Summary: Light in August – Chapter Fourteen

Since Joe Christmas felt the need to kill Joanna out of a need to keep his individuality and since he could no longer run from his own self, it is now significant that after the murder, he makes no attempt to escape. He never leaves the surrounding countryside through which he wanders trying to come to terms with his conflict, and since his is an inner conflict, there is no need for Joe to leave the immediate neighborhood of his crime.

The murder occurred on Saturday, and on a Tuesday, Joe is seen in a Negro church cursing God. After this dramatic episode, Joe begins to come to terms with himself. Some critics have viewed this as the day of the Holy Week when Christ cleansed the temple. But in terms of Joe’s conflict with his two bloods, this episode suggests that the black blood can no longer stay pacified and must express itself in violence. This is his last futile attempt to deny his black blood.

His acceptance of his black blood comes when he exchanges his shoes for the Negro’s shoes. Basically, this is done so that the bloodhounds cannot trail him, but in accepting the shoes, he also seems to struggle no longer with himself. It is as though he spent all of his energy cursing God in the Negro church and now is ready to accept his heritage.

As soon as Joe accepts his black blood, he finds a sense of peace and contentment for the first time in his life. Joe realized that to have peace, he must accept full responsibility for his own heritage and his own actions. It is now that he realizes he must return to society and face the consequences of his earlier acts. With this decision and with his acceptance of his responsibility, he then finds that long-sought-after peace and contentment. This is represented by his becoming unified with nature and his surroundings: He breathes deep and slow, becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair.

Note that as soon as he comes to this recognition and this acceptance of self, he performs a symbolic cleansing ritual by shaving in the soft, cold, spring water. He even uses the Negro’s shoes to sharpen his razor and prepares himself for his return to town to assume responsibility for his actions.

It is only when Joe comes to the realization that he can never escape from himself and therefore accepts his Negro heritage that he breathes quietly for the first time in his life. He also realizes that he is no longer hungry. It will be remembered that Joe has always been in search of food and his sudden recognition that he is no longer hungry becomes significant in terms of his earlier struggles against hunger. Symbolically, when he accepts his destiny, he becomes at peace with his tormenting hunger, and sleeps peacefully for the first time.

Notice the difference in Joe’s actions before and after his acceptance of himself. In the scenes which immediately precede and follow Joe’s self-realization, there are different responses to Joe. In the first scene, Joe approaches a Negro to ask him the day of the week. The Negro is terrified by Joe’s appearance and flees in utter horror. Then comes the scene after Joe has accepted his responsibility, and he approaches another Negro who quite naturally and nonchalantly offers Joe a ride into Mottstown. During the ride, Joe feels that he has accepted himself, and he realizes that he is no longer exhausted or hungry.

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