Study Guide

The Red and the Black Society and Class

By Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle)

Society and Class

Julien Sorel is a total social climber, a peasant who will do whatever it takes to raise himself up in France's rigid class system. There are tons of obstacles in his way, including one or two that Julien creates for himself. But the kid is determined and smart.

He quickly jumps from private tutor to priest-in-training to personal secretary for one of Paris' most powerful men. But oh, how the mighty can fall. Things have gone super wrong for Julien—and he's become a criminal on death row, basically the lowest point on the societal totem pole—by the time The Red and the Black ends.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. What kind of life does Julien have at the beginning of this book? What social class is he in? What's his home life like and what are his ambitions?
  2. How does Julien manage to get himself into the good graces of Verrières' upper classes? What does he do to impress them? How does this contribute to his upward path?
  3. How does Julien initially plan to climb the social ladder? How does this plan change as he learns more about the world?

Chew on This

In The Red and the Black, Stendhal suggests that life is a lot more enjoyable if we just know our place and don't rock the boat too much.

In The Red and the Black, Stendhal shows us that truly great individuals can break through whatever obstacles society puts in their way.

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