Characters Discussed

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Jean

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Jean (zhahn), the Blue Boy, a boy of about seven when the story opens. He grows to maturity by the end of the book, when he joins the French army in 1914. Jean lives with his mother and father in the Provençal hills at the Italian border. He is the narrator of this fictionalized autobiography, in which he recounts incidents in his own life and the lives of those around him from a boy’s point of view, observing grief, sickness, death, and cruelty, as well as joy and delight. An impressionable, imaginative, solitary child, he spends hours watching people from the windows of his parents’ apartment, looking into the windows and doors of the neighbors’ apartments and down into the sheep pen that forms the “courtyard” of the apartment building. Much of his time is spent in his mother’s laundry on the ground floor and in the cobbler’s shop of his father on the third floor. Carefully dressed, with a starched white collar and a sky-blue silk tie, he attends the convent school of the Sisters of the Presentation. Much later, when he has become a young man, he gets a job at a bank, where he must wear blue livery. At that job, he feels divided into two parts, one that carries out orders and performs menial tasks, and the inner one, which he calls “Blue Boy.” That part has been taught how to escape into the world of poetry, music, and compassion for the suffering of others.

Père Jean

Père Jean (pehr), the Blue Boy’s father, a cobbler and a healer, the real hero of the book. The boy sees many people come to his father’s workroom seeking help with problems of all kinds, physical and spiritual. The cobbler welcomes them all without question or judgment and does what he can to relieve their suffering and enable them to continue their lives with renewed strength and courage. The father keeps cages filled with songbirds. After a long period of yearning and saving, he buys a small plot of land for a garden, where, as he grows old and ill, he sits under the trees he planted and feeds the rabbits. It is here and in the workroom that Jean and his father have their last conversations. The old man speaks his thoughts about living in order to heal and to comfort through extinguishing wounds and composing poetry. If his son learns these things, the father says, he will become a man.

Massot and his wife

Massot and his wife, to whom Jean is sent by his father to live for a year, so that the boy can regain his health after a long illness. Massot is a shepherd. Jean plays with their shy little girl, Anne, and he spends the summer with “the dark man,” who has also been sent by Père Jean to be healed. The two tend the sheep, talk, and immerse themselves in Homer’s The Iliad. Both the boy and the man are healed.

Décidément

Décidément (day-see-day-MAHN) and

Madame-la-Reine

Madame-la-Reine (rehn), a violinist and a flutist, respectively. The two brothers share an apartment in the house where Jean lives. Jean’s father sends his young son to listen to the musicians, recognizing that for the boy the pleasure of hearing music is greater than the act of performing it. The two musicians are among the most memorable of the myriad characters who people the book. The death of Décidément occurs shortly after Jean returns from his year at Corbieres with the Massots.

The Characters

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Jean and his father are the central figures of the novel; both Giono’s self-portrait and the loving study of his father are unforgettable. Blue Boy is, in fact, filled with finely rendered, striking characters. Two aspects of the characters and characterization are particularly interesting: Giono’s ability to bring even a minor character vividly to life with a deft, individualizing stroke, and the fact that Blue Boy is replete with characters who reappear in Giono’s later novels.

Giono was exceptionally sensitive to the “form, the color, the sound, the sensation” of the world and the people around him. The girls who work in his mother’s laundry, the men who come to his father for help, the denizens of the sheep court, the men and women of Corbieres are all brought convincingly to life; the unique humanity of each is seen so sharply and sketched so precisely that virtually all are indelibly imprinted in the reader’s memory. For example, the fascinating gallery of women includes Sister Clementine, who has the “nobility of a column” and whose body when she walks undulates like “waves, the neck of a swan, a moan”; Madame Massot, “an agreeable country lady; with so much goodness in her blind eye, so much goodness in her good eye,...in her sagging cheeks” that she seems to have been “cooked in the oven of goodness like a brick”; Aurelie, the baker’s wife, with “hair so black that it made a hole in the sky”; and Anne with lips that “burned like live coals,...the cold, silent little girl, the sleeper with open eyes, perched in the trees like a fruit.”

Blue Boy is a treasure house of stories; the famous tale of La Femme de boulanger (1942; the baker’s wife), which Marcel Pagnol made into a celebrated film in 1938, is only one of many. Also, many characters from the novel reappear in Giono’s later fiction; Madame Massot prefigures Pauline of Mort d’un personnage (1949) and the other good-hearted, self-sacrificing women in Giono’s novels. Blanche Lambelle, who hangs herself, foreshadows many other unhappy, frustrated women for whom Giono cared so deeply. The tragedies and comedies of the people in and around Corbieres are the source not only of the famous baker’s wife but also of people and incidents in Noe (1947, 1961) and Un Roi sans divertissement (1947). The stories of the ball, of Costes, Costelet, Hortense, and Julie recur in Le Moulin de Pologne (1952; The Malediction, 1955). Clara and Gonzales, whose marriage brings great pain and drama to Manosque, reappear transformed and transposed in Le Chant du monde (1934; The Song of the World, 1937).

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 37

Girard, Marguerite Mathilde. Jean Giono: Mediterranean, 1974.

Goodrich, Norma L. Giono: Master of Fictional Modes, 1973.

Peyre, Henri. “Jean Giono,” in French Novelists of Today, 1967.

Redfern, W.D. The Private World of Jean Giono, 1967.

Smith, Maxwell A. Jean Giono, 1966.

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