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Free Barron's Booknotes-Light in August by William Faulkner-Free Notes
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Chapter 9 describes Joe's final violent confrontation with McEachern. It also recounts Bobbie's subsequent rejection of Joe.

McEachern sees Joe sneaking away from the house and being picked up by a car. He goes after Joe and, though he has no way of knowing where Joe is, he finds him easily at a country dance in a one-room schoolhouse. McEachern yells at Bobbie and hits Joe in the face. Then Joe fells McEachern by hitting him over the head with a chair.

This brief section is a rare look inside McEachern's consciousness. Faulkner uses some fairly strong terms in describing McEachern, for example, "bigotry." Nonetheless, he may also make you feel a bit sorry for McEachern when he reminds you that, to McEachern, Joe is still the child McEachern has nurtured and sheltered. But perhaps the strongest feeling that comes through here is McEachern's complete certainty both about the rightness of his actions and about the inevitability of all that is happening.


McEachern is a Scottish Presbyterian. Presbyterianism is one of several Protestant denominations whose teachings derive from the theology of John Calvin, one of the original giants of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Calvinism holds that God has chosen a small predestined elect for salvation. Though no human actions can explain or change God's choice, one sign of membership in the elect is the strength of a person's religious faith. And Calvinists have traditionally expected strong religious faith to show itself in a life of hard work, frugality, and stern morality. McEachern's certainty as he pursues Joe seems to derive from his own conviction that McEachern is among the elect in a world of the damned. Note that the Southern variety of Scottish Presbyterianism was one of the strictest of the Calvinist groups.

Note that McEachern has hit Joe in the face before. This time Joe responds in kind with apparently fatal results. In the course of this chapter, several other people will hit Joe in the face. You have already seen the Joe Christmas of some fifteen years after hitting Brown in the face. Apparently, Faulkner is showing how Joe learned his own violence from the violence others perpetrated on him.

As soon as McEachern loses consciousness, Faulkner returns to Joe's point of view. Bobbie is screaming at Joe and calling him a bastard. He doesn't seem to notice her anger even when she hits him in the face and drives away. Joe rides home on McEachern's horse, goes to the attic, and with Mrs. McEachern looking on, steals the money his adoptive mother has hoarded. Note that he behaves toward Mrs. McEachern as harshly as you might expect from the man you were first introduced to in Chapter 2. But toward Bobbie he still appears to be tender.


Faulkner compares Joe to Dr. Faust. According to German legend, the magician Faust made a pact with or sold his soul to the devil. Both the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the English Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593) wrote famous dramas about Faust. Here Faulkner seems to be suggesting the rebellious freedom of a man who has defied society's moral code. But he could also be hinting that the freedom Joe feels will be brief, just as a deal with the devil has its price. In addition, Faulkner may have been thinking of the fact that in Goethe's version of the Faust story, Faust is always striving, never satisfied. Christmas's life henceforth will always be restless too.

Joe rides away from the McEachern house. He beats the horse to try to get it to run faster, but the tired animal slows to a halt. Faulkner's description of this ride is another example of his fondness for pictures of frozen motion. In this instance the picture of Joe leaning forward "in an attitude of terrific speed" while his horse stands still might be a metaphor for the life Joe is about to enter, one of running while getting nowhere.

Joe beats the horse on the head, then runs the rest of the way into town to the diner. He finds the proprietors, Max and Mame, dressed for the road with their bags packed. They ask Joe if McEachern is dead. Joe is impatient with the question. He wants Bobbie to come with him and to get married. But she is still furious, and she calls him a "nigger." A friend of Max's knocks Joe to the ground and hits him in the face repeatedly.

For the second time in his life, someone has decided that Joe must be black. Compare Bobbie's accusation to the dietitian's. Both women are afraid and angry. Though neither knows Joe's racial identity for certain, they jump to conclusions when it suits them to denounce him. And in both cases those who hear the accusation seem to accept it as true even though they have no evidence. As the fact of Bobbie's rejection sinks in, Joe feels a wind blowing her and all the people around her out of his life.

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