Light In August

Light In August Summary and Analysis of Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen

Soon after the fire at Joanna Burden's house is discovered, the whole town gathers to watch it burn-including the firemen, who cannot do anything to stop it. The policemen find evidence that someone has been living in the cabin, and upon hearing that, the man who discovered the fire remembers that there had been someone inside who had tried to prevent him from going upstairs. The sheriff picks a random black person out of the crowd to question about who lives in the cabin. After being whipped twice, the man tells the sheriff everything he knows: that the residents are two white men whom he has never seen. A different witness confirms that the men are Christmas and Brown.

After getting this information the sheriff and his men leave the scene of the fire. The whole town follows them, feeling there is nothing left to see. Back in town, the sheriff notifies Joanna's nephew in New Hampshire of her death. The nephew offers a generous reward for the capture of Joanna's murderer. News of the reward spreads quickly through the town, and that night Lucas Burch shows up at the sheriff's office. Lucas starts talking immediately, desperate for the reward. The sheriff tells Lucas that he will get the reward if he catches the murderer, but they decide to keep him in the jail for safekeeping. The next morning they continue the investigation. The young man who picked Christmas up as a hitchhiker the night of the murder comes forward to tell the police what he knows, and shows them the place where Christmas got out of his car. The Jefferson police take borrowed bloodhounds to the place, and the dogs lead them to the gun that Christmas ditched. After that the dogs' ineptitude forces them to camp for the night.

Byron goes to see Reverend Hightower to tell him that he is looking for another place for Lena to stay, so that she will not have to give birth in a boarding house full of men. Hightower thinks that Lena needs to go back to her people, but Byron claims that will not be necessary. Burch still does not know that Lena is in town, because he is too busy trying to get the reward for Christmas's capture. Lena wants to wait for Burch, whom she believes is away on business, in his cabin on the Burden property. Hightower is worried, because it is clear to him that Byron is in love with Lena and is committing sins for the first time because of that love.

Hightower goes into town to do his shopping, and hears from the proprietor that Christmas has been found. He has not yet been caught, but the dogs have picked up his trail just outside of Jefferson. Byron comes to see Hightower again, and even as he approaches Hightower can tell that Byron has changed in some way, has taken action. Slowly and guiltily, Byron tells Hightower that he moved Lena into the cabin, and that he has moved out there to be near her. He is quick to explain that he is not living in the cabin also, but in a tent nearby. Hightower tells Byron to leave Jefferson immediately, because he knows that if he stays he will end up marrying Lena, since he would not be content to live in sin with her. Hightower wants Byron to have at least the chance to marry a virgin, someone who has not already chosen someone else, and so he tells him to go. Byron will not tell Hightower he is wrong, but he will not follow his advice either, so he leaves for the long walk back to his tent by the cabin.

The Deputy finds Lena living in the cabin, so Byron tells him the whole story. The Deputy repeats the tale to the sheriff, who decides to just let her be. A man comes to the sheriff's office from a black church that has just had a major disturbance. Christmas walked into the church in the middle of their service, hitting or shoving anyone who got in his way, including the preacher, and then got into the pulpit and cursed God before using a bench to destroy as much of the church as he could. After the man who brought the message left the church, Christmas fractured the skull of a young man who was trying to attack him and then disappeared. The next morning the police bring the hounds to the church, and they immediately pick up the trail. The trail leads them right to a small cabin, but when they break in they find a woman who had switched shoes with Christmas, and realize that they have completely lost his trail.

As Christmas flees from the police, he imagines himself being chased by white men into the blackness that they have been trying to force him into his whole life. He starts to lose track of time and does not eat for days, but when he smells food in a house nearby, he asks not for food but only inquires as to what day of the week it is. At first he is hungry all the time, and he satisfies that hunger with eating anything he can find, but after awhile he suddenly stops feeling any drive to eat. He runs on without any idea of a destination, finally hitchhiking to Mottstown.


Food continues to be an important motif in chapters thirteen and fourteen. Earlier in the novel, Christmas hungrily accepted or vehemently refused nourishment from women. In this section he is on the run, and the only food he gets is from poor people he forces to cook for him, or from what nature offers. Throughout his flight, his attitude towards food varies-he is obsessed with eating at first, but then he loses this hunger. Once he loses it, he still eats obsessively because he believes he needs to, often making himself sick. It is only when he finally stops eating that he really feels free, and at peace. This seems to represent Christmas's feeling of a lack of control over his life. When others feed him, they have control over him, and he must live by their rules. Even when he is foraging for himself, he is still being forced to live by someone else's rules. When he stops eating, he is taking his life into his own hands, and although it is a dangerous route, for the first time he is able to exert control over his own identity in a world that has otherwise forced him into a liminal state.

The chase in these chapters also serves as a metaphor for the way Christmas has felt about his racial identity his whole life. He sees white police chasing him as a symbol of the way that white society has been chasing him into blackness. The brogans that he trades for become the physical symbol of blackness, slowly encompassing him as the white men chase him. Although many times in his life Christmas chose to live as a black man, the chase represents the essential lack of choice he felt about this decision, since white society has always seemed to push him out.

This section also further complicates Reverend Hightower's character. To Byron he represents the physical embodiment of true goodness, and Hightower's judgment carries great weight with him. This seems to be reinforced by Hightower's reaction to the news that Christmas has been found. He is so afraid of what will happen to Christmas when the town catches him that he is physically weakened by the news. This is likely because he is so disturbed by violence, and specifically racial violence, but the narrator does not make this distinction clear, and so the issue is rather enigmatic.

In this section Hightower is also described as physically repulsive. His house and his person have such a strong fetid smell, that it seems as if he is already decaying. This shows the other side of Hightower's isolation from society-he may seem too good to live in such a corrupt world, but by taking himself out of society he has removed himself from life to such an extent that he is starting to decay physically.