Summary and Analysis Chapters 20-21


As with the second part of the novel, Hightower's narration stands between the central story involving Joe Christmas and the outer frame story concerning Lena Grove.

By aiding with the birth of Lena's child and then by attempting to save Joe Christmas, Hightower has re-entered the stream of life. And even though Hightower failed Christmas, he has achieved a type of salvation for himself. He does not realize this until much later on in the evening when he begins to review his whole life. Never before had Hightower examined his own motivations. But suddenly the whole meaning of his life evolves in front of him.

The use of the wheel image re-emphasizes the essential structure of the novel. The novel itself is seen in terms of circular images, and it is through this wheel image that Hightower sees man cannot isolate himself from the faces surrounding the wheel. Man must become part of the community and must assume responsibility not only for his own actions but for the actions of his fellow man.

Until the final pages of the novel, Hightower can never bring into a complete unity the two divergent accounts of his grandfather's death. He delights in the account of his grandfather being shot from a horse while brandishing his sword during Van Dorn's cavalry raid, but in the more realistic account, he realizes that his grandfather was killed by a shotgun while stealing chickens, and moreover, probably killed by some frightened woman. This last account, given by Cinthy, the Negro slave, finally succeeds in becoming the realistic view as Hightower attains a more rational grasp of life.

In both the opening and closing chapters, Lena is seen on the road. The only difference is that in between these chapters, Lena has acquired a baby and Bryon Bunch.

Since the novel closes with the emphasis on Lena, the reader is gently led away from the horrifying tragedy of Joe Christmas, and the final emphasis is on the renewal and continuance of life in the person of Lena's baby.

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