Jean Giono’s novels achieve a quality of timelessness because, in most of his work, he deliberately ignores the discoveries of modern science and mechanical inventions. Instead, he presents in his books pictures of semiprimitive and pastoral life such as survived until the mid-twentieth century in his remote region of France. Giono’s feeling for nature is deeply mystical, and he attempts to bridge the worlds of inner and outer reality by the use of poetic images and metaphors. His style is vigorous and sensuous. Nowhere does he show himself a lyric novelist of the soil better than he does in The Song of the World, a novel that is both an exciting adventure story and a paean in praise of nature and the simple, rustic life.
Giono successfully combines his interests in the pastoral, simple life of the French peasant with the sociological issue of one’s active response to human interaction and strife. Perhaps because of its theme of the maturing of the individual through social growth, The Song of the World is the best known of Giono’s novels. His first two novels concentrated only on the individual without community; this, his third novel, expresses his love of the peasantry’s commitment to preserving the family and its traditional ways, as well as his strong aversion to bloodshed and war. Giono became a pacifist after participating in the Battle of Verdun during World War I.
The Song of the World is an appropriate title for this work, which recounts the myth patterns of the great epics. Giono, in fact, was a great lover of the Latin and Greek epic forms; his favorite was Homer’s Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), which greatly influenced his writing. The obvious structural correlation is the journey motif. The journey is not only the basic pattern of myth but also the form of the epic; in this novel, all the elements of the journey theme are employed. First, there is a call to the hero, Antonio, who is widely known as Goldenmouth, to help his friend, Sailor, find a lost son. The hero accepts the call and sets forth on a journey of physical as well as spiritual trials. He is risking his life to preserve life in the sacrificial pattern associated with heroic travels. Symbolically, one of Antonio and Sailor’s first encounters is with a woman giving birth to a son. They save the woman and thus the child. She is eventually the hero’s prize; her love is his reward for the risk he takes to find and...
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