Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Joe Christmas, a mulatto. Placed in an orphan home by his demented grandfather, he is to lead a tortured life of social isolation, as he belongs neither to the white nor to the black race; in fact, he prefers this kind of existence. After staying with the fanatical Calvin McEachern during his boyhood, Joe knocks his foster father unconscious and strikes out on his own, rejecting any friendly overtures. At last, he is driven to his final desperate act: He kills his benefactress, Joanna Burden, and faces death at the hands of merciless Percy Grimm.
Joanna Burden, Joe Christmas’ mistress, the descendant of a New England family. Rejected by many of her neighbors, she is the friend of blacks and interested in improving their lot. In her efforts to make Joe useful to the world, she also tries to possess and dominate him sexually, and so meets her death.
Calvin McEachern, Joe’s foster father. A ruthless, unrelenting religious fundamentalist, McEachern, without real animosity, often beats the boy savagely for trifling misdemeanors and tells him to repent. He demands that “the Almighty be as magnanimous as himself.”
Eupheus Hines (Doc)
Eupheus Hines (Doc), Joe Christmas’ grandfather. A hot-tempered little man, he is often in fights. When he learns that his daughter Milly has a mulatto lover, the fiery old man...
(The entire section is 614 words.)
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Bobbie Allen is a waitress and prostitute working in a cafe and whorehouse near the McEachern farm of Joe Christmas's adopted parents about fifteen years before the main action of the novel. When Joe is seventeen, he has an affair with her. She betrays Joe when she, and her employers, Max and Mame, are forced to flee the town as a result of Joe's violence, after he strikes his foster father on the head with a chair at a country dance. Her betrayal is part of a pattern of female betrayals in Joe's life. Despite knowing that Bobbie was a prostitute, Joe had idealized her. Faulkner describes her in the manner of a caricature, repeating several details about her; she is "downward looking," small, and has overly large hands.
Miss Atkins is the dietitian at the orphanage where Joe Christmas lived prior to his adoption by the McEacherns. She believes that five-year-old Joe, who was hiding in her closet eating her toothpaste, understood that she was having an affair with an intern and that Joe would tell the matron of the orphanage. In fear of losing her job, she tries to bribe Joe with a dollar: Since Joe does not understand the sexual experience he witnessed and expected punishment for stealing her toothpaste, his ethical sense is outraged. when she offers him a reward. Hoping to get rid of Joe, Miss Atkins tells the matron that Joe is a Negro, but the matron, unwilling to send Joe to a black orphanage, arranges for his adoption by the McEacherns.
(The entire section is 3142 words.)
Bobbie Allen, Joe's first girlfriend, is a waitress and a prostitute. She is small, "almost childlike," looking much younger than her years, which makes her seem approachable to Joe. Yet, a closer look would reveal that her size was due to "some inner corruption of the spirit itself: a slenderness which had never been young."
At first, she is patient with Joe as she gently educates him about women and sexuality. The corruption of her spirit, however, emerges during the dance when Mr. McEachern accuses her of being a harlot. Her wounded pride causes her to lash out at Joe and to betray his trust in her and their future together.
Lena stays the night in Martha Armstid's home on her way to Jefferson. Martha's appearance and the work she does in her kitchen are described as savage. She has "a cold, harsh, irascible face," which is "like those of generals who have been defeated in battle." She is a bitter woman who tells her husband that he "never lifted no hand" raising their kids, but she is kind enough to give Lena some money. Her presence at the beginning of the novel illustrates the harsh reality of a woman's life in the South during the first part of the twentieth century, a reality that Lena eventually has to face.
Armstid picks up Lena along the road and, pitying her, takes her back to his home for the night.
(The entire section is 2463 words.)