Light In August

Light In August Summary and Analysis of Chapters Fifteen and Sixteen

Thirty years ago a middle-aged couple named Hines moved to Mottstown. The townspeople knew very little about them, except that the man had some kind of job in Memphis that kept him away most of each month. They both seemed a little odd, and the man especially had a slightly crazed and fanatical look, so the town as a whole left them alone. After about five years the man stopped leaving for Memphis, and no one knew how he continued to support himself and his wife. The town eventually learned that he traveled around performing revival services in black churches, and they noticed black women bringing food to the couple's house. The town collectively ignores this information, and so also collectively ignores the Hineses for thirty years. They almost never see Mrs. Hines, but Uncle Doc spends almost all of his time in town. He is dirty and angry-looking, and displays a violent nature that the townspeople take for insanity. The town learns that when Doc preaches in black churches, he is preaching to them to bow before all races lighter than they, and to have humility-this from a man who relies on black charity to survive.

Doc Hines is in Mottstown when Christmas is captured there, and he immediately runs over with everyone else to see what is happening. He manages to fight his way to the center of the crowd, where he strikes Christmas with his stick before he is pulled away. He then starts to try to rally the crowd to kill Christmas. He goes into a kind of trance, and a few of the men carry him back to his house. After the men leave Mrs. Hines lowers her husband into a chair and asks him what he did with Milly's baby thirty years ago.

Christmas, it seems, was caught because after hitchhiking into Mottstown, he spent Saturday walking around the town without trying to hide, and when a man named Halliday asked him if he was Christmas he said that he was. Halliday hit him a few times and held onto him until the whole town had them surrounded, but Christmas never fought back.

Only half an hour after Doc Hines is carried home, he goes back to town and again starts trying to rally the townspeople into killing Christmas. Mrs. Hines comes into town too, and leads Doc into a chair, ordering him to sit there until she comes back. Then she goes looking for the sheriff so that she can get permission to see Christmas in the jail. Before she finds him, the Jefferson police arrive to take Christmas back to their town. The Sheriff of Mottstown and the Sheriff of Jefferson together manage to talk the large crowd out of lynching Christmas, and they get him into a Jefferson police car. Mrs. Hines gets a look at Christmas's face when he gets into the car, and then she and Doc Hines go to look for a way to get to Jefferson.

Byron goes to tell Hightower that Christmas has been caught in Mottstown. Hightower feels that his long-earned peace has been destroyed. Byron also tells him about Mrs. Hines, who is Christmas's grandmother. After Byron leaves, Hightower sits and listens to the music coming from the Sunday evening prayer service. He then sees Byron returning, followed by two short, dumpy looking people-Mr. and Mrs. Hines. Together Bryon and Mrs. Hines tell Hightower the story of Christmas's birth, with interruptions from Doc Hines. Mr. and Mrs. Hines had a daughter, Milly, who at eighteen tried to run away with a man in the traveling circus, whom Doc Hines was positive had black blood. Doc Hines chased after them, and when he caught up with their buggy he leaned in and shot the man dead, grabbing his daughter to bring back home. When they realized that Milly was pregnant, Doc Hines traveled around trying to find a doctor who would abort the baby, but he was unable to, and when he came back home Milly's baby was almost due. He seemed to accept it, and when Milly's time came Mrs. Hines sent him to get the doctor. But instead he just sat outside on the front step with a gun, not allowing Mrs. Hines to find a doctor, and so Milly died in childbirth.

Doc Hines disappeared for a while while Mrs. Hines raised the baby, but then one day near Christmas she went outside to chop wood, and when she returned she found that her husband had come and taken the baby away with him. Mrs. Hines never knew what happened, but Doc Hines took Christmas to the orphanage in Memphis where he worked as the janitor and watched Christmas constantly, waiting for God to punish him for his mother's sin and for his race. Mrs. Hines tells Hightower that they have come to him because she wants for just one day for it to be like Christmas had never committed the murder, and after that day she will let him face justice. Byron is forced to explain that to accomplish this, they want Hightower to say that Christmas was with him the night of the murder. Hightower refuses, and kicks them out.


The issue of religion comes up in multiple ways throughout Light In August. In this section we see another example of the corruption of religion. Doc Hines, although he kills fewer people than his grandson, is a far more detestable character than Christmas. A good deal of this negativity comes from his abuse of religion and his deep hypocrisy. Where McEachern's strict Presbyterianism made him abusive to Christmas, he at least had good intentions and lived by the rules that he tried to teach Christmas. Doc Hines, on the other hand, survives on the charity of black people and yet preaches to them of their inferiority, and of the need for them to be humble in the face of lighter skin.

Doc Hines's sermons underscore his deep-seated racism. Christmas implies that McEachern is racist, believing he would be horrified to realize Christmas's racial ancestry, but the reader never sees any example of this. Conversely, nearly all of Doc Hines's actions are wholly based on racism, which he justifies with his belief in a racist God. He despises Christmas because of the chance that his father was partially black to the extent he ultimately instigates the lynching of his only descendant. He is offended by his daughter's sexual sin, but he considers that nothing compared to her sin of carrying a child with black blood or to Christmas's sin of having black blood.

This section also complicates the reader's understanding of justice. The reader knows that Christmas is guilty, and yet, like Hightower, does not really wish for him to be captured. It is also disturbing to see how convinced the police and the town are of Christmas's guilt when all they have to go on is the word of one man with dubious morals who is obsessed with getting the thousand-dollar reward. From the moment the sheriff learns that Christmas is biracial, he assumes his guilt, as does the rest of the town. This makes the justice that Christmas faces seem shockingly lacking; he would probably have been convicted whether he were guilty or not.

The unjust nature of Christmas's situation is emphasized by the case of Doc Hines, who also killed someone in cold blood and yet never had to face any justice at all because the man he killed was (supposedly) partially black. This portrayal of the Southern justice system as determining guilt or innocence based only on race colors the entire society with a tinge of corruption. This is also tied to the problem of organized religion presented in the book; in the South, at least, organized religion allows for a racial hierarchy. This clarifies how a character like Christmas who never experienced love and was unsure of his racial identity during childhood can turn out to be dangerously violent.

This section also highlights the problems of perception once again. After having the narrator focused on Christmas's perspective for much of his flight, the reader suddenly hears the story of his capture from an unnamed man who understands none of the complexities of the story. This underscores how much of communal knowledge is really communal ignorance, and the danger of this becomes clear when the people of Mottstown are just barely persuaded not to lynch Christmas.