Chapter 16 Summary

Byron Bunch comes to see Hightower, whom he finds sleeping in a chair under a tree. He wakes the former minister to tell him Joe Christmas has been captured. Hightower expresses mild contempt for Byron’s posing as a protector of the morals of the community after having hid Lena away from the father of her child. Byron ignores his words about Lena and tells him that Mrs. Hines, Joe Christmas’s grandmother, has been found. Hightower hears the people making their way to church. He is bitter that this world has been shut to him. Byron leads Mr. and Mrs. Hines into Hightower’s study.

Mrs. Hines explains that she never knew her grandson was still alive; Mr. Hines had told her he was dead. Mr. Hines has come to Jefferson to participate in Joe Christmas’s lynching, and she has come with him to keep him from doing it. From the birth of their daughter, Milly, Mrs. Hines has told her husband that God was giving him a warning (Mr. Hines had been in jail when his daughter was born). A circus was in the area when Milly was a teenager. One of the workers, who said he was a Mexican, seduced and impregnated Milly. When Milly and the circus worker ran away, Mr. Hines chased them and shot the circus worker dead; he said he knew that he was part black, not Mexican.

Mr. Hines tries to find a doctor to perform an abortion on Milly but is unable to find one. Instead, he beats up a doctor and then returns home, where he begins to preach against the evil of “niggers” until he is led away. When Milly goes into labor, he refuses to go for a doctor. As a result, Milly dies in childbirth. Mr. Hines goes to Memphis and finds a job. He returns home, takes the baby, and places it in an orphanage. Later, he tells his wife that the baby is dead.

Hightower and Byron are unsure as to what Mrs. Hines wants them to do. She says that she wishes she could go back in time, just for one day, before Joe killed Miss Burden. Byron wants Hightower to say that Joe had been with him that night because it is only the word of Joe Brown that has led to Christmas’s capture. Hightower considers it as an opportunity to return Joe Christmas to his grandmother and to force Lucas Burch to marry Lena. However, he refuses and orders Mr. and Mrs. Hines out of his house.