Imagine living in 1930s Mississippi, not knowing if you were black or white. This is the riddle facing Joe Christmas, an orphan raised by whites, but consumed by the possibility that he is black. He himself is a riddle, containing both the desire for love, and a simmering, violent malevolence. Christmas’s tragic story intersects with others’: Lena Grove, a saint-like woman searching the South for the father of her unborn child, Byron Bunch, the sawmill worker who falls in love with her, and Reverend Hightower, a preacher obsessed with the Civil War.
Faulkner’s frequent use of the “n” word, while undoubtedly realistic to the time and place, feels hateful and oppressive.