Does Joe Christmas deserve the identification with Christ in the novel Light In August?

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susan3smith eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In most 20th Century fiction, Christ figures are ironic.  In many ways Joe Christmas is no exception.  He is  a violent man--probably guilty of killing McEachern, beating several prostitutes as well as Joe Brown, and cutting Joanna Burden's throat.  In his actions, he is very unlike the compassionate and wise Jesus.

Yet, in many ways he does parallel Christ because he suffers for the sins of others:  racism, religious fanaticism, and sexism.  Perhaps it is this parallel that Faulkner wants his readers to see.  Joe Christmas assumes the ills of societyas represented in an exaggerated degree by his racist  grandfather who slays the reputed black father of Christmas and allows Christmas's mother to die during childbirth, a fanatical McEachern who beats Christmas mercilessly throughout his childhood, and a controlling Joanna Burden who tries to recreate Christmas as a respectable businessman, father, and husband.  Probably what is most important, though, is that we can judge the morality or immorality of the characters in the way they respond to Christmas.  Byron Bunch and later Gail Hightower reach out to  help Christmas  and thereby transcend the narrow thinking of the Jeffersonians and are viewed by the reader as good men.  Also, as Christmas dies, the memory of his mutilated body will be imprinted in the memories of those witnesses for generations, who must somehow live with the guilt of the atrocity that they took part in.  In this way, Christmas's death is not in vain and hopefully serve as a reminder to the community of man's inhumanity to man.

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Light in August

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