Bobbie Allen works as a prostitute and “a waitress in a small, dingy, back street restaurant in town” and engages in a sexual relationship with Joe Christmas, which results in his quixotic attempt to marry her only to be spurned on account of his race (172). Despite her brief and intense appearance and disappearance, Bobbie is a figure representative of alternate possibilities: while she, like the novel’s other major female characters, seems to defy simple categorization within traditional femininity, her breach of boundaries is not a negative transgression (as arguably Lena and Joanna perform), but a positive one—one that elevates her momentarily out of a narrative of abjectness and prostitution to one of traditional courtship. In a mirroring of Joe’s figuration, Bobbie is defined by an emptiness and a rage, able only to engage in a normative narrative of romance with another similarly socially maligned/abject character. It is only when Joe’s abjectness completely submerges into blackness that any chance of traditional romantic resolution is destroyed.

Bobbie, like Joe, evades being easily categorized, instead falling into the between spaces. She “would never see thirty again” yet “she probably did not look more than seventeen” (172). Her eyes had “a quality beyond even hardness, without being hard” (173). Even her name is an ambiguous site; when Joe first hears it, he believes it to be confirmation of her loss, of her feminine space consumed by the masculine: “She’s gone. They have got a man in her place. I have wasted the dime, like he said” (179). Despite her emphasized femininity and sexual appeal (for Joe), Bobbie also later comes to be defined by “the odorreek of all anonymous men” due to her occupation (199). Gail Mortimer has speculated on the role of the name in LIA as a bounded space in itself, a kind of “container” of identity (Mortimer 239). If so, Bobbie breaches that line as well: not only in her muddying and elision between the masculine and the feminine, but also between romantic acceptance and rejection. C. Hugh Holman attributes her name to a bastardized variant of the heroine of “the Scotch ballad ‘Barbara Allen,’” albeit one who does not ultimately validate a romance but represents Joe’s approximation “to love and acceptance” (Holman 160).

First page of "Barbara Allen" as printed in the Forget-Me-Not Songster circa 1840.

Yet Bobbie is also defined by absence and lack. Her voice is “downcast, quite empty,” “her eyes…without depth, as if they could not even reflect,” her large hands “lying…completely immobile” and defined by “that quality spent and waiting” (Faulkner 179, 180). Her emptiness and stillness is, in some way, a complement to Joe’s abundance of abject interiority (that must necessarily be purged). Where Joe has “a quality unworldly”, Bobbie has a similar quality “of something beyond flesh” (180). Yet both are also linked by the depths of their rage. After Mr. McEachern arrives at the dance and calls Bobbie a Jezebel and “harlot,” Bobbie responds in rage, resulting in “two men holding her and she writhing and struggling, her hair shaken forward, her white face wrung and ugly beneath the splotches of savage paint, her mouth a small jagged hole filled with shrieking” before eventually sinking into pure screaming without words (205, 206). The feminine mask is removed, yielding the void of rage lying underneath.

In Deborah Clarke’s study of the interplay of gender, race, and language in the novel, she recognizes the power of Lena and Joanna to “disrupt and overturn patriarchal standards of order” while also benefiting as “passive recipients of southern chivalry” (Clarke 403-404). However, what enables Joe and Bobbie to play within traditional chivalric and romantic narratives is not necessarily through a disruption of “patriarchal standards of order,” but rather through a deference to it; their similar placements within the social order opens the space for them to reposition themselves within traditional roles—Joe as the giving and actively courting man, and Bobbie as the passive pursued.

Bobbie’s small size is what initially attracts Joe, who believes “her smallness should have or might have protected her from the roving and predatory eyes of most men, leaving his chances better. If she had been a big woman he would not have dared. He would have thought, ‘…She will already have a fellow, a man’” (173). Thus Joe’s realization of intent of courtship hinges upon Bobbie’s reduced status. She is only attainable in part because nobody else does. When Joe comes back to the restaurant to pay a nickel he owes, the other patrons laugh at the absurdity of his gesture. Yet Bobbie is touched:

“She said, ‘Oh. And you come back to give it to me. Before them. And they kidded you. Well, say.’
‘I thought you might have had to pay for it, yourself. I thought—‘
‘Well, say. Can you tie that. Can you, now.’
They were not looking at one another, standing face to face. To another they must have looked like two monks met during the hour of contemplation” (184)

What presents as a scene of mockery for the men in the restaurant (due to Bobbie’s status as prostitute or to Joe’s naïve boyish assumptions) becomes recast as something holier within their interpersonal space, something compared to the sobriety of “two monks [meeting].” In that space, Joe’s gesture is not absurd, but recast within terms of chivalry and courtship. He pays the nickel in order to save Bobbie from paying it herself.

Further, when Bobbie explains why she needs to defer their date (due to her menstruation), Joe responds somewhat contrarily to reader expectation. As he jerks his arm out of Bobbie’s grasp, she reacts. Yet the text indicates that “[Bobbie] did not believe that he had intended to strike her; she believed otherwise, in fact. But the result was the same” (189). What is actually a scene of violence (of Joe striking Bobbie) becomes reframed; in it, Joe is not an intentional aggressor, but one who inflicts by accident. When they meet again to have sex, the scene is reminiscent of typical harlequin romance: female uncertainty is resolved through decisive male action, with Joe “[drawing] her on down the road […and] toward the fence” where Bobbie does not reply but “let herself be half carried and half dragged among the growing plants” (190).

Following the escalation of their relationship, Joe and Bobbie engage in acts of courtship: Joe buys candy and “gave it to the waitress. It was the first thing which he had ever given her. He gave it to her as if no one had ever thought of giving her anything before” (191). Bobbie begins regularly sleeping with Joe, but does not charge him for it, to the displeasure of Max, her handler. When questioned about it, Bobbie responds, “’Maybe I like him. Maybe you hadn’t thought of that’” (192). Joe’s introduction to Max and Mame is also suggestive of a kind of meeting the parents:

“When Max entered he was not even smoking. He thrust out his hand. ‘How are you, Romeo?’ he said.
Joe was shaking hands almost before he had recognized the man. ‘My name’s Joe McEachern,’ he said” (193)

It is only when Bobbie spurns Joe, in maintaining her position along a white supremacist line of power rather than a gendered line of power, that their relationship reverts to the pattern of inverted gender dynamics that defines the other women in the novel. Upon the moment of her breakdown at the dance, Bobbie responds by attacking Joe, beginning to “beat him in the face” without any response from him (207). In the final scene of confrontation, Bobbie seldom speaks but is instead spoken for by other white men. She no longer represents a romantic pursuit, but is instead objectified and made abject (similar to her appearance in the beginning), sitting “on the bed as he had seen her…so many times. She wore the dark dress and the hat, as he had expected, known. She sat with her face lowered, …a cigarette burning in one still hand that looked almost monstrous” (214). She is posed and positioned, dressed and prepared, but she does not look at him nor does she speak. She is, in a way, figured as dead: her hands “looked as big and dead and pale as a piece of cooking meat” and “her face, even her mouth, in contrast to the hair as still as a dead mouth in a dead face” (216, 217). With this symbolic death comes the death of Joe's chances at a typical chivalric/romantic resolution.

However, the resolution achieved at the end of their relationship is mutually triumphant, if in its own abject way: Joe, confused and astounded, can only repeat his aim of romantic and chivalric realization—to “get Bobbie” after having gone “all the way home to get the money to get married”—just as Bobbie, full of rage and fury, can only voice the deep-seeded, oppressive, disciplinary anger of the betrayed white supremacist—“Bastard! Son of a bitch! Getting me into a jam, that always treated you like you were a white man. A white man!” (216, 217). The result of their final interaction is one that solidifies them within their proper social categories: Bobbie “materialize[s]” for Joe as a figure of pure white womanhood, invested with “respectability as implacable and calm as the white lifted glove of a policeman, not a hair out of place” while Joe can only be beaten into submission and evidentiary substance, into something that can be viewed and analyzed for his identity, just “to tell for sure” (218, 219).

Clarke, Deborah. "Gender, Race, and Language in Light in August." American Literature 61:3, Oct. 1989, pp. 398-413.

Holman, C. Hugh. "The Unity of Faulkner's Light in August." PMLA 73:1, Mar. 1958, pp. 155-166.

Mortimer, Gail L. "Significant Absences: Faulkner's Rhetoric of Loss." NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 14:3, Spring 1981, pp. 232-250.