Summary and Analysis
Chapter 15 gives us an excellent presentation of a religious fanatic. By presenting him as the town sees him, Faulkner gives "Uncle Doc" Hines the quality of a freak, a fanatic, a vile type of segregationist, and a pathetic weakling.
Even though old Doc Hines is not identified in this chapter as Joe's grandfather, the reader should at least recognize him as the same man who worked in the orphanage for five years between twenty-five and thirty years ago. He was the one who stole Joe from the orphanage and who called the action of the dietitian "bitchery and abomination" — the same thing he mutters at the end of Chapter 15.
On a realistic level, old Doc Hines' hatred of Joe is a result of his general hatred of the Negro race. Thus this chapter goes into a long presentation of his unreasonable dislike for the Negro race and his absurd interference with the Negro church services. Therefore, old Doc Hines' desire for his grandson's death can be taken on one level as the desire of a typical fanatic for white supremacy. But his fanaticism also functions on another level. It becomes significant when applied to his own grandson because this emphasizes Christmas' isolation from society; he can never be accepted when his own grandfather rejects him.
When Hightower hears the news of Joe Christmas' arrest, he becomes terribly agitated and begins to cry. Hightower has remained alone and isolated so long, has lived without human contact and knowledge of his fellow man for so long that now, as he hears of the suffering of another person, his compassion is intense. He feels even by hearing the story that he is being drawn back into the difficulty and strain of everyday life.
He reminds Byron that he is an isolated figure and no longer a man of God because the town forced him. Thus, Hightower seems to be suggesting that he is not responsible for his present situation and that he is not therefore capable of helping another person. But in actuality, Hightower does not want to assume the responsibility connected with living a normal life again — he prefers his own isolation without responsibility.
Chapter 16 also presents Joe's birth and the death of his mother. But whether he actually has Negro blood is left undecided. It was thought that his father had Mexican blood, but old Doc Hines and the circus owner both assert that the father actually had Negro blood.
We also find out that it was the dietitian who found and gave Christmas his name. This is ironic, since later his episode with the dietitian formulated his actions throughout the rest of his life.
Again those looking for the religious symbolism could view old Doc Hines as the Godhead. If so, then his rejection of Christmas makes man the complete victim of a hostile force. This analogy carries through with God demanding, requiring, or allowing the death or sacrifice of Christ.
We must remember that part of Joe's conflict came from his desire to escape the emasculating influence of the woman. He had always felt that the woman had tried to destroy his individuality. Here then we see another woman, Mrs. Hines, attempting in some way to modify Joe's decision to face the responsibility of his own actions. Mrs. Hines' interference will become a motivating force in Joe's attempt to escape in a later chapter.
Hightower's refusal to help Mrs. Hines is not merely a refusal to utter the lie she requests, but more important, it is a refusal to become an active participant in the community and thus become involved in responsibility again. Thus, his impassioned refusal is his last futile but passionate effort to retain his isolation.