Chapter 6 Summary

When Joe Christmas was five years old, he lived in an orphanage. He had discovered the dietician’s pink toothpaste and frequently sneaked into her room for a taste. In one instance, he was hiding in the closet, eating more toothpaste than he knew was good for him, when the dietician and a young intern came in and began to make love. Joe’s stomach rebelled at the excess of toothpaste and he vomited. The dietician heard him, dragged him from the closet, and called him a racist name; it is the first time he had been called this.

The dietician worried for days that Joe would tell the orphanage matron what he had seen. She offered him money, but Joe refused. Joe believed that it was he who had sinned, not the dietician. Although the dietitian told him he could buy all the toothpaste he wanted, Joe no longer desired the toothpaste, associating it with vomit and guilt for stealing it. He had no concept of what the woman and the intern were doing. The dietician confided in the janitor, who was surprised that Joe was partially black. The dietician stated that Joe would have to go to the black children’s orphanage if his race were discovered. The janitor took Joe in the night, placing him in a black orphanage in Little Rock. Joe is returned to his original orphanage, but it is decided that he must soon be transported to a black orphanage. Joe recognized the man who was carrying him. The man had been watching him constantly for two years. Joe believed that the man hated and feared him so much that he could not allow him out of his sight.

Two weeks before Christmas, a man arrives at the orphanage to adopt Joe. He has been in correspondence with the dietician, which surprises the matron. The man is inquisitive about Joe’s parentage, but the matron can give him no information. The man, Mr. McEachern, explains that he and his wife are no longer young, so Joe will have a stable but simple home. McEachern assures the matron that Joe will grow up to fear God and abhor idleness and vanity. He does not like the name “Christmas,” calling it heathenish; he vows to change it. From now on, Joe’s last name will be McEachern. On hearing this, Joe vows to himself that he will not take the name of McEachern but will continue to be called Joe Christmas.