Joe Christmas is adopted by the McEacherns, where he has Christianity literally beaten into him every day. One day he fights with McEachern, hitting him over the chair and possibly killing him. He steals money from Mrs. McEachern and runs away, roaming from town to town, a rootless drifter.
Joe Christmas arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi, shacks up with Joanna Burden, and starts selling whiskey illegally. When Miss Burden tries to reform him into a Christian black activist, Christmas becomes enraged, eventually killing her with a razor.
Christmas is murdered. Hightower has moments of deep insight in his study, realizing his selfishness and life's mistakes. The novel doesn't specify whether or not he dies. Lena Grove, Byron Bunch, and Lena's baby travel to Tennessee together in search of Joe Brown.