Joe Christmas

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Joe Christmas
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Christmas, Joe
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Joe Christmas' story is the most developed of the various narrative lines in Light in August, 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 "the street which was to run for fifteen years" (223). Many of his most violent experiences are grounded in his unsubstantiated belief that he has "some nigger blood" (196) and in pathological ambivalence toward women that dates from a traumatic moment in the orphanage when he was "five" (120). Arriving in Jefferson at age 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 - and ultimately a the victim of a lynching. Throughout he carries a heavy thematic 'burden' himself, as an ambiguous Christ-figure, a study in alienation, and a way for Faulkner to open up the issue of race.

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