Live and Learn
Eugene's life is much like a roller coaster throughout "Old Goriot". He displays feelings of love, hatred, greed, selfishness, kindness, and compassion. He starts out as an innocent, moral citizen, and quickly becomes imbued with the corruption and social-climbing instincts that his world is made up of. This new world of his a huge difference from his traditional lifestyle. The "young man from the provinces" theme is seen throughout with Eugene coming into the story innocent and relatively uneducated with society, and leaving as a battle-tested veteran who offers a formal challenge to society. Eugene learns many things during his Sojourn to Paris. Perhaps the most important thing that he learns is that his traditional book smarts will do him little good in this society of corruption and fraud, he will have to resort to his street smarts and ruthless animal instincts to survive.
For better or worse, he meets criminal mastermind Vautrin. Vautrin is a valuable teacher, and teaches Eugene his first lesson. He says that there are two paths you can follow in life, good or evil, weak or strong. This is one of the most significant parts of the novel, primarily because it gives Eugene a wake up call for what is to come. Eugene soon learns that one of the other borders is interested in marrying him, and she has a wealthy father. Vautrin then provides lesson number 2, always look out for yourself and always try to benefit. Vautrin has Victorines brother killed with Eugene's implied consent, leaving a huge fortune to be inherited by her, and Eugene in turn once he marries her. Eugene defies Vautrin, however, and chooses to try and climb the social ladder, instead of the financial one.
Madame de Beaseant serves as teacher...