Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter 8 describes Joe's first romantic relationship. He is involved with a prostitute named Bobbie Allen, and he seems to love her genuinely.
Joe sneaks out his bedroom window, then puts on the suit he has hidden in the attic. He walks up the road to wait for someone and wishes that McEachern would come after him. Why does Joe want McEachern to follow him? At this point in Joe's development, he has some but not all of the characteristics he will have as an adult. Here he seems to want to provoke confrontation and punishment. Perhaps this wish is just the idle dare of a feisty youth. But you could also argue that Joe is showing the first signs of a compulsive desire for such confrontation and punishment, a desire that will eventually lead to his death. Think back on this moment when you are trying to interpret Joe's actions during the last days of his life.
Writing from Joe's point of view, Faulkner describes the McEachern house as "treacherous," "threatful," and "deceptive." Later in this chapter, Joe hesitates to make love indoors. Joe seems to have good reasons for fearing the McEacherns' house. But houses usually suggest shelter and security. Perhaps Joe feels that he can only achieve freedom by denying any need for shelter and security.
Standing by the side of the road, Joe thinks about the woman he is waiting for. He first saw her one Saturday afternoon when he was in town with McEachern. McEachern had finished his business late and had taken Joe to a diner. They ate quickly, but Joe had noticed the waitress. Some months later, McEachern gave Joe a dime to spend while McEachern conducted business with his lawyer. Joe went straight to the diner, where he ordered pie and coffee. The dime wasn't enough to pay for the coffee, and he left in embarrassment. Weeks later he returned to try to pay the extra nickel for the cup of coffee. The proprietor and his wife made fun of him, but the waitress, Bobbie Allen, seemed touched by his naive honesty.
When Joe was younger, one of his friends had told him about menstruation. He was upset that women experienced such a process. Two weeks later he killed a sheep in order to immerse his hands in its blood. On his first date with Bobbie, this memory came back to him. She told him that she was sick and could not make love. At first he didn't understand, but when she explained about this regular monthly "sickness," Joe was outraged once more. He hit Bobbie and ran away into the woods, where he vomited. Remember that he also vomited when he overheard the dietitian making love.
Again Faulkner uses the image of the urn. Here Faulkner puts this image to a somewhat different purpose than in his earlier metaphor of frozen motion. Then he associated the urn with Lena. Here the urn represents the physical perfection Joe had imagined in women. But he finds that the urn is cracked and is leaking a foul liquid. Of course, the physical process that Joe is rejecting here is one that is necessary for fertility and reproduction. By wanting living women to have the "perfection" of urns, Joe seems to be at odds with the natural processes of life.
But Joe is not yet the Joe Christmas who murders Joanna Burden. Note how in his relationship with Bobbie, he seems to be overcoming his fear of women. Perhaps you can sympathize with Joe if you think of times you have had to struggle with fears and doubts in order to pursue a romantic relationship that was important to you.
On his next meeting with Bobbie, Joe made love to her. Some time later Joe told Bobbie that he may have Negro blood, but she accuses him of lying. Note that when Joe told Bobbie about this possibility, he seemed trusting and open. Later in his life you'll see him mention his possible mixed blood as a way of deliberately taunting or defying people. But that pattern does not seem to have begun yet. Note also that Bobbie, despite her apparent affection for Joe, cannot accept the possibility of his being of mixed race.
When Joe finally discovered that Bobbie was a prostitute, he cried. But though he began to drink and smoke with the other regulars at the diner, he also continued to pursue his relationship with Bobbie much as he had before he knew about her prostitution. Joe's crying may be important here. Remember that he had always rejected Mrs. McEachern's kindness because he felt that she was trying to get him to cry. With Bobbie he is willing to cry and to accept her for what she is.
Joe's experience with Bobbie finally seems to be drawing him into the flow of love and life. Because you already know that Joe later becomes more closed, you should be wondering about what will cause the change.