Light in August By William Faulkner Character Analysis Joe Christmas

Early in his life, Joe came to the conclusions that he had Negro blood in him even though he was able to pass for a white person. As he later acknowledged, he has spent his entire life trying to reconcile this fact and trying to find some society where he is accepted as a person and not as a mixed breed.

The earliest things he can remember are connected with his Negro blood, His stay in, and later abduction from, the orphanage was directly related to the fact that he possesses Negro blood. His encounter with the dietitian at the orphanage — an encounter that affected his entire life — is connected with the fact that he has Negro blood, since the dietitian calls him a "nigger bastard." His adoption by the McEacherns was rapidly transacted so that the orphanage would not have to acknowledge that they had been harboring a person with Negro blood. And during the course of the novel, each person to whom he confesses this fact later uses it in some way to try to force a change upon Joe or to wreak vengeance upon him.

Consequently, Joe's plight in life consists of his attempts to find a place where he could belong as an individual where it would not matter about his conflicting bloods. Thus, often during the novel, rather than facing his problem and solving his inner conflicts, Joe will frequently use violence against someone who tries to change him. He is then never able to discover his real self until after the murder of Joanna Burden.

While hiding from the posse, he realizes for the first time in his life that in order to find peace, he must first accept full responsibility for his heritage and his actions. As soon as he comes to this realization, he finds that he is at peace with himself.

He then accepts his fate and returns to Jefferson and prison. But once more, a woman (Mrs. Hines) comes to him and destroys his resolution. He must then escape from her and can do so only in death.

Thus instead of pleading guilty and accepting a life sentence in prison, Joe escapes and invites his own lynching. That he willingly accepts and desires death is seen by the fact that he makes no attempt to fire the pistol, but instead, passively accepts the death imposed upon him by the grim man, Percy Grimm. But Joe's murder is at the hands of a man, whereas his life was destroyed by the women who threatened his sense of order and his sense of individuality.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Before quitting toward the end of the novel, Byron worked where?




Quiz