Summary and Analysis Chapter 1


During the course of the novel, Faulkner will investigate several varied themes connected with modern civilization. Some of the dominant ideas in the novel involve (1) man's isolation, (2) man's relationship to the community, and (3) man's inhumanity to man. Many of these ideas will appear to be negative or pessimistic when viewed from the standpoint of the main character, Joe Christmas. But by focusing on Lena Grove at the beginning, Faulkner is first giving us a brief positive view. While it is true that Lena is now isolated and alone on the road, she almost instinctively knows that people will help her even though, as with Mrs. Armstid, some of them don't approve of her. Also, she will evoke positive and favorable responses from the community and will receive help from many people. In contrast to the bitter harshness which Joe Christmas evokes, Lena inspires kindness and compassion.

Basically, Lena is presented as a simple and relatively uncomplicated person with apparently a great strength and determination. She never complains of her lot and never asks help from anyone even though she willingly accepts assistance. She possesses a simple and basic faith in life. Her responses to life are the fundamental reactions founded on the concept of charity and hope. She believes that she will be with the father of her child when it is born. She is always anxious to help those people who give her assistance, and she would always be obliged if others would share her meager meals with her. This will later be built into a contrast with Joe Christmas, who is unable to respond to people and who is seen to be constantly searching for food of some type. Likewise, the simplicity of Lena's approach to life will later be contrasted to Joe's complex approach to life.

The image of the circle is connected with Lena. First of all, there is her curving shape owing to her pregnancy. Second, the urn images connected with Lena suggest her enduring qualities, but the imagery is also used to connect Lena and Joe together by violent contrast. Because Joe saw urns as symbolic of the feminine, he rejected them as a type of death image. But in connection with Lena, the urn image suggests the endurance and eternity of life. This image will become clearer later as we examine it in connection with Joe Christmas.

Other circular images connected with Lena include various descriptions suggesting her eternal acceptance of life, the completeness with which she views life, and her complete immersion into her natural surroundings.

The last circular image is that of the column of smoke rising from Joanna Burden's house. This image again connects Lena with Joe Christmas. Lena is bringing life into the community at the same time that she sees the circular column of smoke which indicates that Joe Christmas has just murdered Joanna Burden. Lena, therefore, with her earthy nature and circular images seems to suggest qualities which will endure forever.

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