In story together. Hightower is the fanatic
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 ‘nigger-lover’. 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 Christmas 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 Hightowers 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 ‘he should have been a man instead of a child’ (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 Grimms 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 ‘nigger-blooded’ criminal. He had the nerve to violate and savagely murder a white woman who happened to be part of Grimms specifically drawn definition of ‘American’. He has adopted, adheres to, and enforces the belief 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 life’ (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 ‘the Player’.
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. ‘But there was too much running with him, stride for stride with him. Not pursuers: but himself: years, acts, deeds omitted and committed’ (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 ‘Grimm’ 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 ‘Grimm’ inspires fear in the readers 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 ‘black’ part of himself withering away. ‘the pent black blood seemed to rush like a released breath. It seemed to rush out of his pale body’ (Faulkner, p. 465). His soul has vanished and only his pale, clean, ‘white’ 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 ‘black’ 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 Hightowers 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.