Chapter fifteen gives us an excellent presentation of a religious fanatic. By presenting him as the town sees him, Faulkner gives “Uncle Doc” Hines character qualities of a freak, a fanatic, a vile type of segregationist, and a pathetic weakling.
Even though old Doc Hines is not identified in this chapter as Joe’s grandfather, the reader should at least recognize him as the same man who worked in the orphanage for five years between twenty-five and thirty years ago. He was the one who stole Joe from the orphanage and who called the dietitian’s actions “bitchery and abomination”–the same thing he mutters at the end of Chapter fifteen.
On a realistic level, old Doc Hines’ hatred of Joe is a result of his general hatred of the Negro race. Thus this chapter goes into a long presentation of his unreasonable dislike for the Negro race and his absurd interference with the Negro church services. Therefore, old Doc Hines’ want for his grandson’s death can be taken on one level as the desire of a typical fanatic for white supremacy. But his fanaticism also functions on another level. It becomes significant when applied to his own grandson because this emphasizes Christmas’ isolation from society; he can never be accepted when his own grandfather rejects him.
When Hightower hears the news of Joe Christmas’ arrest, he becomes terribly agitated and begins to cry. Hightower has remained alone and isolated so long, has lived without human contact and knowledge of his fellow-man for so long that now, as he hears of the suffering of another person, his compassion is intense. He feels even by hearing the story that he drawn back into the difficulty and strain of everyday life.
He reminds Byron that he is an isolated figure and no longer a man of God because the town forced him. Thus, Hightower seems to be suggesting that he is not responsible for his present situation and that he is not therefore capable of helping another person. But in actuality, Hightower does not want to assume the responsibility connected with living a normal life again–he prefers his own isolation without responsibility.