While Joe Christmas seeks the essential knowledge of who he is and where he belongs in the world, Byron’s struggle centers on the perceived deficiencies of his existing identity. He deems the life he had known before meeting Lena an insufficient or outdated form. Implicit in his fantasy of flight is a notion of reinvention, the assumption of a new life and a new identity. “And Byron Bunch,” he reminds himself, “he wouldn’t even have to be or not be Byron Bunch.” Lying in the undergrowth near the railroad tracks, he perceives his old life slipping away. The people who had made up his existence, even he himself, are likened to “discarded and fragmentary toys . . . small objects which had never been alive, which he had played with in childhood and then broken and forgot.” Symbolically, Byron’s old sense of self has been replaced with a new order, a delayed but nonetheless welcome adulthood.
In Chapter 19, as Percy Grimm chases the desperately fleeing Joe Christmas, Faulkner introduces the lingo of chess: Grimm’s body moves instinctively in pursuit of Christmas, as if drawn by a more powerful agent, in “blind obedience to whatever Player moved him on the Board.” It is an ironic turn, as Faulkner’s characters, tormented over the course of the novel by their incomplete and imprisoning subjectivities, ultimately are rendered powerless objects, their will and sense of self-determination merely an illusion. The characters’ struggles—to resist suffering, to achieve a whole and grounded sense of self—turn out to be all for naught, as if they are merely acting out the final scenes of a scripted drama, going through the motions only to arrive at a predetermined fate. Faulkner equates life with a game of chess, with its various strategies and attacks and missteps, all obscuring the fact that these individuals are ultimately moving toward a predetermined and inalterable conclusion. In the interim, the characters maintain the sustaining illusion that they are the masters of their own fate, when in fact they are actually pawns being manipulated by forces larger than themselves and beyond their control.