Summary and Analysis
This chapter moves back somewhat in time. The last chapter involved McEachern's discovery of the suit. In this chapter, Joe recalls the events leading up to his buying the suit, that is, his meeting and affair with Bobbie Allen.
Joe was attracted to Bobbie because she had a small, hard, almost mannish figure. This emphasizes his repulsion to the "soft kindness" connected with women and his rejection of exceptionally effeminate women. Later, we will see that Joanna Burden also has a certain mannish quality about her.
As with many of the women Joe sleeps with, Bobbie Allen is associated with odors of food and cooking. Again, there are strong sensory images connected with Joe's encounter with women, emphasizing the influence of his initial encounter with the dietitian.
The reader should remember that when Joe was hiding from the dietitian it was partly the odor of her garments that made him vomit. And thus, when someone tries to explain to Joe about the monthly periods of the woman, he becomes sick again.
When Bobbie later offers an explanation, Joe must flee to the woods, where he vomits. As he is sick, he sees images of urns, each with a crack in it, emitting "something liquid, death-colored, and foul." This is the female image, and this image will later be developed into Joe's death image. The urn is also used for Lena, but for her it is symbolic of eternal life.
The affair that Joe has with Bobbie represents his first open and honest affair with a woman. With her, he reveals all the innermost thoughts of his heart and offers her his complete and undeviating trust. His absolute trust in her will later be the source for his betrayal, but the reader should now note the simple, uncomplicated faith and trust that Joe places in Bobbie.
But when he discovers that she is a prostitute, he beats her violently. This act is not performed from some moral condemnation of prostitution, but because Joe's sense of order and rightness are upset. As he had expected punishment from the dietitian, now he expects Bobbie to be a more simple and honest person. The violence that accompanies his discovery is typical of Joe's reaction every time something occurs which does not conform to his view of the order of things, culminating, of course, in his murdering Joanna Burden.