Light In August

Light In August Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Throughout the novel, certain characters seem to act under the influence of supreme guidance. Is Faulkner trying to show evidence of divine intervention? Or is he mocking the idea?

    Possible Answer:

    The characters that Faulkner shows acting under a kind of supernatural guidance frequently commit deviant or even evil deeds. It therefore seems unlikely that Faulkner is supporting the idea of divine intervention. Rather, he shows that given significant determination, characters can drive their own destiny, be it good or evil.

  2. 2

    Gavin Stevens postulates that in the end, Christmas's white and black bloods are at war with each other. In creating a character like Christmas, is Faulkner participating in the trope of biracial characters being necessarily troubled, and doomed to tragedy?

    Possible Answer:

    Christmas is not an example of a biracial character doomed to tragedy simply because of his blood makeup, because while his end is certainly tragic, the path that leads him there is far too complex to have been dictated entirely by his blood. Doc Hines plants self-doubt and self-hatred into his child's mind, McEachern beats any possibility of happiness out of him, and Bobbie Allen ties her rejection of his love to his race. All of these factors doom Christmas to tragedy, not merely his racial makeup.

  3. 3

    At many points in the novel organized religion comes under harsh scrutiny. Does Faulkner offer a viable alternative?

    Possible Answer:

    Lena Grove's natural spirituality seems to be the only viable alternative to the corrupt, racist, and dangerous organized religion presented in the novel. Although Hightower finds no truth in his religious education, he sees Lena Grove as a physical representation of a good future for the Earth, as she lives according to its rules and in balance with its needs. This alternative relies on a lack of roots, and especially a dismissal of the value of the past and personal history.

  4. 4

    Although the reader knows that Christmas murdered Joanna, his capture and death are disconcerting. Was there any way justice could have been served? Or has Faulkner created a society that is too racist to have any true justice?

    Possible Answer:

    The possibility for justice in the society Faulkner depicts in Light In August is very limited. There is some satisfaction in Lucas Burch's desperate attempts (and ultimate failure) to get the reward money as redemption for his treatment of Lena; however, in Christmas's world, justice is impossible. This is because his world, unlike Lena and Lucas's, is a world deeply concerned with race, and the society he lives in is still far too racist for true justice to be possible.

  5. 5

    From the moment of Christmas's capture, Faulkner builds suspense around the question of whether he will be lynched. In the end, the town shows little interest in doing so, and those who witness Percy Grimm's brutal act are horrified. What is Faulkner saying about racial violence in the South, and about communal actions in general?

    Possible Answer:

    Christmas's lynching at the novel's climax offers a somewhat compromised understanding of community racism in the Southern town of Jefferson. The town as a whole is not ultimately interested in lynching Christmas and is disturbed by Percy Grimm's actions, yet, it has created the backdrop against which Grimm's violence is acceptable. Furthermore, the towspeople did want to watch Christmas hang for his crimes-they just didn't want to do the actual hanging themselves. This shows a community that is moving away from the mob mentality of the antebellum South, but one that is still guided by a racist form of justice.

  6. 6

    Christmas often exhibits extreme violence towards women. What is the source of this anger? Is his misogyny related to his crisis with regards to his racial identity?

    Possible Answer:

    The first scene of Christmas's childhood that the reader witnesses is when he poisons himself while witnessing the dietitian's tryst. This close association between great physical pain and females colors the rest of Christmas's life. Thus the unpredictability of female behavior is especially perilous to Christmas, and he reacts with the only predictable male behavior he knows: violence.

  7. 7

    Scenes of food, feeding, and the rejection of nourishment are found throughout the novel. What is the significance of accepting food from someone? Why does Christmas violently refuse Joanna's meal, then eat her food for years, although never in her presence?

    Possible Answer:

    Taking food from someone signifies a willingness to receive nourishment from them. Christmas receives almost no spiritual or emotional nourishment as a child, and thus is reluctant to accept physical nourishment that may bind him to someone. His patterns of accepting or refusing food from Joanna match the times he is most willing to open up to her, or most reluctant to share with her, respectively.

  8. 8

    Joanna is a character with many extremes of personality and behavior. Is she meant to be a sympathetic character? Are certain sides of her personality meant to be viewed more positively than others?

    Possible Answer:

    Joanna, like Christmas, is a sympathetic but not likeable character. She is raised in complete isolation, and from childhood she is burdened with the belief in her own race's doom and the seeming impossibility of saving the black race. Many of her actions are deplorable, and she is not meant to stand as the ideal alternative to the racism of Jefferson, but she does parallel Christmas: she is doomed by her childhood, but at fault for not trying harder to escape that doom.

  9. 9

    The relationships between Christmas and Joanna, Christmas and Bobbi, and Byron and Lena all have absurd aspects, and none portray the "classic" romance. Are any of these relationships meant to demonstrate real love?

    Possible Answer:

    By the time Christmas meets Joanna, he is hardened beyond any ability to feel real love, and while Joanna surely has passionate feelings for Christmas, her life has been too sheltered for her to be able to distinguish love from lust. Byron and Lena, on the other hand, offer a more comic vision of love. Their love is not all-consuming, but it is easy and lasting, and is the only relationship that endures past the story's end.

  10. 10

    The Burdens are notorious for their attempts to help the black race. Their motives, though, seem misguided, and even racist. Are the Burdens meant to be sympathetic and admirable? Or do they represent another failure of equality, and a certain hypocrisy? If so, does Faulkner offer any better solution?

    Possible Answer:

    The Burdens represent the distinctively Northern racial misunderstanding that Faulkner criticizes in the book. They are certainly better than many of the Southern characters in the novel, whose racism is inflexible and cruel; however, although their desire to uplift the black race is admirable, it becomes clear that the source of that desire is a fanatic belief that the white man can only remove his own curse by doing so. Using the Burdens, Faulkner shows that the solution to Southern racism has to come from the South itself.