Student Question

In J. B. by Archibald MacLeish, what is J. B.'s relationship with nature and leaves?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

J. B.'s relationship with nature and leaves is intimate, as he adapts himself to the endless cycle of life, with its constant decay and renewal, death and rebirth.

J. B. loves nature, the beautiful world created for us by God. But at the same time, he wonders aloud whether we "owe for the greening of the leaves." In other words, he wants to know if there's a price to be paid for all this green loveliness.

In the opening scene of the play, Nickles's song refers to "the little green leaves in the wood / And the wind on the water." The latter is an allusion to the first chapter of Genesis, where God's first act of creation involves His spirit moving "over the face of the waters" (King James translation). God's creation has brought order out of primal chaos, providing a place for man to live, move, and have his being. For J. B., it is supposed to be a place of rest. But because of the nature of God and the world that he has made, J. B. cannot rest, as he is routinely subjected to divine torture.

The natural world should be a place of repose, but ultimately, there is no hiding from God's terrible power. Thanks to the many sufferings that the Almighty has inflicted upon his servant, J. B.'s wife Sarah leaves him to seek "a way away" from him and the natural world that he inhabits, hoping instead to return to the original watery chaos that once enveloped the globe.

For Sarah, as for J. B. and countless human beings down the centuries, nature, despite its beauty, is a double-edged sword: it is a place of death and destruction as well as life and rebirth.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial