Joe Christmas

Display Name: 
Joe Christmas
Sort Name: 
Christmas, Joe
Race: 
Indeterminable
Gender: 
Male
Class: 
Lower Class
Rank: 
Major
Vitality: 
Born-and-Dies
Occupation: 
Criminal
Specific Job: 
Bootlegger, Millworker
Date of Birth: 
Sunday, September 1, 1895 to Monday, September 30, 1895
Origin: 
Arkansas
Cause of Death: 
Murder
Biography: 

Joe Christmas' story is the most developed of the novel's various narrative lines, though at its center is the unresolvable question of his racial identity. The novel refers to his skin more than once as "parchmentcolored" (120), but race in the world of the novel is defined by the (hypothetical) color of one's "blood," as black or white. Joe is not definitively one or the other. He is the illegitimate son of Milly Hines and a circus worker of uncertain lineage, left at Christmas time anonymously at an orphanage in Memphis by his grandfather, Doc Hines. When his racial identity comes into question, he is placed in the home of Simon McEachern. Later he apparently kills McEachern and moves around the country on ʺthe street which was to run for fifteen yearsʺ (223). Many of his most violent experiences are grounded in his unsubstantiated belief that he has "some nigger bloodʺ (196) and in his unresolved attraction and resistance to women. Arriving in Jefferson at thirty-three, he enters into a complex intimate relationship with Joanna Burden, which after three years deteriorates suddenly and ends violently, making him a fugitive.

Note: 
Keywords: ethnic and racial ambiguity, homeless, orphans, criminals. lynching
Financial Status: 
laborer (works for wages)
Individual or Group: 
Individual

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