Themes and Meanings

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The theme of this simple story seems relatively clear; it is a modern version of the Christ story, with Xavier in the role of a saintlike figure who is sacrificed to rekindle the sense of love in those fallen cynics who surround him. When Xavier first postpones his plans to enter the seminary and go home with Jean, he does so because he is strangely drawn to those who he senses need his help. After he arrives he becomes the object of both desire and jealousy of all of those in the house. Jean is jealous because Xavier is drawn to Roland; Michele is jealous because Xavier is drawn to Dominique; Roland is jealous because he fears losing Dominique to Xavier; and Brigitte is jealous because she fears losing her control over Dominique to Xavier.

Throughout, Xavier remains pure and blameless, perhaps too pure in his saintliness; the only “human” aspect he reveals is his attraction to Dominique.His love for Roland is selfless, pure and Christlike. On the night that Jean locks the boy in the library, Xavier walks through thorns and pinecones to find a ladder so he can comfort Roland. His feet are bloodied and he leaves tracks of blood behind him—an obvious symbolic image of Christ’s crucifixion.

At the end of the novel, the reader is asked to believe that Xavier’s death has effected a change in those around him. The Cure believes that Xavier was indeed a saint; Mme Pian has masses said for the young man; and, most important, Jean and Michele appear to be reconciled with each other. Jean himself has become someone quite different from the unbelieving self he has been throughout the narrative. Indeed, in the final section of dialogue between the husband and wife, they shed tears of remorse, knowing now that love does exist in the world, even though it is “crucified.” Jean feels that he is suffering as he has never suffered, even though at the same time he is at peace. Now he believes what Xavier believed, for he has been given the peace that Xavier had.

The central irony of the novel is obvious: Xavier has been able to achieve a much more Christlike success in “saving” the “lost” Jean de Mirbel by not having become a priest than he would have had he continued on his journey and entered the seminary. In Xavier’s encounters with Jean the novel presents a classic antithesis between good and evil, in which, as is typical of the parable form, both these absolutes are ultimately mysterious. In making himself a willing sacrifice to aid the lonely Roland and to demonstrate the nature of love to Jean, Xavier becomes an embodiment of God’s divine grace, an instrument of salvation to the lonely and the lost.

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