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Literature: William Faulkner

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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 іnigger-loverІ. 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 Hightower№s 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 іhe
should have been a man instead of a childІ (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
Grimm№s 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 іnigger-bloodedІ criminal. He had the
nerve to violate and savagely murder a white woman who happened to be part of
Grimm№s specifically drawn definition of іAmericanІ. He has
adopted, adheres to, and enforces the іbelief 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 lifeІ (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 іthe PlayerІ. 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. іBut there was too much running with him, stride for stride
with him. Not pursuers: but himself: years, acts, deeds omitted and committedІ
(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
іGrimmІ 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 іGrimmІ inspires fear in the reader№s
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 іblackІ
part of himself withering away. іthe pent black blood seemed to rush like
a released breath. It seemed to rush out of his pale bodyІ (Faulkner, p.
465). His soul has vanished and only his pale, clean, іwhiteІ 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 іblackІ 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 Hightower№s 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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