“Liable to be anything”: The Creation of Joe Christmas in Faulkner's Light
|OWEN ROBINSON a1|
a1 Department of Literature, University of Essex, Colchester CO4 3SQ.
Joe Christmas, the central figure of William Faulkner's Light
August (1932), is in many ways the archetypal character of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, largely because his engagement with so many regional and theoretical archetypes undermines the authority of any one of them while displaying dramatically their cumulative effect as a multiform, created life. Such is the complexity of his presence and role in Light
August and Yoknapatawpha, that he suggests himself strongly as a means of considering the personal manifestations of the county's sprawling network of readings and writings as a theoretical mass. Indeed, for one of the most apparent characters in Faulkner's work, in terms of the strength of his actions and their results, he is phenomenally hard to pin down; this, indeed, is at the root of many of his problems and the problems of those who try to define him. To an extreme extent, Christmas forces us to see creative activity on every level of the fictive process: Faulkner and his reader, Joe himself and the numerous interpreters he has in the novel, and, crucially, in the encounters and tensions between them. As such, he is a pertinent means of comprehending the analogous nature of the writing and reading to be found within Yoknapatawpha with that of the series of novels in which the county is sited. In attempting to understand Joe Christmas, therefore, we must abandon any hope of discovering any singular or defining answers, and engage with him on the dialogic terms he demands.