The story shifts two generations into the future to tell the story of Jesse’s daughter Louise Bentley, her husband John Hardy, and their son (Jesse’s grandson) David Hardy. David’s childhood has been unhappy thus far, as Louise’s bad temper, erratic behavior, and rumored substance abuse problem take a toll on his parents’ marriage. He attempts to run away to his grandfather’s farm, the only place where he feels safe and content. When David returns home, Louise is uncharacteristically affectionate toward him, holding him in her arms and weeping.
Although Jesse Bentley has been portrayed as a severe, pious man up until this point in the novel, his grandson David feels so lonely and mistreated at home that he views his grandfather’s farm as an oasis. Though not outright explained, it is implied that Jesse’s daughter Louise has lived a troubled life that has embittered her and caused her to resent motherhood.
When David is twelve years old, Jesse demands that his grandson come live with him on the Bentley farm. Louise surprisingly allows David to go without a fight. She comments that David will be better off without her and that although the farm was “like poison” to her and Jesse never wanted her there when she was growing up, it will be a good place for her son. David’s departure creates a “sharp break” in Louise’s life and John is content that his wife’s temper has calmed down in their son’s absence. David’s presence lightens the farm’s oppressive atmosphere, particularly for David’s great-aunt who becomes his caretaker.
Louise’s reflection that the environment of the Bentley farm was “like poison” implies the negative effects that her father’s influence had on her upbringing. Despite her mistreatment of David, Louise’s willingness to let him live with his grandfather is a selfless act. Rather than being distraught over the loss of her son, his absence ultimately creates a healthier atmosphere for both Louise and David.
At fifty-five, Jesse has been an extremely successful farmer and has acquired most of the land in the valley, but he still feels discontented. He regrets the years he spent making his farm more productive and instead longs for more noble, meaningful pursuits that would glorify God. Jesse recognizes that he is possessed by greed and finds it increasingly difficult to focus on his personal relationship with God. His faith is only renewed when David comes to live on the Bentley farm. Jesse has spent most of his adult life disappointed that his only child is a daughter and feels that his grandson’s arrival has finally answered his prayers for a son.
Despite gaining wealth and prosperity over the years, Jesse’s greed prevents him from being satisfied with what he has. While Christianity traditionally condemns gluttony and envy, Jesse struggles to overcome his insatiable desire to expand the farm. As a result, he struggles to maintain a close connection with God. The newfound presence of Jesse’s grandson David is his only hope for restored faith, as he believes that the curse of having a daughter as his only child has finally been broken.
Jesse soon becomes fixated on his old vision of serving God. One day, he brings David out into a clearing in the woods that reminds him of where the biblical figure of David tended sheep. Jesse beings to fervently pray and plead with God to make His presence known. David is terrified by this outburst, believing that his grandfather has been possessed by a dangerous force. In his panic, David falls and cuts his head. On the buggy ride home, Jesse is upset and questions why God does not approve of him.
The relationship between Jesse and David parallels the biblical figures of the same name—Jesse was a farmer and shepherd and his son David was a king who killed Goliath, the champion of the Philistines. As Jesse Bentley views the other farmers in Ohio as philistines and traitors, he hopes that David will take over his legacy and conquer those he perceives to be enemies of God. While Jesse is wholly possessed by a perception of himself and David as holy servants, his expression of this vision only serves to confuse and terrify his grandson. Rather than seeing the error of his ways and reevaluating his outlook, Jesse assumes that God must be punishing him.