Prevost, Verbie; O'Dea, Gregory
College of Arts and Sciences
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Place of Publication
William Faulkner intended Joe Christmas to be a tragic character who would constantly seek an identity. He combats any threat to his safety—be it physical, mental, or emotional safety—with violent reactions that generally manifest in outbursts toward women for threatening his conception of his sexuality by coercing him into an intimate relationship. At many points throughout the novel, Christmas associates himself with the black race and endures all of the ridicule that comes with it just to believe that he knows a little bit about his personal history and allows his racial confusion to influence his construction of his sexual identity throughout his adolescent and adult life. His overpowering drive to define himself as a victim of the American South’s racial hostility leads to a tragic end—specifically, his castration and murder in Reverend Hightower’s kitchen. Identity is not (and cannot be) something inherent in Joe Christmas’s being—it is something he must actively construct through his experiences as a mixed-race child born in the Deep South and the interruption of his personal development in the early stages of his life. Though a discussion of this character necessitates a discussion of his perception of race, his construction of sexuality is integral to understanding his construction of his racial identity and, on a larger scale, of his identity as a whole. A Freudian analysis of Christmas’s construction of his racial identity, by way of Sigmund Freud’s essay “Infantile Sexuality,” is useful in exploring how Christmas’s development was interrupted several times during the oral stage of his development and the ways in which these disruptions impacted his construction of his sexuality. Because Christmas is unable to relinquish the oral stage of his development completely, Freudian theory argues that his actions throughout the novel display signs of an oral fixation throughout his adolescent and adult life. An examination of the role that food, or a lack of food, plays in Christmas’s development, and the ways in which the corresponding scars continue to resurface throughout his life, provides an explanation for his unconventional relationships with the dietician in the orphanage, the McEacherns, Bobbie Allen, and Joanna Burden. Inextricable from this study is the impact of his racial make-up on his development as a character and the theories published in Joane Nagel’s book Race, Ethnicity, and Sexuality: Intimate Intersections, Forbidden Frontiers, illustrate this point. The ambiguity of Christmas’s background noted so often in criticism allows a study of the way in which Christmas constructs his racial identity but has also given way to a study of how sexuality and race become conflated in his construction of identity. Nagel argues that that sex often has the ability to shape ideas about race and ethnicity because sex allows racial differences to continue to be clearly divided or paves the way for racial lines to be blurred over time. Because an interracial sexual relationship created Joe Christmas in a time when this was still unacceptable, Nagel’s theory that racial identity and sexuality are socially defined aspects of a person’s identity helps to elucidate Christmas's character.
M. A.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts.
Characters and characteristics.
Faulkner, William, -- 1897-1962 -- Characters; Faulkner, William, -- 1897-1962 -- Criticism and interpretation
English Language and Literature
iv, 68 leaves
Bryan, Victoria M., "Disrupted constructions: Joe Christmas's formation of race and sexuality in Light in August" (2009). Masters Theses and Doctoral Dissertations.