Summary and Analysis
The first scene in this chapter is a brilliant capturing of the self-righteous, overly religious individual. Mr. McEachern is so intent that Joe learn his catechism that he becomes an almost inhuman monster. He loses all of his sense of pure Christian values in his desire to force the young boy to conform to his view of Christianity. The paradox is brought about by McEachern's indignation that Joe would lay the catechism on a stable floor because that is no place for the "the word of God." Apparently, McEachern has forgotten that Jesus was born in a stable.
Important in this scene is Joe's determination to keep his own individuality and his refusal to accept McEachern's religion. In terms of religious allegory, one could see this as Christ's refusal to accept a foreign religion.
Later when Joe kills Joanna because she wanted him to pray with her, we should remember how Joe was brutally forced to kneel and pray with McEachern. This episode turns his mind against any form of prayer and makes him antagonistic toward any person suggesting prayer.
Note that even though Joe is hungry, he refuses to accept the food that Mrs. McEachern brings him. This is again a manifestation of Joe's refusal to accept anything from a woman, because, as with the dietitian, he cannot understand a woman's motivation. But later he does eat the food ravenously. Thus one of the central images connected with Joe is that of his constant search and need for food.
In the scene with the young Negro girl, notice that Joe is fully aware of the strong odors of the barn. He is again reminded of the sickness caused by the toothpaste which belonged to the dietitian and begins to feel sick from the odors and from the idea of sex. Thus, we begin to see that Joe's entire approach to sex is affected by his earlier conflict with the dietitian.
Later when he thinks of the whipping he will receive, he knows when he transgresses McEachern's rules that he will be punished. But this punishment fits into Joe's concept of order. Joe knows that he can depend upon a man, but women are unpredictable. This is again why he detests the interference of Mrs. McEachern. She, like the dietitian, represents a threat to his settled order of existence. Mrs. McEachern has, however, always tried to be nice to Joe, but because of the dietitian, he distrusts all women.
If one wishes to develop the Christian symbolism, one should observe the foot-washing episode that is narrated in this chapter.