In the novel Light in August, Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden are extremely damaged individuals. Both characters were raised in turbulent environments with an emphasis on religion. The sins they committed had a profound impact on them. They knew that their behavior was wrong but they were compelled to continue. Religion became a mental prison for them. A prison that they created but that they would never escape alive. Although Joe and Joanna viewed religion in completely different ways, they both lacked the capacity to forgive themselves because of their upbringing.
For Joanna, religion was a source of comfort that was pushed on her by her father. Joanna was raised by puritans and she lives her life with a constant subconscious fear of hell. She also lacked a mother figure. Joanna never learned what it meant to be a woman because she needed a proper teacher. When she was introduced to Joe Christmas she experienced her first sexual encounter. The pleasure she felt was a shock to her and Joanna became a nymphomaniac. “Within six months she was completely corrupted. It could not be said that he corrupted her”. (Faulkner 260) Joe Christmas was simply a catalyst for Joanna’s descent into sin. She knew that her actions were sinful but she could see no other alternative. “Don’t make me have to pray yet. Dear God, let me be damned a little longer, a little while.” She was blinded by a lust that eventually blossomed into love. Joe released her from her life of isolation and loneliness and she fell for him despite his obvious flaws. She was isolated from the town because of her northern heritage.
For Christmas, religion was a source of shame and suffering. Under the cruel reign of Mr. McEachern, Christmas was subjected to constant beatings and verbal abuse. As he grows into adulthood, religion was a constant reminder of the pain of his childhood. “In the realm of power, Christianity has operated with an unmitigated arrogance and cruelty — necessarily, since a religion ordinarily imposes on those who have discovered the true faith the spiritual duty of liberating the infidels”. (Lackey 66) McEachern was a tyrant who perverted the true meaning of religion for Joe Christmas. He saw it as his duty to convert Christmas to Christianity and to force him away from a sinful life. Christmas was essentially raised to hate what he became. His sin becomes a way for him to resist McEachern’s oppression but it also traps him. Joe Christmas was conditioned to believe that sin is wrong and by committing sins he was fighting everything that he had ever been taught.
Joe was also subconsciously taught to distrust women. From his first experience with the dietician, all he knew was betrayal by the women in his life. His foster mother betrayed his foster father by attempting to help him. In his eyes, women were not to be trusted. The breaking point for Joe was Joanna’s pregnancy scare. To him it was the ultimate betrayal. “You haven’t got any baby, you never had one. There...