Themes and Meanings

For all of its lyricism, Joy of Man’s Desiring is often a richly ambiguous work. Though it clearly postulates the need for man to still his yearning for peace and joy with a willing surrender to nature, the basic sadness surrounding the lives of the characters makes that surrender futile or at least questionable. A recapitulation of the plot of Joy of Man’s Desiring sounds absurd without an awareness of both the lyrical quality of the novel—the full details of nature and peasant life—and the tension, the conflict inherent in the surrender of one’s personality to the world spirit.

In the novel, there is a pantheistic view of such a world, yet such a world is controlled by a unity that brings each of the characters closer. Nevertheless, the characters never come close enough to one another to become truly happy. The community’s members discover their own aloneness, symbolized by Jourdan’s restlessness and Josephine’s silent conviction that Bobi will one day return to Gremone. As for Bobi, he leaves with a sense of failure: Despite his effect on Gremone, he has been unable to communicate his deeper feelings, his almost poetic sense of the mysteriousness of life.