Guide Light in August

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This man calls himself Joe Brown, but Byron does not believe this to be his real name. Brown is given a job alongside Christmas shovelling sawdust and it is made evident that Brown is work shy and irritating. Both men are seen out together on Saturdays nights: Brown is seen laughing and talking as he does at work and Christmas is as sullen as ever. After almost three years in the job, Christmas leaves work without warning. On the following Monday, Brown works alone quietly and Mooney tells Byron how he has been seen selling whiskey in town and has seen Brown and Christmas together in a car on the previous day.

Brown stops coming in to work on the Tuesday, but picks up the money he is owed. It is now no longer a secret that Brown sells bootleg whiskey and the people of the town are just waiting for him to be caught. No one knows for certain at this point if Christmas is involved, but it is presumed so. They also do not know if Miss Burden is aware of these activities, but they would not tell her anyway. Even though it is sixty years since her grandfather and half brother were killed by an ex-slave owner, the people of the town have not forgotten her perceived allegiances.

The narrative shifts to Byron and explains how he is past 30, slight and non-descript, and works six days a week at the mill. Hightower, the former minister, is the only person who can speak with any certainty about Byron as they sit together and talk at night. Only he knows that Byron rides 30 miles into the country every Saturday evening and leads the choir in a church on the Sunday.

When Lena appears at the mill one Saturday afternoon, Byron unexpectedly falls in love.

Light in August Reader’s Guide

Her face falls when she realizes he is Bunch and not Burch. He helps her sit down and she reveals, without saying it, that she has been betrayed and deserted. He informs her of Joe Christmas and Joe Brown who live near Miss Burden and reluctantly tells her, after she urges him, that some claim they sell whiskey. She asks for a description of Brown and he tells her about how he likes to play jokes on people. She asks if he has a white scar by his mouth which he does. Byron feels as though he could have bitten out his own tongue for discussing Brown as it is apparent that this is Lucas Burch.

SparkNotes: Light in August: Plot Overview

Analysis - Chapters One and Two In the present day strand of the narrative, the scene is set in Chapter One as Lena Grove travels to Jefferson on a hot August day to find Lucas Burch, her former lover and the father of her unborn baby. Several other main characters, such as Byron Bunch, Joe Christmas and Hightower are also introduced and the readers are given a little background to the ostracism suffered by Miss Burden.

She is judged by this history and by the long memory of the town folk. There is a sense of poignancy given to this abrupt alteration to his outlook as her face falls when she realizes that he is not the man she has been looking for.


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He imagines hearing "the wild bugles and the clashing sabres and the dying thunder of hooves. In Joe Christmas's case, the memories that haunt him are his own. However, his family past is as much a factor as his memories. His mother was an unwed mother, pregnant by a man she claimed was "a Mexican" and whom her father, Doc Hines, claimed was black. Hines murdered Joe's biological father, stole the infant Joe, and left him at an orphanage.

The past—both his memories and his familial history—shaped Joe Christmas's life, just as they did with Hightower and Burden. The past shaped the experiences that led to tragedy and death in all of these characters' lives, as they do for all those who live in Faulkner 's South. The theme of alienation is central to Light in August. It is most obvious in the character of Joe Christmas. Joe wasn't sure at any point in his life exactly who, or what, he was. His goal of finding a place where he belonged arguably drove him to the situation that led him to commit murder and to his violent death.

As Faulkner 's narrative choices demonstrate, examining Joe's past helps the reader understand the journey that led to such an end. Due to a childhood in which he was orphaned, adopted by a cruel man, and raised with violence to a manhood that included a first girlfriend who was a prostitute who rejected him, Joe yearned for acceptance.

He sought it, trying to find a relationship with a black woman "who resembled an ebony carving" and trying to "breathe into himself" the essence of being black.

Introduction

He tried telling white lovers that he was of mixed ancestry, to various results. Midway into the novel Joe takes a walk through a white neighborhood and observes a quiet, happy family. Joanna Burden is also shaped by her isolation. When Byron Bunch first describes her after her house has been lit on fire, he tells Lena Grove that "folks in this town will call it a judgment on her" because she is a "Yankee.

Light in August Summary & Study Guide Description

As they speak further Joanna notes "we were foreigners, strangers, that thought differently from the people whose country we had come into without being asked or wanted. Her first intimate relationship is with Joe Christmas—and it ends in her death and in his arrest and eventual death as well. Another powerful theme in Light in August is race and identity. The novel never definitively answers the question of Joe Christmas 's race. Joe claims early on that he is black.

24. Faulkner, Light in August (continued)

Betrayed by his companion Lucas Burch, Joe is hunted down, killed, and castrated. Light in August. Info Print Cite. Submit Feedback. Thank you for your feedback. See Article History.