Perhaps he realised that he could not escape. Anyway, he stayed, watching the two creatures that struggled in the one body like two moon-gleamed shapes.

This passage, referring to Christmas’s escalating affair with Miss Burden in Chapter 12, perfectly captures the psychic schism present in many of the novel’s characters. Faulkner strove to populate his novels with complex personalities—presences that cannot be reduced to simple, one-dimensional summation. His style and technique testify to the fact that no one version of the truth, no one set of explanations or motivations, is sufficient to explain what lies behind his characters’ often complicated and multifaceted drives and needs.

Joe Christmas is a man trapped by circumstance and by his own feckless desire to leave his past and his crimes behind him. He feels that he should extricate himself from the physical longing that binds him increasingly to Miss Burden, but he cannot. He begins, instinctively, in thinking of his sudden residence on the Burden property, to “see himself as from a distance,” unable to do anything but bear witness to Miss Burden’s physical and emotional trials. As Joe gets to know his lover more intimately, he sees a gender divide in Miss Burden—both a male and a female presence struggling for supremacy over her. Moreover, a spiritual and physical struggle splits Miss Burden. By accounts contained and invulnerable, reckless and sexually vulnerable, she fights against her own rational nature, struggling over her need to be strong and independent on one hand and her need to surrender physically and spiritually to Joe on the other. In Faulkner’s world, individuals struggle not only against community, society, and the past but also against themselves and their unstable, often fluid senses of identity.