Superficially, in light of the muted references to biblical imagery that Faulkner includes in the novel, Lena suggests Mary journeying to Bethlehem—but Mary as a lost, wide-eyed teenager. Instead of a stable, she gives birth to her son in a rustic cabin, eventually moving on with her surrogate Joseph, Byron Bunch, in tow. But that is where the comparison ends: more than anything, Lena can be seen as a simple embodiment of the novel’s life force. Whereas Joe Christmas brings violence and death to Jefferson, Lena brings her developing child and a flinty determination to find the baby’s father. She replaces Christmas and supplants his presence in the novel, giving birth to her son on a cot in the simple shelter that once housed the twin criminal Joes.
Whereas Joe Christmas is the classic tragic Faulkner figure, doomed to struggle and fail, Lena represents another Faulkner type, often reserved for select female characters in his fictional worlds. She is the wanderer, the young innocent, believable in her determination to make her baby legitimate. Lena is a survivor, yet she does not struggle against the challenges and the deprivation that she faces. At the same time, she does not allow her poverty, naïveté, and lack of education to conspire against her. She accepts suffering with little resistance, facing it head-on, withstanding it, and then continuing on her way. Her wanderings frame the narrative: at the beginning, she enters Jefferson alone. Then in her brief, symbolic stopover, the birth of her son offers a brief glimmer of hope to a town marked by murder and racial discord. Lena then takes to the road again, accompanied by her infant and older protector and admirer, embracing the freedom that once characterized Joe Christmas’s years of wandering.