Critical Essays The Lena Grove — Joe Christmas Correlation


One of the main objections to this novel is that there seems to be no relationship between the stories of Lena Grove and the Joe Christmas tragedy. It is always pointed out that Lena and Joe never meet each other. However, they function in the novel as opposites and thus should never meet. But there are many connecting links between them.

The first link is the column of smoke coming from Joanna Burden's house. This smoke signaled Lena s arrival in Jefferson and Joe's departure, thus making it physically impossible for them to meet, especially since when Joe returns a captured prisoner, Lena is giving birth to her child. And the contrast between these two opposing entities carries throughout the novel. Malcolm Cowley's objection (Introduction to The Portable Faulkner) that the themes "have little relation to each other," or Irwin Howe's reservations (William Faulkner, a Critical Study) concerning the "troublesome problems of organization" and the "evident flaw" of "looseness" seem unwarranted. The images of the curve and circle are used in connection with both. With Lena these images imply an acceptance and unity with life, but with Joe they represent the society from which he is isolated and the cage in which he lives.

Joe has been in Jefferson for three years when Lena arrives at the end of this third year. However, she comes to terms with the town almost overnight, while Joe was never able to adjust himself. This is the result of basic differences in their character: Lena is talkative, Joe reticent; Lena is willing to share her food, Joe rejects all proffered food; Lena's isolation is self-imposed, Joe's isolation is imposed upon him; Lena is in a search of life, Joe is in flight from life; Lena never complains of life, Joe is in constant conflict with life; Lena brings life and affirmation to the community, Joe brings death and rejection to himself and the community; and finally, Lena finds her peace in life while Joe can find peace only in death.

Thus Joe and Lena can never encounter each other because they are almost diametrically opposed. But still, they bring about the resolution by performing their acts and involvement on the same ground. Again the circle of smoke first introduces them to each other. Then we find that Lena's lover is Christmas' partner. They are connected through Brown, who has lived with both, betrayed both, and caused both to take to the road. Lena goes to Christmas' cabin, the scene of Joanna's brutal death, to give birth and renewal to life.

It is here that Hightower goes directly from the birth of Lena's son to Joe's death. And, finally, Christmas' grandparents assist in giving birth to Lena's child, which Mrs. Hines confuses with Milly's child. This results ultimately in confusing Lena as to the paternity of her child so that she confuses Joe Brown with Joe Christmas.

Thus through life and death, Lena and Joe are symbolically joined together. Life is reaffirmed for Humankind through the birth of Lena's child, the death of Joe Christmas, and the resurrection of Hightower. The child then becomes the symbol of the future world which brings all people together, giving new life and hope to all.

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