Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482

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The principal concerns of the novel are nicely emblematized by Giono’s division of himself into two parts near the end of the novel: “Come here,"who works in a bank, understands “dignified politeness and beautiful penmanship” and earns “thirty francs a month”; and “Blue Boy,” “the greater part,...[whom] the face on the wall, Decidement and Madame-la-Reine, Anne and the girl perfumed with musk” help to “escape to fair pastures.” In this juxtaposition between the bank clerk and the poet, between the blue of his bourgeois suit and that of the “great blue cyclone of liberty,” Giono establishes the major oppositions and motifs of the novel: the sterility, mediocrity, and vulgar sensuality of modern civilization against the fertility, vitality, and sensuousness of the natural, pastoral world; business, science, and technology against hope, love, and art; the prison of reason against the freedom of imagination.

Clearly, Jean Giono took the lessons of his father, Decidement, Madame-la-Reine, the dark man, and Franchesc Odripano to heart; his art and his life became a crusade against suffering, sterility, and death. He strove valiantly to transform the “stench” of the human condition into “the pure and somber beloved” as Bach had done; to prevent men from killing their hearts because it had become “too difficult to live with them”; to provide men with hope by giving them a vision of a living, vital pastoral world where the great forces of nature and of human passion and striving made life grand, heroic, worthy of love and struggle.

When young Jean Giono returned to Manosque after his glorious time in the countryside, he was almost overwhelmed by despair; he had an apocalyptic vision of civilization laying waste to the teeming medieval world of his childhood, of natural man dispossessed: “[T]here was my father with the others, seeing his city destroyed, his fields burned, and himself forced to set out alone on the highways like the rest.” Yet Jean Giono did not despair; nor did he despair after seeing the slaughter of both world wars and the pollution of his native Provence. On the contrary, he found the courage and the strength to struggle to save and redeem men, to help them to know what was worthy of love, to enable them to see that “the whole happiness of man is in the little valleys.” He did not, as it might seem, refuse to face the realities of the modern world or create a beautiful, imaginary world to which he might escape; rather, his vision pierced deep into the core of life, and he became one of the few men of the twentieth century whose life and work justified his father’s vision of men of “hope”:Men who arrive empty-handed. People scarcely notice that their open hands illumine the darkness like night-lamps. When they do notice them at all. And behold, the mountains arise and follow them.