Joe Christmas: A Critical Analysis of William Faulkner’s Protagonist in Light in August

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How do their wanderings differ in spirit and in function? Light in August is primarily a book about racial identity, race hatred, and hysteria. How does the reader react to Joe Christmas—with empathy, with distaste, with bewilderment? Discuss the ways in which Joe Christmas functions among the white community as an idea, a symbol, a negative image of their own ideal selves, and not as a person.

What role does Hightower play in the novel? A furniture dealer who gave Lena and Byron a lift in his wagon is the narrator of the final chapter, and their courtship is the subject of the comical tale he is telling his wife. Why might Faulkner have chosen to end the novel on this note of optimism and good-humored comedy?

Share: Share on Facebook. Add to Cart. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics. Introduction Light in August interweaves the stories of several major characters.

Burch has gone away, supposedly to look for work, promising to send for her. Having waited for six months without a word, she sets out on foot to find him and arrives, eight months pregnant, at the town of Jefferson, Mississippi. There she finds the similarly named Byron Bunch, a man who has sought to keep himself free from sin by filling his life with work and churchgoing.

At first sight, he falls in love with Lena. Haunted by a heroic vision of his great-grandfather who died in the Civil War, Hightower has forsaken his life to live in the unreal past. He has taken up with a garrulous new arrival called Joe Brown, who sells the whiskey for him. The two men live in an old slave cabin behind the house of Joanna Burden, an unmarried woman whose abolitionist family came to Jefferson decades before.

A local man killed her grandfather and brother for interfering in the affairs of slaveholders. Faulkner eventually draws all of these characters into the drama surrounding Joe Christmas, which accelerates to a harrowing climax. Illuminating two grim legacies in American history—fanatical Calvinism and fanatical race hatred— Light in August is a mesmerizing journey into the nightmare of race, religion, and violence in the national psyche. Questions and Topics for Discussion 1.

In the family moved to the university town of Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner was to spend most of his life. Burch leaves town without his reward, and the novel ends with an anonymous man recounting a story to his wife about some hitchhikers he picked up on the road to Tennessee—a woman with a child and a man who was not the father of the child, both looking for the woman's husband.

In a loose, unstructured modernist narrative style that draws from Christian allegory and oral storytelling , Faulkner explores themes of race, sex, class and religion in the American South. By focusing on characters that are misfits, outcasts, or are otherwise marginalized in their community, he portrays the clash of alienated individuals against a Puritanical , prejudiced rural society. Early reception of the novel was mixed, with some reviewers critical of Faulkner's style and subject matter.

However, over time, the novel has come to be considered one of the most important literary works by Faulkner and one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. The novel is set in the American South in the s, during the time of Prohibition and Jim Crow laws that legalized racial segregation in the South.

Light In August

It begins with the journey of Lena Grove, a young pregnant white woman from Doane's Mill, Alabama, who is trying to find Lucas Burch, the father of her unborn child. He has been fired from his job at Doane's Mill and moved to Mississippi, promising to send word to her when he has a new job. Not hearing from Burch and harassed by her older brother for her illegitimate pregnancy, Lena walks and hitchhikes to Jefferson, Mississippi, a town in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County.

There she expects to find Lucas working at another planing mill , ready to marry her. Those who help her along her four-week trek are skeptical that Lucas Burch will be found, or that he will keep his promise when she catches up with him. When she arrives in Jefferson, Lucas is there, but he has changed his name to Joe Brown. Looking for Lucas, sweet, trusting Lena meets shy, mild-mannered Byron Bunch, who falls in love with Lena but feels honor-bound to help her find Joe Brown.

Thoughtful and quietly religious, Byron is superior to Brown in every way but his shyness prevents him from revealing his feelings to Lena. The surly, psychopathic Christmas has been on the run for years, ever since at least injuring, perhaps even killing his strict Methodist adopted father. Although he has light skin, Christmas suspects that he is of African American ancestry. Consumed with rage, he is a bitter outcast who wanders between black and white society, constantly provoking fights with blacks and whites alike.

Christmas comes to Jefferson three years prior to the central events of the novel and gets a job at the mill where Byron, and later Joe Brown, works. The job at the mill is a cover for Christmas's bootlegging operation, which is illegal under Prohibition.

Light in August

He has a sexual relationship with Joanna Burden, an older woman who descended from a formerly powerful abolitionist family whom the town despises as carpetbaggers. Though their relationship is passionate at first, Joanna begins menopause and turns to religion, which frustrates and angers Christmas. At the end of her relationship with Christmas, Joanna tries to force him, at gunpoint, to kneel and pray. Joanna is murdered soon after: her throat is slit and she is nearly decapitated. The novel leaves readers uncertain whether Joe Christmas or Joe Brown is the murderer.

Brown is Christmas' business partner in bootlegging and is leaving Joanna's burning house when a passing farmer stops to investigate and pull Joanna's body from the fire. The sheriff at first suspects Joe Brown, but initiates a manhunt for Christmas after Brown claims that Christmas is black.

The manhunt is fruitless until Christmas arrives undisguised in Mottstown, a neighboring town; he is on his way back to Jefferson, no longer running.

Example research essay topic Light In August Joe Christmas

In Mottstown, he is arrested and jailed, then moved to Jefferson. His grandparents arrive in town and visit Gail Hightower, the disgraced former minister of the town and friend of Byron Bunch. Bunch tries to convince Hightower to give the imprisoned Joe Christmas an alibi, but Hightower initially refuses. Though his grandfather wants Christmas lynched, his grandmother visits him in the Jefferson jail and advises him to seek help from Hightower.

As police escort him to the local court, Christmas breaks free and runs to Hightower's house.

A childishly cruel white vigilante, Percy Grimm, follows him there and, over Hightower's protest, shoots and castrates Christmas. Having redeemed himself at last, Hightower is then depicted as falling into a deathlike swoon, his whole life flashing before his eyes, including the past adventures of his Confederate grandfather, who was killed while stealing chickens from a farmer's shed.

Brown deserts Lena once again, but Byron follows him and challenges him to a fight.