Early in his life, Hightower had used any means he could in order to be called to Jefferson, where his grandfather had been killed during the Civil War. After losing his church and being beaten, he continued to live in Jefferson even though he was no longer accepted by the community. He had thought that through suffering he had won for himself the privilege of remaining uninvolved in life. But with the appearance of Lena, he becomes once more drawn into the active stream of life. This participation was not voluntary but forced upon him in the first instance (delivering Lena's child), but after rejecting Mrs. Hines' pleas, his second act (attempting to save Joe's life) is entirely voluntary.
Originally the attraction of Hightower and Byron to each other depended upon both being isolated from the community; but as Byron becomes involved, he draws Hightower in also. Until after Lena gives birth, Hightower struggles to retain his isolation and advises Byron to do the same. Hightower's struggle for isolation becomes more intense as he sees himself threatened with involvement. He is later asked by Byron and Mrs. Hines to lie for Joe Christmas' (and in Hightower s words, mankind's) benefit. His refusal is his last futile but passionate effort to retain his isolation. He then orders Byron and the Hineses out of his house.
Hightower's desire for isolation is related to his desire to live in the past and his refusal to confront the problems of the present. He has a romantic notion that his life ended before he was born because the past was romantic and dashing while the present presents unsurmountable problems. Consequently, he is content to live in isolation, reading Tennyson and avoiding any contact with life.
But after being drawn partially into life by Lena and Byron and then by Joe, Hightower begins to review all of his past life. He then struggles with his inner self and finally attains complete self-realization of his place in the universe. He knows now that man must become a part of the community and must assume responsibility not only for his own actions but also for the actions of his fellow man.