Joe Christmas by William Faulkner

Joe Christmas by William Faulkner

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Studies have shown that people who have been physically or mentally abused as a child are more likely to have an abusive personality as an adult. The cognitive mind is influenced the most as a child for a mind that has not matured yet is susceptible to take in anything that is thrown at it. William Faulkner shows that the events of one’s youth have many effects on behavior as an adult, through the protagonist, Joe Christmas, in his novel Light in August.
Joe Christmas did not have the perfect childhood. Being an orphan and biracial in a racially tense south, growing up was hard for him. Christmas lived in a white-only orphanage until his true pedigree was discovered by the nurse and reported to the orphanage superiors who quickly kicked Christmas out of the shelter. Along with the effect an absence of biological parent figures has, this early event was Christmas's first encounter with racism in the south. Even worse, by being half black and half white, Christmas was neither accepted by the blacks nor whites: he was ostracized by both communities. These events that occurred during the past reflect his personality as an adult.
After being released from the orphanage, Christmas was adopted by the McEachern's. As he entered adolescence, he began to become rebellious and often snuck out of his home which is obvious evidence of disobedience to his adoptive parents. Christmas running away from his parental figures can be identified as a result of the absence of his biological parents and the sense of loss or loneliness he felt when he learned that he was an orphan. Therefore, he may be trying to stay away from any kind of parental figures as he does not want to be attached and once again feel the sense of loss or loneliness. Throughout the novel, Christmas is cruel to all females he encounters. Some of the first events that display his hatred for females are when he is invited into the barn to engage in sexual intercourse with a black female by a group of white men. Instead of engaging in intercourse, "He was moving, because his foot touched her. Then it touched her again because he kicked her. He kicked her hard, kicking into and through a choked wail of surprise and fear.

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She began to scream, he jerking her up, clutching her by the arm, hitting at her with wide, wild blows, striking at the voice perhaps, feeling her flesh anyway, enclosed by the womanshenegro and the haste" (156-157). Another occurrence where his hate is identified is when he talked about his adoptive mother, "'She was trying to make me cry. Then she thinks that they would have had me'" (169). These two events are expressions of Christmas's mind in which his hate for woman is revealed. This ongoing hate also includes sexually abusing a waitress named Bobbie and the murder of Joanna Burden which eventually leads to Christmas's demise. This hatred can be traced back to when Christmas was a child in the orphanage and he encountered the nurse. The events that followed this encounter branded Christmas with a realization that he would never be accepted into the white society for he was half black. The person who let that news out was the female dietician who called him derogatory terms from which Christmas derived his image of the female sex, which he still lives by as an adult.
Growing up in the McEachern household, Christmas was constantly a target for Mr.McEachern's hostile behavior. McEachern beat Joe Christmas on many occurrences; many times for arbitrary reasons. One occurrence was when McEachern wanted Joe to learn passages from the bible. Joe was young and could not remember all of the lines. Mr.McEachern gave him an hour to memorize them and told him that he would return. When he did return and Joe had still not memorized the lines, Mr. McEachern had Joe follow him into the stable. Inside the stable, "McEachern began to strike methodically, with slow and deliberate force, still without heat or anger. It would have been hard to say which face was the more rapt, more calm, more convinced. He struck ten times, then he stopped" (149-150). Joe never remembered any of his passages. As a result, Mr. McEachern continued this beating every hour until Joe fainted. Also, McEachern beat Joe many other times such as when Joe sold the heifer that McEachern had given to him.
When Joe grew older and finally told his foster father, "Don't you hit me again" (165), he began to become as hostile to others, especially women, as McEachern had been to him. Throughout the novel, he beats many people including the black girl in the barn as previously mentioned. Another occurrence is when he thinks that the waitress was cheating on him and "He struck her again. 'Not here!' she whispered. 'Not here!' Then he found that he was crying. He had not cried since he could remember. He cried, cursing her, striking her" (198). Other times include when he hits Joe Brown in the head repeatedly when he is drunk as well as the attack and murder of Joanna Burden. These attacks can be identified as abusive behavior caused by Christmas's past in which he was constantly abused by his foster father, McEachern. Children who are physically abused are more likely to adapt this abusive persona than those who were not abused in their childhood. Christmas's abuse had bottled up anger within him for his father. With that, his existing hate for woman just increases the overall potential of abuse and causes Joe Christmas to act as he does.
In the end, it can be acknowledged that the truth is that Joe Christmas cannot change his persona or his actions. The events of his past have created scars that are too deep to be healed. His inability to become attached to any parent figures, his negative feelings towards females, and his abusive nature are all caused by these scarring events of his childhood which have turned him into the adult he became. Through Joe Christmas, William Faulkner succeeds in showing that the events of one's youth have many effects on behavior as an adult.
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