Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 663
Bobi, an acrobat, a stranger to the plateau and a bearer of healing and joy. Roughly thirty-five years old, he is tan and strong, with gentle, delicate hands and the language of a poet. He sees the joy of nature in plants and animals and awakens the farmers of the plateau to the beauty and joy around them. Bobi appears in the middle of the night, stays with Jourdan and Marthe (a lonely farming couple of the plateau), and speaks to them of the beauty of the stars, of the flowers and forest, of the song of birds, and of the wonder of wildlife. He represents the healer for whom Jourdan has been waiting. Jourdan takes him to visit all the other families of the plateau, and Bobi tries to transmit his joy to all. Although he loves the young Aurore, he is attracted by the womanly Josephine. When Aurore kills herself in despair, Bobi believes that all of his efforts have failed but refuses to believe that people can live without hope or joy. Leaving in the midst of a terrible storm, he is struck by lightning.
Jourdan, the first person to welcome Bobi and to respond to his love of nature. Jourdan, old before his time and lonely in spite of his loving wife, has been expecting a man to come and save them from their dreary loneliness; he fully accepts Bobi as the healer whom he has awaited so long. Jourdan plants periwinkles and narcissi and gives Bobi money to buy a stag. He scatters wheat to attract birds, and he builds a loom for Marthe and carves it lovingly with stags, does, stars, a forest, and a house—all that now brings him happiness.
Marthe, Jourdan’s fifty-seven-year-old wife. She is a tall, heavy woman who seems to grow in stature and wisdom as she opens to the joys of nature and becomes a comfort to others. Her greatest joy is in seeing Jourdan grow young in his newfound joy.
Aurore, the daughter of Madame Hélène. Her father had shot himself after having opened fire on his wife and daughter in a rage of insanity. She is young, gentle, lovely, and lonely, spending much time with her mare, on horseback or with the carriage, wandering field and woods. She falls in love with Bobi when he speaks kindly to her but, succumbing to despair after seeing him with Josephine, she shoots herself in the mouth and dies.
Zulma, the daughter of Randoulet and Honorine, simple, sad, and mostly silent. She is a worry to her parents because of her lonely wanderings. Greatly attracted to the stag brought to the plateau, she comes a little closer to people, becoming less shy of their approach. Although she claims that she does not understand their language, she likes to hear them singing. When Randoulet buys five hundred sheep, Zulma finds her place as shepherdess, exults in her new role, and grows beautiful, especially in the white cloth woven from the wool of the sheep that she so happily tends.
Madame Hélène’s farmer
Madame Hélène’s farmer, who does not appear often but is a pivotal character in his alter-ego role. Like Bobi, he is thin, muscular, and in his mid-thirties. Unlike Bobi, he keeps to himself, reads much, and believes in the virtue of hard work. When Bobi visits him, the farmer warns Bobi that his joy is too emotional, not tempered with reason, and reflects an idyllic past rather than a realistic future. He fears that the weak will perish in Bobi’s joy, and he believes that, as with his plants, a sturdier hybrid needs to be developed, one more resistant to disease. As Bobi flees the plateau, he speaks to the farmer and asks him to be the new shepherd for the people of the plateau, though one more reasonable and less passionate, ascetic rather than aesthetic.
Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 508
Bobi’s first appearance in the novel is as beautiful as it is mysterious. Seen against the bright horizon of evening stars, he is a creature at home in the natural world, comfortable amid the elemental forces of wind and rain and the eternal round of seasons. He is a latter-day Pan, emerging in the late winter to pipe in for Gremone the mysterious joys of spring, the symbol of resurrection.
Yet Bobi is far from naive. Unlike Pan, he is also a twentieth century man, afflicted with a modern sadness, a loneliness that keeps him apart from those who love him. Though he can guide the farmers into a joyful search for meaning through submission to nature, he himself is enigmatically unhappy, unfulfilled, as if knowing the futility of such a search. Though he evokes passion in Josephine and deep love in Aurore, his love for them is peculiarly nonsensuous.
Jourdan is also a man of ambivalent moods. Himself restless, yearning for the mysterious peace that has eluded him, he is at heart the practical farmer and typifies the shrewd, successful peasant, a man in tune with the seasons primarily because such congruence means a better farm and a better physical existence. Yet Jourdan is ductile, mysteriously open to Bobi’s Pan-like influence. Sensing that his well-being has not made him any happier, he becomes a sort of first apostle for Bobi’s pagan evangelism.
Marthe is also in search of peace and joy, but she is content to follow her husband’s actions, to trust his decisions. Nevertheless, when the birds come to eat the wheat she has her private moment of joy and can relate with the other wives as a woman with her own ideas and intentions.
Just as Marthe remains a vital part of the Gremone community, Aurore maintains a privacy which keeps her at the virtual edge of the group. Like Bobi, Aurore has a special kinship with nature; she shares a stronger relationship with the deer of the forest than she does with her own family. She is a kind of nymph, a counterpart to Bobi’s Pan, and her attraction to him is thus easily explained as a confluence of kindred spirits.
Though characterization in the novel is really subservient to Jean Giono’s epic theme, Aurore is the most stereotypical and least successful character in the work. Her delicate beauty is all attenuated flesh and blood, not really physical but ideal. When Bobi spurns her, not fully realizing the intensity of her love, she reacts as a real woman would—in anger and perhaps in jealousy. Her suicide is melodramatic, however, emphasizing her character as a figure of romance and myth.
By contrast, Josephine is as corporeal as Aurore is ethereal. She is described in purely physical terms, a woman of full breasts and large passionate eyes. Josephine is unashamedly sensuous, but her refusal to give herself fully to Bobi illustrates her peasant morality, her strength and loyalty. Her refusal underscores, as well, the basically solitary nature of man.
Last Updated on May 14, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 38
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Nadeau, Maurice. The French Novel Since the War, 1967.
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.