As the narrative returns to where “Godliness, Part II” left off, David Hardy is fifteen years old and still living with his grandfather Jesse Bentley on the family farm. Jesse is mocked by neighboring farmers for purchasing a stretch of swampland, but the crops he plants on it are plentiful and earn him enough money to buy two more farms, equipment, and gifts for his family. David recognizes that he is almost a man but still spends most of his time playing with a slingshot in the woods like a young boy.
Much like Christ and other biblical figures are judged but ultimately vindicated, the deeply religious Jesse Bentley is mocked for decisions that ultimately reap great rewards for the farm and his family. As Jesse continues to build his family legacy, David resists his burgeoning manhood in favor of his innocent childhood hobbies.
After the satisfaction of a successful growing season wears off, Jesse returns to thinking of biblical “old days” and decides that he must perform a sacrifice so that God will tell him what the right path in life is for David. One day, Jesse brings David out to the same woodland clearing where his ardent plea to God had scared his grandson a few years prior. He believes he must ceremonially put the lamb’s blood on David’s head, but the boy and the lamb become terrified and run away when Jesse approaches them with a knife. David hits Jesse in the head with a rock flung from his slingshot and assumes that he has killed him when the old man falls to the ground.
Although David wants to stay a child, Jesse is concerned with his grandson’s imminent adulthood and hopes to ensure that David is set up to lead a righteous, meaningful life that glorifies God. His attempt to involve David in the sacrifice of a lamb reflects the all-consuming nature of his faith and the ultimate futility of trying to turn life’s mysteries into certainties. The failure of this gesture solidifies Anderson’s ongoing argument that one cannot find meaning through external validation.
David believes that he has killed “a man of God” and must now become a man himself. After this “adventure,” he flees Winesburg and is never seen by his family again. Jesse is not surprised by David’s disappearance, believing that God has taken him away as a punishment for Jesse’s greed. Eventually Jesse and Louise both die. David’s father John becomes rich, trying and failing to find his son using his wealth.
Jesse’s obsession with his prophetic vision of himself and David as biblical figures is ultimately what leads to his own downfall, as his beloved grandson is driven away by his antics. Rather than ushering in an honorable life path for David, the incident in the woods causes the boy to impulsively abandon his family and enter adulthood before he is truly ready.