Summary and Analysis Chapter 2


The reader should be aware of the time of this section. It is the day that Joanna Burden's house is burning down and therefore the thought of Christmas connected with Joanna Burden causes Byron to think about him; thus, the reader is introduced to Christmas long before actually meeting him.

Our first view of Joe Christmas is an objective one from Byron Bunch. He thinks that Christmas looks as though he belonged to no definite place in the world, no definite home or community. This description evokes the idea of the Christian symbolism connected with Joe Christmas. The reader should be aware of this aspect of the novel regardless of whether he accepts it or not. For example, Christmas' name is a derivation of Christ's name. We find out that Christmas has no definite home and belongs to the entire world. Christmas' appearance in Jefferson causes surprise, as did the appearance of Christ. Christmas arrived in Jefferson on a Friday, a significant day in Christian religion, and he was thirty-three years old, the same age as Christ when He was crucified. And like Christ, who had twelve disciples, Christmas has at least one in the person of Joe Brown. More significant analogies will appear in later chapters.

The reader should not feel that Faulkner is trying to retell the Christ story. But rather, by these various analogies to the Christ figure, he deepens Joe Christmas' internal struggle by suggesting as an analogy the depth of Christ's struggle.

Faulkner delights in playing or punning on names. Note that Lena thinks Bunch is actually Burch until she meets Byron. And the Bunch-Grove-Burch relationship is a rather lusty pun on that relationship.

In the preceding chapter, we saw that Lena gladly accepts food and willingly offers to share her own meager food with strangers; now we hear that when Byron Bunch once offered Joe Christmas something to eat, Christmas brutally rejected his kindness telling him to keep his "muck." This reaction offers another basic contrast between Joe and Lena. We also learn that in contrast to Lena, who seems to blend in with her natural surroundings, Christmas emphasizes the difference between himself and the world he lives in. However, we see a relationship between Lena and Joe in that Joe Brown (Lucas Burch) is connected with both of them.

This second chapter mentions all the principal characters in the novel. And all of them seem to have an unusual relationship with the community. One of the motifs, or ideas, that will be developed is man's relationship to his community. And in this chapter, we see that all of the characters are in some way isolated from their community. For example, we hear that Christmas has nothing to do with his fellow workers. Brown is new to the town and does not seem to fit in. Even though Byron Bunch has lived in Jefferson for several years, no one knows anything about him except the old Reverend Hightower, who is also an outcast from the town. We hear of Miss Joanna Burden, whom the town has rejected because she is friendly with the Negroes. And Lena has just arrived pregnant and unmarried. Thus, Christmas, Brown, Bunch, Lena Grove, Hightower, and Joanna Burden are all mentioned in this chapter, and all are in some ways isolated figures, or at least outside the normal flow of the community.

Essential to the development of the novel is the manner in which Byron reveals that Lena's lover is in the town. The occasion of the fire which coincided with Lena's arrival into Jefferson also prompted Byron to talk more verbosely than is usual, and through his harmless gossip, he inadvertently reveals the whereabouts of Lucas Burch (alias Joe Brown). The fact that he does reveal this information aligns him with Lena and he then feels partly responsible for her welfare. In later chapters, his feelings of involvement ultimately cause him to try to involve Hightower.

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