The story of "The Red and the Black" is set in early 19th-century France, a period marked by the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The main character, Julien Sorel, is a clever and ambitious young man who dreams of becoming a famous person. However, due to his poor background and low social status, he finds it difficult to make his mark in the upper echelons of society.
While working as a tutor in the home of the wealthy Madame de Rênal, Julien falls deeply in love with her. However, Madame de Rênal's husband discovers their relationship and throws Julien out of the house. Julien then travels to Paris and begins his social life, pursuing another wealthy woman, Mathilde de La Mole. With Mathilde's help, Julien successfully gains admission to the seminary and becomes a priest.
As a priest, Julien undergoes significant changes in his thinking and faith. He begins to reflect on social and human issues and to examine his own behavior and motives. However, his love for Madame de Rênal continues to burn, ultimately leading him to kill her.
The novel's ending is tragic. Julien is sentenced to death for murder, but is granted a pardon at the last moment. He returns to his hometown, where he faces condemnation and scorn from the people. In the end, Julien is forced to flee to Italy and live a life of exile.
In addition to Julien's story, the novel also features many other colorful characters and plotlines. For example, there is Mathilde de La Mole, Julien's lover, a beautiful but narcissistic woman whose love for Julien seems more like a means of self-aggrandizement and vanity. There is also the Viscount de Rênal, Madame de Rênal's husband, who is a proud and arrogant man, deeply jealous and hostile towards his family tutor Julien.
Moreover, the novel portrays many of the issues and phenomena of French society at the time, such as the superficiality and hypocrisy of the upper classes, the poverty and suffering of the lower classes, and the corruption of politics and religion. Through these details and descriptions, the novel vividly recreates the social landscape and people's living conditions of that era.
"The Red and the Black" is considered one of the classics of French literature, achieving great literary success and exerting profound influence on subsequent social and cultural development. The novel emphasizes individual struggle and effort, and critiques social injustice and moral decay, possessing universal humanistic values.