Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 683
The opening sequence of Joy of Man’s Desiring quickly establishes man’s relationship with the earth, a sense of being pervaded by all of nature. Jourdan, a farmer, finds himself inexplicably restless one late winter night: The night is virtually alive, pulsing with creation. Into this animate darkness Jourdan takes his horse and plow and begins to turn over the land. He is proceeding row by row when he sees a stranger standing on a hill, set against the stars.
Calling himself Bobi, the stranger strikes up a conversation with Jourdan as naturally as if the two men have known each other all of their lives. Strangely drawn to Bobi, Jourdan invites him back to the house, where Marthe, Jourdan’s wife, prepares breakfast; the three talk cryptically about happiness and the living earth. Bobi has already broached the idea of turning over part of Jourdan’s farm to wildflowers.
Later, Bobi and Jourdan set out on a visit to the neighboring farms. Like Jourdan, the farmers accept Bobi at once; though he is often laconic, strangely distant, he is at the same time as natural with them as are the members of their own family. He soon becomes part of the Gremone community, a sage, gentle man with an inexpressible fund of loneliness.
Bobi’s influence on the community, and on Jourdan and Marthe particularly, awakens a sense of joy among them. Bobi convinces Jourdan that the wheat Jourdan is storing could better be given to the birds—as a sort of first step in the cure of the leprosy of unhappiness which afflicts all men. In a major scene closing the first part of the novel, Jourdan and Marthe pile up a great amount of wheat, and birds flock to feed on it. Surrounded by birds, husband and wife share a moment of mystical joy.
Meanwhile, Bobi has gone into the Gremone forest, returning with a wild stag which he has named Antoine. The stag is wondrously tame, and Bobi admits that he has communed with the animal, showing it his love, trust, and understanding. The stag thus becomes not so much Bobi’s pet as a symbol of the mysteriousness of life and of the link between living things and the living earth. Antoine remains on Jourdan’s farm, though at complete liberty. Fascinated, the Gremone community visits the stag. He is of particular interest to Aurore, the beautiful daughter of the widow Helene. Aurore has seen the deer from her window and felt her kinship with it as it gamboled about her house.
The following Sunday, the community celebrates with a feast. Their joyful surrender to the innocent pleasures of food and drink and to one another’s company exhibits an almost pagan naturalness, an unaffected, spontaneous love for the things of earth. It is at this feast that Josephine, the wife of Honore, having fallen in love with Bobi, almost seduces him with the same pagan candor, which is as passionate as it is natural. Aurore, too, loves Bobi for his wholesomeness, but she becomes angry when he does not understand her attraction to him.
The following spring, the Gremone farmers, inspired by Bobi, set out to catch some does for Antoine. The hunt through the forest is one of joy and an odd peacefulness, the does almost allowing themselves to be captured in the nets.
The community united now as it had never been, Bobi proposes doing away with individual wheat fields and planting instead one communal field, uniting the labors of all in achieving the greatest joy. Gremone ignites to the idea and the climax sees all Gremone as one. In the end, the one field is plowed and Bobi senses that his purpose has been fulfilled. Sadness, even despair, closes in on him, however, when he learns that Aurore, having taken Jourdan’s revolver, has gone into the woods and killed herself. The people of Gremone bring her body home, and Bobi leaves in a thunderstorm. In the final scene, he is struck by lightning as he ponders the nature of desire and joy.
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