Who Is Joe Christmas English Literature Essay


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In the novel Light in August written by William Faulkner one of the main themes is isolation. All the characters that Faulkner includes in this story are in some way or another isolated from society. Some of them imposed this isolation on themselves while others were born into it. Joe Christmas was born into it; his parents passed away and grew up in an orphanage thus making him who he is when he grows older. Also many things happen throughout the story to make him feel isolated. What this results in is his actions towards people when he encounters them in certain situations.

Joe Christmas lived a troubled childhood. He grew up a confused child not knowing his true race and trying to find out whom he really is. Faulkner guides us through his uneasy life of not knowing his true race; this is one form of Christmas' isolation. He doesn't know who he is in life and thus it confuses him very much. Later in the story this comes back and haunts him. He doesn't know what to tell people or he is scared to mention it because he is afraid what they will think of him. It is obvious when he encounters women folk and doesn't know how to treat them. There are many examples such as when he beats up the girl when all the other boys are having sex with her. Another example is when he is staying with Joanna Burden. He doesn't really have a relationship with her except a sexual one. It is obvious because there seems to be an awkward silence between them whenever they are around each other. Another example that influenced Joe Christmas to treat women like how he does is the episode that happened in the orphanage. He witnessed the nurse and the night guard engage in sexual acts. This made him think that sex was just an ordinary thing and it was alright to do. This bad child hood makes him isolated when he gets older because he does not know how to hold a formal relationship with a female. All he really knows of is either one night stands or abusing them.

Another form of isolation Joe Christmas suffered in this book was from knowing his family or having one. He was a confused child not knowing if he was white, black or both. This is why he ended up in a orphanage because his grandpa didn't want to care for a baby of mixed race fearing what people would think. During this time that the book was written it was looked down upon if you were part black and part white. The white women were believed to just throw themselves onto black men. This comes back around later in the story for Joe Christmas. He plays the race card a lot with the prostitutes by saying he is black so he would not have to pay.

The whole not knowing what his race was confused Joe Christmas throughout his whole life. Even as an older man he didn't whether to tell people he was black or white. When he was adopted by the McEacherens, Faulkner makes you think that Christmas will finally have a loving family and receive some guidance. But Mr. McEacheren forces religion on him and physically abuses him. On the other hand Mrs. McEacheren is compassionate towards Christmas and shows him guidance in life. After awhile Joes past kicks in from not having a loving family and he hates this new step-parents. A mixture of his step-parents not knowing what to really do with a mixed race boy and Christmas' lost of identity makes this happen.

In Light in August, Joe Christmas is only close with really one person, Joanna Burden. He sees a person that cares for him and that is more than just a friend. Also these two have the sexual relationship, which tends to make people a lot closer. Joanna tries to get Christmas on his feet and set him a path in life. But once again his stubbornness kicks in and he refuses her help because he is still confused about his true identity.

All through the book Joe Christmas is trying to rid himself of his harsh childhood of not having a family and not knowing his true identity. When Christmas gets older he wants to find love also but he can't because he doesn't know really how to. This is his form of isolation from society. He has nobody to call his own or no family to go back to. All he has is the dreadful memories from his childhood to go back on to live his adult life. Faulkner purposely puts Christmas in isolation as a young kid to set him on a journey throughout his life to find out who he really is and form kinships with women.

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