Byron finds Reverend Hightower sleeping in the yard when he arrives to tell his friend of Joe Christmas’s capture. The minister accuses Byron of using the situation to his advantage and that his kindness and charity toward Lena mask less selfless and more carnal and insidious desires.
Hightower muses that, since being defrocked, he has slowly slipped out of conventional time and entered an existence of his own making. He believes that suffering is the lot of the wicked and good alike. He also believes that joy and pleasure are complicated gifts that most people do not know what to do with.
Byron leaves and returns with the Hineses, who are revealed to be Joe’s grandparents. Mr. Hines, still in his detached coma-like state, rants and raves about the weakness and sin of his daughter Milly, Joe’s mother. Mrs. Hines then recounts the story of Joe’s conception, birth, and first months. Milly became involved with a worker at a circus passing through the town where they lived at the time. Claiming he was Mexican, rather than part black, he seduced the young girl, and the couple attempted to run off together. But they were caught by Mr. Hines, who shot and killed the man and forced his daughter to return home.
Mr. Hines then attempted to find a doctor willing to perform an abortion, but his anger and religious zeal got the best of him during his search, and he assaulted a physician before heading to the next town. There, he took over the church service, trying to convince the congregation of the inherent evil of blacks. When the parishioners tried to coax him down from the pulpit, Mr. Hines pulled out a gun and eventually found himself in jail. By the time he was released and returned home, Milly was about to have the baby. When Milly started going into labor, Mrs. Hines sent her husband off to fetch the doctor. However, he refused and merely stood guard on the porch with his shotgun, striking his wife with the barrel of the gun. Milly died in labor, and Mr. Hines went off again, leaving his wife to care for the infant. One day, Mrs. Hines found a note and saw that the baby was gone.
Mr. Hines arranged a job at an orphanage in Memphis, where he left the infant Joe on Christmas Eve. Joe was taken in and lived in an atmosphere of racial taunts and slurs until the day he snuck into the dietician’s room to steal the toothpaste and unknowingly witnessed her having sex with the intern. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hines, knowing that the child was adopted and taken away, returned home permanently, telling his wife the child was dead.
Reverend Hightower remains unclear what Byron and the Hineses want him to do about the situation. Mrs. Hines says she wishes only to see Joe freed from jail for one day, to suspend time temporarily as though he had not committed the crime. Byron, however, wants Hightower to claim falsely that Joe Christmas was with him at his house on the night of the murder. Outraged, the reverend refuses and orders the threesome out of his house.
I think Joe Christmas' upbring is responsible for his complex behaviour in his adulthood. More often heredity creates individuals, but in the case of Joe Christmas its the environment in which lived that played a significant role in his creation. But what are the ramifications of Joe Christmas' biracial background?
I can't get past the ugly racism in this book. I'd like to think the racism belongs to the characters, but the author gives no reason for the reader to think it didn't belong to him as well.
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