Summary and Analysis Chapter 5


The reader should, first of all, be aware that this chapter represents a short jump back in time. The events take place on the night and day preceding the death of Joanna Burden. The idea that returns constantly to Joe's mind is the forthcoming act of murder.

Having established that this chapter precedes Joanna's death, we should then notice the elaborate and symbolic rituals preceding the actual murder. These preparations are to emphasize that the murder was not committed in cold blood. Many of Joe's actions in this chapter are comprehensible only in the light of later actions in the novel.

First comes Joe's realization that he has been tricked or fooled by Joanna because he had thought she was pregnant. But then he realizes that she had lied about her age and was actually several years older than she had told him. She becomes then the symbol of all the women in his life who have lied to him or who have tried to destroy his sense of peace and security. Only at a later point in the story do we realize that women have tried to bring elements of disorder into Joe's life and that he has constantly fought against the corrupting influence of women.

Joe's first symbolic act is that of removing his clothes, and by walking naked through tall wet grass, he seems to be undergoing some type of cleansing ritual. Next, we see him revealing his nudity to a passing car. The interplay of light and darkness on his body suggests the conflicting white and Negro blood in his body. Then, he tries to reject all of the emasculating influence of women by going to the barn and sleeping with the animals, thinking that even a female horse is a type of male. This again suggests that Joe is attempting to deny the female world.

Following a brief sleep, he becomes immersed in phallic images — the ladder, grass, lumber, icicles, and his own dark serge trousers set off by his white shirt. The cracked mirror in the cabin also reflects Joe's conflicts as he can see and come to terms with only half of his self. In the valley, he rests and goes through another cleansing episode as he shaves, this time using the water from the spring as the mirror, thereby severing connections with all man-made objects. His next act is to destroy the whiskey which had been his chief means of income in Jefferson society.

Joe's last act before the murder is to visit the two sections of the town. He goes first to the white section, which he rejects because he senses his isolation from it. He then goes to the Negro section, where he is rejected and where he realizes that his isolation is complete. He then makes his way back to the house where the murder is to take place. Thus, Joe makes elaborate preparations for the murder, an act that will sever him forever from any hope of becoming a meaningful part of society.

The entire scene is interspersed with numerous images of black and white; and through it all, Joe carries his razor, which he is tempted to use not in the white section he rejected, but in the Negro section, where he is rejected. And as a thematic refrain, the phrase, "All I wanted was peace" runs through the whole scene.

For persons looking for a Christian analogy, the entire scene rings with Christian symbols. The baptismal ritual, the struggle comparable to Christ's struggle before the crucifixion, the night in the barn (or manger) are all echoes of actions of Christ, but these should not be used to suggest that Christmas is the Christ-figure, but rather to deepen Christmas' struggle by suggesting as an analogy the depth of Christ's struggle before His crucifixion, thus intensifying Christmas' struggle.

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