William Faulkner’s working title for his book Light in August was “Dark House.” The title was dropped before the manuscript went to the printer and then replaced with Light in August, a title that seems to reflect more on the serene character Lena Grove. The light in August was Lena’s baby, yet that was such a small part of the whole. The death that preceded the birth consumed most of the novel. Joe Christmas was the character that involved the large part of the novel. The working title, “Dark House” would make a more suitable title due to the several pivotal houses that Joe Christmas is a part of. These houses that Christmas changes or changes in are considered dark to him. The “darkness” is the mold that shapes Christmas into what he is.
Joe Christmas is a dark character in himself. Kazin describes him as a “. . .paradox seen from a distance.” (C. N.). Christmas seems to be consumed by a shadow of violence, hatred, and his problems with his own “blackness.” These shadows that extended from the houses shaped the man he was and the man he was to become. There are five major houses that shaped Christmas’ entire being. These five houses included the houses of Mr. and Mrs. McEachern, Bobbie Allen, the collective houses of the whores, Joanna Burden, and the final house of Gail Hightower. These houses either created or destroyed him, whether it be by his own doing or by the hands of others.
Despite the trauma at the orphanage, the first major house that shaped Joe as a person was the McEacherns’ home. Mr. McEachern’s strict ideology pushed Joe into a direction of rebellion. The measured beatings and hard work habits of Mr. McEachern toughened Joe, making him detached and uncaring. McEachern’s virtues of work and fear of God were unbeknownst to Christmas before moving to McEachern’s home. But the true point of turn for Christmas was when he realized that “It was the woman: that soft kinds which he believed himself doomed to be forever victim of and which he hated worse than [the] . . . ruthless justice of man.” (L in A, p158). This realization was a reaction to Mrs. McEachern’s undying attempts to comfort and aide Christmas. Joe did not enjoy the pity that he received from her. This newly formed opinion of hate plagued Christmas until his dying day and made the home of the McEacherns a dark place.
One act of rebellion against the dark house of the McEacherns was Joe Christmas’ affair with Bobbie Allen. This was Christmas’ first love and also one of the many woman that would increase his hatred and give birth to his violent nature. There are two major turning points concerning this house. This was the first place where Christmas told a woman that he believed that he had “black blood” in him. He then discovered, through Bobbie’s reaction, that this emergence enraged women especially when told after having sex. The second major pivotal point was when Christmas awoke to reality. He discovered that “the house [Max’s and Mame’s] was dark, but it was not asleep.” (L in A, p186). This was the point when Joe discovered that Bobbie was a whore and that he was not the only one that had been with her. This deception turned him onto the road of violence when he struck Bobbie on the next night of their meet. The new-found hate and violence sent Christmas on a circular track that kept returning to a point of violence and deception.
The collective houses of the whores that Joe visits over the course of his life makes up the next dark house struck upon his journey. The action that takes place in these houses is never quite clear. The truth that took place within these houses was shadowed, except for one clear moment that changed Christmas and showed to him a new kind of person, one who accepts him for who he is. He told each whore after sex that he had “black blood” in him just to enrage them, but this “. . .one night it did not work.” (L in A, p211). The whore that he had been with that night did not care that he had “black blood” in him. Therefore, Christmas brutally beat her. This dark house was shadowed by his own problems with blackness. The incident completed one of the many circles of violence and deception.
Joe Christmas’ second love and the point of his downfall occurred in a house that was owned by Joanna Burden. Faulkner described that “The house itself was invisible and dark.” (L in A, p 98). This dark house contained the most influential passage in his long journey. Burden encompassed everything that Joe hated and despised, yet he loved her, as much as Joe could love a woman. Joanna was a woman, she had pity for Negroes, but the worst of all, she tried to pray for Joe. This was one thing that Joe disliked the most about Joanna Burden, she wanted to convert him, to show him that there is more to life than the differences between whites and blacks, but to no avail. Joanna was attempting to save his soul from damnation, but Joe did not want to be saved. Joe killed Joanna when she tried to shoot him one night and this action was his downfall. This dark house was the beginning of the end.
The last house that Joe Christmas was in was a house shadowed by the guilt and sorrows of a man named Gail Hightower. A failed reverend, Hightower receded into a house of darkness. Hightower was a victim of a woman also. It is ironic that Hightower and Christmas had that much in common. Hightower lost the faith that Christmas never had. Christmas did the things that Hightower could never have done. They both were
“. . . real only in their past” as Pouillon put it (C. N.). Christmas, in the end, was killed by his own belief of his “black blood.” The hate that he believed so much in put an end to him. A man of pure evil and hate, Percy Grimm, completely encompassed any racial hate that Christmas may have had and destroyed him. Grimm was the focal point of all racial hate in the South. It was what Christmas wanted: to die a death that was caused by the hate of race. Christmas wanted to be black so much that he was willing to die like one. Hightower’s house was the final dark place that Christmas struck on his long road of deception, hatred, and denial. That Christmas suffered is well worth it.