The Grimm Truths About Society and Joe Christmas


In the novel, A Light in August, William Faulkner introduces us to
a wide range of characters of various backgrounds and personalities. 
Common to all of them is the fact that each is type cast into a certain
role in the novel and in society. Lena is the poor, white trash southern
girl who serves to weave the story together. Hightower is the fanatic
preacher who is the dark, shameful secret of Jefferson. Joanna Burden is
the middle-aged maiden from the north who is often accused of being a
³nigger-lover². And Joe Christmas is the epitome of an outsider. None of
them are conventional, everyday people. They are all in some way
disjointed from society; they do not fit in with the crowd. That is what
makes them intriguing and that is why Faulkner documents their story. 
Percy Grimm is another such character and he plays a vital role in the
novel. He is the one to finally terminate Joe Christmas, who has been
suffering his entire life. Grimm is the enforcer, the one man who will
uphold American pride at all costs. He also stands for everything in the
world that has held Christmas back. He is the prototype of the ruthless
enemy who is the source of all of Christmas¹ struggles. And Christmas can
never escape him. He can run, as he has been doing all his life and as he
does in his desperate attempt to escape. But he can never hide, as he
tries to do at Hightower¹s and as he has been hiding his true self from
the world he hates so much. Percy Grimm represents the unmerciful society
that has restrained and persecuted Joe Christmas; it is only fitting that
he should be the one to finally bring him down in the end.
 Percy Grimm was born into the American south and grew up to be a
symbol and backbone of the environment he was raised in. His only regret
in life is being born too late. He feels that his sole purpose in life
would be to fight in World War I and defend the country to which he is
completely and utterly devoted. But the war happened to occur in the time
period where ³he should have been a man instead of a child² (Faulkner,
p.450). So when he grows to be a man, he joins the National Guard, which
is the closest thing to an army he can find. But instead of protecting the
country from foreign enemies, his job with the National Guard entails
protecting the country from certain things within itself. Joe Christmas
and the situation he has created is a direct threat to Percy Grimm and the
establishment he represents. Although Grimm¹s primary objective is to
protect Christmas from hostile crowds, Grimm is imprinted with a sort of
primitive and instinctive hatred for who Joe Christmas is, what he is, and
what he has done. Grimm sees him as a dangerous, unknown and more
importantly ³nigger-blooded² criminal. He had the nerve to violate and
savagely murder a white woman who happened to be part of Grimm¹s
specifically drawn definition of ³American². He has adopted, adheres to,
and enforces the
 ³belief that the white race is superior to any and all other
races and that the American is superior to all other white races and that
the American uniform is superior to all men, and that all that would ever
be required of him in payment for this belief, this privilege, would be
his own life² (Faulkner, p.451). 

Percy Grimm is a tough, humorless, and forceful individual who commands
the respect of others. He is always on some sort of mission involving the
preservation of order and he is determined to use all of his resources to
accomplish his goal. Grimm is referred to by Faulkner as ³the Player². His
main purpose in the novel is to play the part of the executioner.
Christmas does not stand much of a chance. Joe Christmas has always been
hampered by a society that shuns him, alienates him, disgraces him and
chases him away. Percy Grimm is the human representation of this society.
The climactic chase scene between Grimm and Christmas is symbolic of how
Christmas has been running from people and places all his life. He was on
the road all the time and was never able to settle down in one place for a
significant time period. Society never accepted his heritage and
personality and so he was always running away from it. But there comes a
point where he can run no longer. ³But there was too much running with
him, stride for stride with him. Not pursuers: but himself: years, acts,
deeds omitted and committed² (Faulkner, p.448). The handcuffs which hinder
his speed and mobility represent the burden he has carried throughout his
life. This burden includes his ancestry, his childhood, the people he has
encountered, acts he has committed, and the experiences he has had.
Eventually this all catches up to him as Grimm finally tracks him down and
shoots him. It is almost as if fate has decreed that there could be no
other end to the troubled life of Joe Christmas.
 The name ³Grimm² is also quite significant. Faulkner has a
tendency to name his characters in such a way that their role in the story
is foretold at first glance. Percy Grimm is symbolic of the Grim Reaper. 
This man is relentless in his pursuit of Joe Christmas, as is the fabled
messenger of death in his pursuit of a soul. The name ³Grimm² inspires
fear in the reader¹s immediate reaction towards him. And his actions back
it up. The presence he radiates intimidates everyone he encounters to
submission. Eventually Joe Christmas succumbs to him amid a climactic
inner struggle involving his own perception of himself. As he lay dying,
he feels the evil, dark, and ³black² part of himself withering away. ³the
pent black blood seemed to rush like a released breath. It seemed to rush
out of his pale body² (Faulkner, p. 465). His soul has vanished and only
his pale, clean, ³white² body is left behind. This may be the reason that
at the time that Grimm is castrating him (one of the worst scenarios
imaginable to most men), he is at peace with himself. He has always hated
the ³black² side of himself because that is what everyone else hates about
him. Since everyone else is against him, he has turned against himself as
well. Grimm, who is a representation of southern society, is racist and
intolerant of Joe Christmas and what he has done. He shows no mercy in
finishing off his miserable, confused, and troubled life. And this is no
different from the way society has always treated him. 
 Although the actual character of Percy Grimm is only covered in a
few pages of the novel, the society he represents exists as the stage on
which the entire story is set. All of the main characters are intertwined
as they struggle to make a life in the post- Civil War American South. No
character has more trouble dealing with his identity in the cruel world
than Joe Christmas. He cannot continue to run and hide forever. He has
never been able to deal with who he truly is and what that means to the
people surrounding him. So he is constantly running away, literally and
figuratively. But when he tries to hide is when he is finally caught. This
occurrence has repeated itself time and time again throughout his life.
Whenever he remained in one place for too long, trying his best to make a
home, it comes to a crashing end and his on the run again. He leaves the
orphanage after he has sabotaged his existence there. He kills McEachern
and runs away from home. He gets beaten and robbed on his final night with
Bobbie. And he finally snaps and kills Joanna Burden and runs away for the
last time. As he runs through the woods during his final few moments on
earth, he is relentlessly chased by Percy Grimm, his enemy and torturer.
In one last desperate attempt to escape, he hides at Hightower¹s and is
subsequently discovered and executed without mercy. But by this time, he
is at peace with himself, knowing that he will no longer be forced to run
and hide from anything. The society that holds him with such disdain has
finally won their eternal battle. But he just does not care anymore. Joe
Christmas surrenders to Percy Grimm with apathetic contentment.


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