Summary and Analysis
Chapter 4 offers a good opportunity for studying Faulkner's narrative method. A technique often employed by Faulkner in this novel and others involves the use of indirection and circumlocution. In other words, Faulkner will often approach his subject from an oblique position and will withhold important information, creating an air of tension. If the reader will carefully examine the manner in which Faulkner gradually unfolds his story of the house burning and the relationship between Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden, he will then understand Faulkner's narrative approach to much of his fiction. The most important information is saved until the end of the chapter. First Byron tells of the house and the arrival of Lena and the manner in which he inadvertently revealed the identity of her lover. Gradually, we learn that Joe Christmas and Joe Brown lived behind Joanna's house and only later do we learn that Joe Christmas and Joanna had lived for about two years as man and wife.
The revelation that two unmarried people have lived together out of wedlock is shocking enough to a small southern town, but the final shock and the horror comes at the end of the chapter when Byron reveals that Joe Christmas has some Negro blood in him; therefore in southern terms, he is considered a "nigger." Thus the shock of Joe and Joanna living out of wedlock is replaced by the horrendous realization that a Negro man has slept with a white woman. In terms of southern mores, this is more horrible than any other possible sin. The murder, itself, will become less important than the sexual act, and will ultimately culminate in the horrible castration at the end of the novel.
When Hightower hears that Joe Christmas has part Negro blood, he says: "Poor man. Poor Mankind." It is as though he correlates the plight of Joe Christmas with that of all mankind.
This chapter offers the first hint that perhaps Hightower will be drawn back into life. This is hinted through Lena's inquiries as to whether Hightower is still minister enough to marry someone.
This chapter also shows Joe Brown and Joe Christmas in some type of business and personal relationship. This relationship is another connection between Joe Christmas and Lena Grove, since Joe Brown is involved with each.