can learn the secrets of the world and gain greater knowledge. This stems from the fact that nature can emphasize philosophies that one would not understand through books. To actually see nature at work, such as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, is different than simply reading a book. Nature’s remarkable features are not meant to simply be described but explored.

I believe that Wordsworth is also emphasizing a sense of equality between humans through nature because he believed in embracing a common language and creating a dialogue beyond just the elite. He preludes to this in the “Preface to Lyrical Ballads” as he explains how he wrote in the “language really used by man” and that his goal was that “ordinary things should be presented to the mind in a usual way” to capture and connect with his audience. Books therefore were barriers because they were not directed towards the common people. In Wordsworth’s perspective, learning from experience rather than just books can create something deeper in a person which stimulates the human in a way that the facts books cannot do. This is because books do not convey the same feelings and emotions as actually being physically present to understand certain events. However, I consider the balance between nature and a more formal education (reading books) to be more successful than either performed alone. When both are combined, a person can be informed on the facts of certain subjects through books, then use this information to go explore nature in a more sophisticated and understanding fashion. If one is simply thrown into nature in search for knowledge, one cannot gain much knowledge because the person does not know what they are experiencing. However, if one only reads books, the emotions and satisfaction of experience cannot be fulfilled. Therefore a balance between these two forms of education is best.

            400 Blows directed by Francois Truffaut was created in 1959 during the French New Wave (La Nouvelle Vague) in which a group of film makers influenced by neorealism created a film that included documentary style filming, tracking shots, as well as natural lighting.  The relevance of 400 Blows on the subject of education is bluntly portrayed throughout the movie. The film begins with the passing of a pin-up that is passed along to each boy in a classroom. Antoine Doinel eventually gets caught by the teacher as the pin-up is handed to him. His punishment is to stand in a corner with no recess. Doinel’s strict punishment begins to hint at the confined educational environment which these boys deal with every day. Recess, the only time to be one with nature and to roam freely is taken away from him. In retaliation, he wrote this poem: “Here poor Antoine Doinel was / unjustifiably punished by Sourpuss / for a pin-up fallen from the sky. / It will be an eye for an eye”. The poem Doniel wrote is creative and seems to be the only way he can escape the systematic and standard ways of the classroom. He was even able to come up with a short plot and moral story to the poem and was quite capturing.

The poem is compared to the memorization and repetition of the poem the teacher had given the students which was meaningless to the students. This shows two different ways of gaining knowledge. Doniel’s poem is dismissed right away by the teacher and the viewer never gets to ponder on creativity and exploration in the classroom.  In response to the creative piece Doniel had written, the teacher, Surpuss, said “We have a new poet in our class. Only he can’t tell an Alexandrine from a decasyllabic verse. Doinel, you’ll conjugate for tomorrow—go to your seat—in indicative, conditional and subjunctive tenses the sentence”. This sole line said by the teacher is one that shows the direct conflict between a much institutionalized style of learning and one that encourages freedom of opinion and holds lesser guidelines to the gaining of knowledge. Truffaut essentially poses the question:  Is it better to be able to distinguish an Alexandrine from a decasyllabic verse or be able to express ones emotion through poetry (or other art forms).  The answer to this question depends on a person’s definition of the purpose of education. In my opinion, it is not simply the gaining of information.  The purpose of education is to grasp this knowledge then use it to actively change yourself and the world around you.

Another instance of conflict in the ways of gaining knowledge is Doinel’s sudden love for Balzac as he prepares to write an in class essay and quotes a line from Balzac’s book on the death of his grandfather, “Eureka! I found it!”  The teacher however represses this quote as plagiarism and once again, Doinel is in trouble. Ironically, Balzac was a founder of realism in European literature. He was an independent thinker as a child and he, seemingly like Doinel, had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school (http://www.online-literature.com/honore_de_balzac/). Doinel’s love for Balzac and his ideas was so great that he had built a wooden shrine to his literary hero. In a crucial scene, Doinel at home alone, lying on the couch and reading a book by Balzac. At this moment, it is the first time we see any of the students from the classroom truly engaged with any literary piece. However, the only time that he was able to be remotely interested in education, the teacher completely ignores it and goes back to the almost robotic and rote way of teaching.  The conflict between   repetitive reading and creative expression is obviously present in this film. However, I believe that Truffaut is showing how the current educational system of France, at that specific time period, resembled the horrible and systematic working conditions of the industrial revolution. Everyone followed the ringing of the bell tower of the factories and their day went accordingly. The students, in the same way, would stand in rows copying and repeating the same poem until it was memorized.  This comparison leads to a conclusion that this educational system was not beneficial and was to some degree, corrupt.

            The time periods of when the poetry and film were created can help us explain how and why education was portrayed the way it was. Before the Romantic Period, learning was probably more focused on books and people probably weren't allowed that much creative leeway in their way of thinking. Wordsworth’s idea of nature went against the structure of that time. Thinkers of the previous time would see Wordsworth's ideas as being very radical. But this poem helps to show what the Romantic Period's idea of thinking was about. A couple of centuries later, France went through a time influenced by Italian Neorealism. Some French filmmakers were particularly interested in this and created an informal movement called the French New Wave.

The  1959 French film, 400 Blows, directed by François Truffaut was one of the defining films of the French New Wave, displays many of the characteristics of the movement. Showing raw emotions and natural imagery, they rebut the classical way of film which was very restrictive and held to a standard code. Many aspects within the film hint at these two different styles.

            Education was once informal and passed on through oral traditions. As the world began to modernize, education became more complex and formal. Both William Wordsworth and Francois Truffaut further criticized and actively transformed the way in which education was viewed during their time periods. However, this conflict between a restrictive and formalized education and one taught through nature is not limited to the past. Nowadays, each countries educational system covers the spectrum between these two very different views on education. Each countries view on education stem from the way each place defines the purpose of education.


DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Salma Yehia

Humanities II


Due: Friday, February 24 at 2pm


Outline for First Paper: 400 Blows and Wordsworth

Compare/contrast the portrayal of education in the 400 Blows with Wordsworth’s “Expostulation and Reply” and “The Tables Turned”

Helpful hint: Ask why, what, and how to analyze more deeply and ADD OWN PERSPECTIVE

  1. Introduction
    1. The role of education on children
    2. 400 blows and the comparison of Wordsworth’s two poems exemplify two completely different views on education
    3. Overview of main points of essay- Balzac and education in movie parallel to 2 poems
  2. Wordsworth Comparison of poems- brief analysis ( 1770-1850)

First take some short elements from the preface to lyrical ballads- incorporate the general aspects of a lyrical ballad

  1. Expostulation and reply- urges him to quit dreaming and to read those books through which the wisdom of the past sheds essential light on the problems of the present.
  2.  The Tables turned- “barren leaves”; an image of withering suggests that the knowledge of books decays and becomes devoid of any value. While nature is fresh, lively, green, full of sights and sounds and renews itself. Its ability to share knowledge is everlasting- learning from experience= something deeper ( what is this deepness?)- nature as a source of knowledge…… “ one impulse from a vernal wood may teach you more of man…”
    1. the book does not convey the same feelings and emotions as actually visualizing something in person- this is very important for lyrical ballads!
    2. HOW does nature teach?!! Examples
  3. The relevance of 400 blows – give specific examples of punishments and “memorization type of ( came out in 1959)

As Doinel leaves the room, the teacher begins a lesson that involves students

in copying the lines of a poem that he writes on the blackboard into their notebooks.

                                                    i.     Provoctative picture of a women was passed around in a classroom filled with only boys: Antoine Doinel got punished

Doinel loves Balzac so much that he has built

a little wooden shrine to his literary hero, placing a large photo of Balzac within the

wooden box. In a key scene, we see Doinel at home alone, lying on the couch and

reading a book by Balzac. We hear a voiceover narrating the last lines of a story

Doinel is reading, lines that end, “Eureka! I found it!”


                                                  ii.     Honoré de Balzac- “Eureka! I found it!”- founder of realism In european literature- independent thinker as a child, Balzac had trouble adapting to the teaching style of his grammar school


  1. Compare the time periods of when each was written and explain how this affects the way education is portrayed
    1. Before the Romantic Period, learning was probably more pertained to books and people probably weren't allowed that much creativity in their way of thinking. Wordsworth idea of nature being the greatest teacher goes against the structure of that time. Thinkers of the previous time would see Wordsworth's ideas as being very radical. But this poem helps to show what the Romantic Period's idea of thinking was about.
    2. is a 1959 French film directed by François Truffaut. One of the defining films of the French New Wave, it displays many of the characteristic traits of the movement
DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.