So… I always thought that the Alps were just in Switzerland. It turns out that they stretch across eight different countries.
Marcel has been entrusted with a very important job – he is to bring his family’s three heifers up to their pastures on the Little Giant where he will stay for the entire summer watching them. There is only one thing that makes him sad. And this is that his father has forbidden him to speak or interact with the other shepherd boys who will be up in the mountains.
One day, three strange heifers wander into Marcel’s camp. Marcel knows what his father would do – turn the heifers out and not be concerned if they fell over a cliff and destroyed their herd boy’s reputation. But Marcel cannot bring himself to be so cruel – he knows how hard it is to control the unruly heifers. So he keeps the three heifers with his herd, bringing them down to the watering spot where he hopes their owner will be. The owner is there – a little boy named Pierre – and they become fast friends. But while Marcel is with Pierre, a storm brews over his mountain. Eager to escape it, he leaves with Pierre and hastens up Pierre’s mountain, thinking that he can make it back to his mountain after the storm finishes. But the storm creates a landslide and blocks all entrances to Pierre’s mountain.
Will the way be cleared by the villagers or will the boys starve up on the mountain? And if they are discovered together, what will their fathers say?
It is the custom of Marcel’s village that no person helps another person. The villagers think that if they try to help another person and fail, then they might be held responsible for the loss. So they live with an “every man for himself” attitude. Marcel, however, disagrees with this practice and thinks that every man should help his neighbor.
While I agreed with Marcel’s perspective, I found it unfortunate that instead of reasoning or discussing the matter with his father, he simply disobeys him. And I’m not talking about a thirty-minutes-after-the-fact-I-realize-my-disobedience here. I mean that Marcel and Pierre agree not to tell their fathers about their interaction because, “Grownups, they never understand.” [pg. 42]
After Pierre and Marcel are stuck together on the same mountain, they grow afraid. They are afraid that their fathers will punish them. Pierre suggests that Marcel try to fool his father, but Marcel puts down the idea because he thinks it won’t work! Pierre says that he will protect Marcel from his father’s anger when he finds out.
When their fathers find out, they are so happy that both boys and both herds are well that they pass over the disobedience. Then, instead of taking the boys’ example as that of neighborly affection and loving our neighbors as ourselves, they instead turn it into a reason why everyone in the village should work jointly – all tending the one big herd and farming one huge plot of land. Here is the mayor’s speech. It is long, but will show you how socialistic the resolution really is.
“Citizens,” he said, “I’ll try to be brief. But this is a great day for Monestier. We don’t want to forget it – ever. What stands there in the middle of the square, under the tarpaulin, is going to remind us of it for a long time to come. But even that won’t be sufficient to make us remember what made such a day possible. We’ve got to remember what happened and who made it happen.
“First, what happened. A year ago in Monestier, as you recall, it was every man for himself. Each one of us looked after his tiny scattered fields and his few cows the best he could. It was hard to eke out a living that way. So we were afraid of each other, and each of us would have nothing to do with the other fellow. Correct?”
“Correct,” acknowledged the crowd.
“And what’s worse,” went on the mayor, “we were proud of being like that, all alone. We called it being on our own, independent, having no account to render anyone. We said that what was good for our parents was good enough for us.
“But times had changed, only we refused to see it. I dare say that if anyone had so much as suggested that the sensible thing to do was to get together and pool our resources he would have promptly received a punch in the nose!” (Laughter.)
“And here we are today all gathered together. All of us are going to take a step, which, I dare say, is going to change even the look of this valley. The land of our valley is good, but it has been going to waste for a long time. Why does it not feed us any more? The trouble is that each man’s fields are too small and too scattered. That’s what we ourselves figured as we talked it over all together, time and time again, when we met at one another’s homes during the past winter evenings. And finally we came to a momentous decision. Of our own free will – “ (Applause.) “Yes, of our own free will, without anyone telling us to do so, we, the people of Monestier, have decided to tear down the age-old fences and hedges which enclose and separate our fields, and to work the whole land of the valley together – one common field under the sun.” (Applause)
“That’s what we have decided. How it can be done best we will have to figure out among ourselves. We know it’s not going to be easy. It’s quite an adventure. There will be plenty of discussing, arguing, planning, organizing. It will mean a lot of hard teamwork all around for every one of us. But it will also be great fun. We know we are on the right track, because we are in this voluntarily, all together, touching elbows and feeling the beats of one another’s hearts.” (Applause.)
“That’s what happened, citizens. But now we come to the second and most important question. Who made it happen?
“Some people might say that it was all because the mountain fell – that in time of danger or calamity people get together who never did before. And that is true enough. But, citizens, you know as well as I do – mountains, floods, earthquakes, fires, diseases, and wars fall on men. For a short time everybody works with everybody else, everone is friendly, generous, and kind. Then everybody forgets.
“For us, too, the mountain could have fallen in vain, and our rescue work together be but a memory. We could still be the Monestier, resembling many other dying French villages where peole keep to themselves. But we are not. Why?
“Why? Because what counts is not the fall of a mountain but what is in the heart of man. So someone must have lit the spark. Who did? Did I? did you? No!
“A little child did it. If it had not been for this one” – and, to Marcel’s utter confusion, the mayor pulled him up and pushed him in front of the people – “if it had not been for Marcel Mabout, we would all still be crouched in our own dens, peering at each other from behind curtains.” (Laughs and applause.)
“A little child showed the way, the new way of life. How did he do it? It was all very simple. Cows from a neighbor went astray on his pasture. What did he do? According to Monestier’s old custom, he should have shooed them off at once, washing his hands of what might happen to them later. They had no right to be on his pasture, and if anything happened to them while they were there he would be blamed. Of course, if he had chased them off it was ten to one that they would wander and break their necks. But it was none of his concern; it was the neighbor’s, whose fault it was for not watching them properly.” Here Pierre squirmed in his chair.
“Marcel knew all that, and yet he did not shoo the cows off. He took care of them right on the spot, and we can all easily imagine what it meant and how difficult it was. Why did he do that? He thought of his neighbor, later finding his heifers dead at the bottom of an abyss. And though, in keeping watch over the stray cows, Marcel, mind you, endangered his own, his family’s, fortune, yet he decided to run the risk.
“Citizens, a little child took charge of his neighbor! That’s what it amounted to. That was Marcel’s great idea!
“You know the rest – how his friendly gesture not only saved all the cows, but also turned out to be his own salvation, and, I might add, ours too. Because that’s what set us to thinking. It was an eye-opener to us. We began to see that there is a better way of life than each man for himself and the state for all. We began to see that if we would get together of our accord, life might be better in Monestier. And we did get together, and one thing followed another, and here we are today, celebrating, so to speak, the resurrection of our village. That’s what it is – the resurrection of our village. And the resurrection came from a child’s heart. That, citizens, is what we should not forget – ever. A little child led us.” [pgs. 84-90]
Instead of recognizing that as neighbours we should respect and protect each other’s property, the villagers of Monestier decided that each other’s property should become their own property – then they will respect and protect it because it is their own!
When his father asks Marcel if he is afraid of spending the night on the mountain, Marcel says no. To this his father responds by laughing and saying that Marcel is not even afraid of lying. He seems to think it is a good joke.
A little boy calls his sister stupid, which causes her to cry. He then hugs her and comforts her.
‘By golly’. ‘darn’, and ‘mon Dieu!’ are each used once.
Conclusion. I’d say that All Alone is a little on the negative side of okay. It isn’t defiling, but the entire theme of the story is how one boy’s disobedience transformed an unhappy village into a loving commune.
Review © 2013 Laura Verret