Eupheus Hines, also known as Doc Hines or Uncle Doc, is Joe Christmas’ grandfather and an important villain in Light in August. Although his actual presence within the text of the novel is limited, he plays a very important role in demonstrating the novel’s themes of evil, racism, and antagonistic patriarchy. As a figure that can be read as a religious fanatic or a victim of mental illness, he provides a succinct demonstration of the way that history, religion, and prejudice become intertwined in Faulkner’s rural south.

Hines makes an anonymous appearance in the first half of the novel as the janitor who conspires against Joe Christmas by spreading the rumor of his blackness among the children and staff. But if we reconfigure the timeline of the novel, Doc Hines is situated as the source of all of Joe’s ontological and existential suffering. Charles M. Chappell argues that Doc Hines is one of the most diabolical, if not superlative, arch-villain across the entire mythology of Yoknapatawpha County (72).

Hines' role as villain begins when his daughter, Milly, becomes pregnant by a traveling circus performer. This man is rumored to be Mexican, but Doc is convinced by the circus owner that he is actual “part-Negro”. Leigh Anne Duck describes the short but crucial passage that discusses Joe Christmas’ father as a reflection of “the threat to local ideas of racial identity” that arise from the mestizo identity, or any racial identity outside of the “black-white binary” upon which Jim Crow laws have been based. Doc Hines dramatizes this anxiety by taking on the role of holy watchguard, who can see through the ruse of ambiguous skin tone to the “abomination” of blackness. When Milly attempts to run away with her lover, Doc Hines almost supernaturally manages to follow their wagon and, when he reached the man “grabbed him by one hand and held the pistol against him and shot him dead and brought the gal back home on the horse” (376). He then effectively murders his daughter by claiming to leave to search for a doctor when she goes into labor, but instead sitting on his porch with a shotgun, When Milly dies, Doc sneaks the baby away from his wife and takes it to an orphanage.

This primary scene of evil is characterized by Doc’s conviction that he is performing God’s work, although the actions are repulsive. As Doc resurfaces through different layers of narration he can be read as insane, diabolical, repulsive, demonic, grotesque, and humorous. His character as the janitor in the first half of the novel is somewhat ambiguous. But within the context of the entire novel the reader comes to understand that Doc conspires to instill the sense of dual-identity and racial uncertainty that plagues Joe Christmas throughout the rest of the novel. Later in the novel he tells us that he asks Joe Christmas as a child: “‘Why don’t you play with them other children like you used to?’ and he didn’t say nothing and old Doc Hines said ‘Is it because they call you nigger?’ and he didn’t say nothing and old Doc Hines said ‘Do you think you are a nigger because God has marked your face?’” It is unclear whether he starts the rumor of Joe’s blackness or if he only encourages it, because he tells the dietician that “I never told them [the children] to say it, to call him in his rightful nature. They knowed. They was told, but it wasn’t by me” (128). Here, Doc again reinforces the novel’s complicated relationship to religion, fate, and predestination. Although characters like Doc seem to be insane, the plot confirms a supernatural intervention of a malevolent God.

When Doc is first named in the novel, Faulkner employs the tools of the grotesque to actualize his mental and physical decay. He is described as “a little touched--lonely, gray in color… a dirty little old man with a face which had once been either courageous or violent--either a visionary or a supreme egoist--collarless, in dirty blue jean clothes…” (342). However, he still maintains a mystique of power, which is perceived as an effect of his relation to God. “They believed that he was a little crazy… his words, his telling, just did not synchornise with what his hearers believed would (and must) be the scope of the individual. Sometimes they decided that he had once been a minister” (343). Meanwhile, the “negroes believed that he was crazy, touched by God, or having once touched him” (344). The portrait of Hines is an important condensation of the novel’s fascination with the interpenetration between insanity and religion, and this description links Hines thematically to both Hightower and MacEachern.

Hines becomes a participant in the narrative once again when he learns the Joe Christmas has been captured. He begins to rant publicly, calling for a lynching and repeating the phrase “Bitchery and abomination! Abomination and bitchery!” (361). In his final stages, he is rendered comically, although it is in this section that the full extent of his villainy is revealed. Although he is small “incredibly dirty and apparently incredibly old, with a tobaccostained goat’s beard and mad eyes” and his efficacy is limited to slipping away from his wife to rant against Joe Christmas in the town square, he nonetheless represents the legacy of racial violence which is re-enacted by Grimm in the conclusion of the novel.

The importance of Doc Hines as a figure of cyclicity and the perverse family is finally recoded in the labor of Lena Grove. His passive presence at the birth of a new child, entering into a different system of complicated taboos, the runaway husband and the extramarital birth, links the racial violence of Joe Christmas’ birth with the gendered violence of a puritanical society exclusively oriented around the sanctity of marriage. The evidence of female desire displayed, literally, in the body of the child of an interracial coupling or unmarried affair link miscegenation and single motherhood as a sexual horror inscribed into the body of a presumably innocent next generation.

The final image of Doc Hines blends many of the descriptive tactics that Faulkner uses to portray this complicated figure, a blend of humor, horror, and the grotesque. Lena sees him slip away when Mrs. Hines accidentally falls asleep. “He was watching her,” Lena tells us. “And he got up from the other cot, careful, winking and squinching his face at me. He went to the door, still winking and squinting at me over his shoulder, and tiptoed out. I never tried to stop him nor wake her neither… I was scared to. He talks funny. And the way he was looking at me. Like all the winking and squinching was not for me to not wake her up, but to tell me what would happen to me if I did” (408). The blend of physical comedy and grotesque horror that the figure of Doc Hines generates is an important manifestation of the complexity of evil, which is central to Light in August and Faulkner’s entire body of work.

Cleanth Brooks writes that “In a character like old Doc Hines, there is a definite distortion and perversion. His fury at “bitchery and abomination” is the fury of a crazed man… The tendency to call one’s own hates the vengeance of a just God is a sin to which Protestantism has always been prone… [his] distortions of this aspect of some of the Protestant sects, though they are those of a madman, are meaningful, for they constitute a serious caricature of views held by people who are quite ‘normal’” (705-6). Joe Pilkington also describes Hines as having “gone beyond religion to become pathologically grotesque” (146) and Debra Moddlemog calls him a “violent, uncompromising extremist” (22).

As an arch-villain who initiates much of the action in the novel, Doc Hines is a essential figure. His blend of madness and religious fervor, decrepitude and efficacy, condense many of the novels concerns into a single potent cypher of the themes of history, racial violence, family, and predestination. Even through his shifting representation within the different modes of narration reflect the novel’s concern with the way that news in a town is disseminated through gossip and storytelling. As a critical entry point into the vast web of relationships within Light in August, Doc Hines is a central node.

–Zach Fruit

Works Cited

Brooks, Cleanth. "Faulkner's Vision of Good and Evil" The Massachusetts Review: Vol. 3, No. 4 (Summer, 1962).

Chappell, Charles. "Faulkner's Arch-VIllain: Eupeus ("Doc") Hines" College Literature: Vol. 16, No. 1 (1989).
Duck, Leigh Anne. "Peripatetic Modernism, or Joe Christmas's Father" Philological Quarterly: Vol. 90 Issue 2 (Spring, 2011)
Moddlemog, Debra. "Faulkner's Theban Saga: Light in August" The Southern Literary Journal: 18 (1985).
Pilkington, John. The Heart of Yoknapatawpha (Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1981).