Quote 4

[H]e believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe. He was saying to himself I had to do it already in the past tense; I had to do it. She said so herself

This description is found toward the end of Chapter 12, when Christmas, seated in the garden and listening to the town clock chime ten and then eleven at night, has ultimately resolved to kill Miss Burden. The passage mirrors the frenzied, incoherent, and contradictory thoughts of a man who lashes out by choice, driven by an irrational and compulsive need to destroy his own happiness and that of others. Joe’s all-consuming desire for revenge and violence is a bestial, primal, almost nonverbal drive. It resists articulation, easy explication, or the neat and orderly explanations that language is usually able to provide.

The passage also enacts, through the spill of language that attempts to replicate Joe’s feverish impressions and conclusions, the competing and contradictory thought processes that divide Christmas. Clearly the murder is premeditated—conceived as if it were in the past, an act already performed. At the same time, Joe’s thoughts betray a paradoxical desire to be absolved of guilt, that he is a “volitionless servant,” overpowered by a force, larger and stronger than his own will or resistance, that compels him to take a life. There is a glimmer of moral sense in his tortured thoughts. Part of him recognizes that he does “not believe” in murder. But as Joe, like Reverend Hightower, increasingly occupies a world of his own making, time collapses, and the distinctions between past, present, and future—the logical progressions that link cause and effect and action and consequence—are erased. Joe is left with a resolution to kill in which he feels justified and that he feels that he has no choice but to heed.