(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Blue Boy is a fictionalized autobiography of Jean Giono’s boyhood. Although much of the story is seen through the eyes of the young Jean, the novel is written in the lyrical style and language and with the voluptuousness and mystical insight which characterize Giono’s greatest works. Sensuousness, the benign figure of Jean’s father, Pere Jean, and an intensely tender and loving regard for human suffering and for the beauties of the world provide a unity of tone and subject matter.

The first five chapters are dominated by three powerful influences on the young boy: his father, the life in a courtyard where “the night stayed from morning till evening,” and music. Blue Boy is both the moving story of a father’s subtle cultivation, enfranchisement, and liberation of a beloved son, and a son’s loving tribute to his father.

Jean’s earliest memories are of his father with his blue cobbler’s apron sitting in his workroom with “a shoe in one hand and the awl in the other” talking with men who have come to him not for new boots but for help, who have come to be healed. By his example and later by his words, Pere Jean encourages his son to become a healer, to use his gift with words to minister to human suffering and loneliness: “I tell you that you must put out the wounds. If, when you get to be a man, you know these two things, poetry and the science of extinguishing wounds, then you will be a man.”

That the world is full of suffering and loneliness Jean’s father does not have to tell him; the youth is preternaturally sensitive to the existence of grief and struggle around him. Jean spends many solitary hours looking down from the windows of his apartment at the dark well of a sheep court and into the windows and doors of other apartments which open onto that courtyard. For the dreaming, imaginative child, the guardian of this pitiful court is a lady whose face “dampness had traced on the walls,” whose eyes are the green of mildew, a lady who, like the living inhabitants of the court, is “humanly beautiful and sad.” The child does not know what to make of his perceptions, for he does not truly understand pain or suffering, and he spends much of his time being “borne away into the wide world” of his imagination. Nevertheless, when he hears the songs of the Passion according to Saint John by Johann Sebastian Bach, Jean imagines that “all the inhabitants of our poor sheep court were wailing.”

Jean responds to the songs of his father’s nightingale and to other music with such rapt attention that his father arranges for him to hear classical concerts played by two poor neighbors, Decidement and Madame-la-Reine, upon a violin and a flute. The child succumbs completely to “the intoxication of listening,” demonstrating not only an intense sensuousness but also an innate capacity for transforming the language of music into words. He knows that the music of Mozart and Bach comes from the “very center of grief,” but he also knows that there is celebration in the music—joy and pride and liberty.

The beginning of chapter 6 records the “sounds, the colors, the odors” which accompany the onset of a serious illness...

(The entire section is 1318 words.)