Light in August

Light in August

by William Faulkner


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679732266
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/01/1991
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 58,512
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

William Cuthbert Faulkner was born in 1897 and raised in Oxford, Mississippi, where he spent most of his life. One of the towering figures of American literature, he is the author of The Sound and the Fury, Absalom, Absalom!, and As I Lay Dying, a,ong many other remarkable books.Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1950 and France’s Legion of Honor in 1951. He died in 1962.

Date of Birth:

September 25, 1897

Date of Death:

July 6, 1962

Place of Birth:

New Albany, Mississippi

Place of Death:

Byhalia, Mississippi

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Excerpted from "Light in August"
by .
Copyright © 1991 William Faulkner.
Excerpted by permission of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Edmund Wilson

Faulkner ... belongs to the full-dressed post-Flaubert group of Conrad, Joyce, and Proust.

Ralph Ellison

For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must return to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.

Robert Penn Warren

For all the range of effect, philosophical weight, originality of style, variety of characterization, humor, and tragic intensity [Faulkner's works] are without equal in our time and country.

From the Publisher

“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word than did William Faulkner. If you want to know all you can about that heart and soul, the fiction where he put it is still right there.” —Eudora Welty
“Faulkner’s greatness resided primarily in his power to transpose the American scene as it exists in the Southern states, filter it through his sensibilities and finally define it with words.” —Richard Wright

Reading Group Guide

“For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.” —Ralph Ellison

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s reading of Light in August, one of William Faulkner’s most important and memorable novels. We hope they will provide you with new ways of thinking and talking about a work that exemplifies Faulkner’s bold stylistic innovations, his creation of unforgettably powerful voices and characters, and his precise depiction of the social and psychological traumas of life in the South during the Jim Crow era.

1. The opening chapter belongs to Lena Grove as she arrives in Jefferson. What are the core elements of Lena’s character? Does she change during the course of the novel? If Lena has a symbolic function, what is it? What, if anything, does Lena’s background explain about her character, motivations, and desires?

2. The story contains many flashbacks, shifts in temporal sequence, and shifts in the narrative point of view. How does the book’s structure affect the reading experience? In terms of prose style, what is most striking about Faulkner’s use of language and imagery?

3. Byron Bunch is a man who has tried to live in such a way that “the chance to do harm could not have found him” [p. 77]. He says to Hightower, early in the story, “a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he’s already got. He’ll cling to trouble he’s used to before he’ll risk a change” [p. 75]. Yet Byron changes more than any other character. He falls in love and, in pursuit of Lena, completely alters his life. Is Byron an admirable character, and if so, how and why?

4. The critic Malcolm Cowley felt that the novel “dissolved too much into the three separate stories” [The Faulkner-Cowley File, p. 28] of Lena, Gail Hightower, and Joe Christmas. Would you agree or disagree? Do their stories come together, and if so, how? Do these characters belong in the same novel?

5. Byron says, “A man will talk about how he’d like to escape from living folks. But it’s the dead folks that do him the damage. It’s the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he cant escape from” [p. 75]. How does this statement relate to Joe Christmas, Joanna Burden, and Reverend Hightower? What are the various ways in which their enslavement to “dead folks” and past history determines their lives?

6. Before he kills Joanna Burden, Joe thinks, Something is going to happen to me. I am going to do something” [p. 104]. Notice the passive and active modes of those two juxtaposed thoughts. Does Joe actively seek the fulfillment of “something awful” that he believes to be his fate? The narrator tells us, “He believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe” [p. 280]. Faulkner seems to be interested in the relationship between volition and passivity in the novel; how do you understand the “paradox” of will and fate as it embraced by Joe Christmas? Are other characters similarly caught between will and fate?

7. One of Faulkner’s central preoccupations in Light in August is the legacy of Calvinism in the American psyche. In which characters is this stringent, unforgiving strain of thinking most apparent, and what are its effects? How are guilt and Calvinism linked?

8. In Light in August, womanhood and female sexuality are often described with a combination of fascination, desire, and loathing. Does this psychological attitude originate in certain characters, or does it seem to emanate from the author? Consider this question in the context of the following quotes: “He began to look about the womanroom as if he had never seen one before: the close room, warm, littered, womanpinksmelling” [Doc Hines, p. 132]; “the bodiless fecundmellow voice of negro women murmured. It was as though he and all other manshaped life about him had been returned to the lightless hot wet primogenitive Female” [Joe Christmas, p. 115]; and “Now and then she appointed trysts beneath certain shrubs about the grounds, where he would find her naked, or with her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her, in the wild throes of nymphomania” [Joanna Burden, p. 259].

9. As he takes a whipping from his foster father, Joe’s body “might have been wood or stone; a post or a tower upon which the sentient part of him mused like a hermit, contemplative and remote with ecstasy and selfcrucifixion” [pp. 159–60]. Why does Joe seek punishment from McEachern and reject the love offered by McEachern’s wife [pp. 166–69)]? Why are the fanatical and sadistic patriarchs of the novel, like Simon McEachern, Calvin Burden, and Doc Hines, so powerful?

10. What are the most startling and memorable scenes in the novel? Are these scenes extremely visual in their effects? Do they seem appropriate to, or influenced by, the genre of film?

11. Chapter 5 is told from Joe’s point of view; what insight does the reader gain into Joe’s reason for killing Joanna Burden? Does he have a clear motive? Joanna is depicted as a masculine woman, a spinster, a Northerner and a nymphomaniac. What is at the heart of Joanna’s desire for Joe, and of his desire for her?

12. Critic Eric Sundquist has remarked that “violence and sexuality determine the contours of the South’s romance of blood” and that Joe is “a character whose very physical and emotional self embodies the sexual violence of racial conflict” [William Faulkner: The House Divided, pp. 89–90]. Discuss this yoking of violence, race, and sexual thinking in the novel, particularly as it is reflected in Joe’s relationship with Joanna Burden and in Percy Grimm’s murder and castration of Joe [pp. 464–65].

13. With Percy Grimm, Faulkner himself said that he had “created a Nazi,” a “Fascist galahad who saved the white race by murdering Christmas” [qtd. in William Faulkner: The House Divided, p. 93]. “I wrote [Light in August] in 1932 before I’d ever heard of Hitler’s Storm Troopers” [Faulkner in the University, p. 41]. Discuss the ways in which Chapter 19 explores the fantasies and fanaticism of both the individual and the group. Does Grimm intend to lead a lynching or to prevent one? Does Grimm function as the executioner whose fantasy is merely an exaggerated version of what the community also believes?

14. Joe’s life is figured repeatedly as a journey along a road; returning to Mottstown, Joe feels that “he is entering it again, the street which ran for thirty years. . . . It had made a circle and he is still inside of it” [p. 339]. Should we see a thematic link between Lena’s journey and Joe’s? How do their wanderings differ in spirit and in function?

15. Light in August is primarily a book about racial identity, race hatred, and hysteria. Faulkner commented later that Joe “didn’t know what he was, and so he was nothing. He deliberately evicted himself from the human race because he didn’t know which he was . . . which to me is the most tragic condition a man could find himself in—not to know what he is and to know that he will never know” (qtd. in Light in August and the Critical Spectrum, p. 1). Are the coldness and violence in Joe’s character explained by Faulkner’s statement? How does the reader react to Joe Christmas—with empathy, with distaste, with bewilderment?

16. In The Sound and the Fury Quentin Compson says, “a nigger is not a person so much as a form of behavior; a sort of obverse reflection of the white people he lives among” [p. 86]. 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 is the effect of this function on Joe’s own subjectivity?

17. Chapter 19, which tells of Joe Christmas’s death and castration, is followed by a chapter narrated from the perspective of Gail Hightower which tells the story of his past life and his failures, ending in the present moment. What might Faulkner have meant to do by juxtaposing Hightower’s meditation with the horror that has come just before? What role does Hightower play in the novel?

18. 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. Lena’s pursuit of the feckless Lucas Burch has also been a source of comedy. Why might Faulkner have chosen to end the novel on this note of optimism and good-humored comedy?

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Light in August 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 42 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My first time reading a Faulkner novel but it will not be the last. This book is just so wonderful. Lots of symbolism. I would say this book is not for the impatient reader, but it makes you realize how some author's are really light weights. I would most surely recommend this for book discussions. I really enjoyed being in the old South!
headisdead on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
My favourite Faulkner. And I like Faulkner.
Mromano on LibraryThing 6 hours ago
While the Sound and the Fury is still Faulkner's best, this novel is a close second and it is certainly an easier read. The tale of Joe Christmas, a half black and white man, who is like Camus' Outsider, outside of any culture, accepted by no one, and treated as an outcast, is compared and contrasted with the tale of Lena Grove, a pregnant woman who is accepted and helped by everyone. The story of Reverend Hightower once again presents a kind of impotent southern morality, impotent in the face of racism and ignorance to change anything. The last scene with Joe Christmas seems to me to be the place where Marquez got the idea of the trailing blood in 100 Years of Solitude.
mattviews on LibraryThing 3 months ago
William Faulkner's Light in August set in the south at times of slavery. What seems to be a tale of an ambitious, determined pregnant woman hitch-hiking out from Alabama to look for the child's father evokes the lives of a skein of interesting characters whose lives readers will not easily forget.Lena Grove was pregnant with Lucas Burch's child. She set out from Alabama for Jefferson, Mississippi to search for the man who promised to send for her as he settled down with a job at the mill. Welled with anticipation and hope, Lena arrived at the plant only to realize that she had mistaken Byron Bunch for Lucas Burch.As soon as the search shed lights Faulkner takes away Lena from his readers and defers her until the end of the book. Joe Christmas, a man with mixed ancestry (part white and part Mexican) somehow befriended with Lucas Burch who carried a fictitious identity "Brown" and colluded in bootlegging whiskey.A substantial coverage of the book recounts Joe Christmas's childhood in an orphanage, his abused adolescence under the McEacherns, his mystifying affair with a slave advocate Miss Burden, and his apprehension after he allegedly burned down the house in which Burden resided in and thus murdered her. Brown sold him out for the thousand-dollar reward.Byron Bunch, if not dredging overtime at the mill, would visit and keep accompany of Reverent Gail Hightower, who had be expelled by the elders in town after his adulterous wife committed suicide in Memphis. The ex-minister inherited a small income, gave arts lessons and handpainted Christmas cards. He was constantly plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen who killed his grandfather.So go back and forth the narratives of the book, over vast intervals of time. Byron Bunch, who was in the know of Lucas Burch's dual identity from the beginning, deftly dodged Lena from the truth but arranged her to settle down at Burch's cabin. Together with Lena, Byron also ascertained the identity of Joe Christmas when the Hines, an old couple from Mottstown, arrived in Jefferson.I don't want to elaborate on the aspects of symbolism (this book has an abundance of them). The names could be symbolic (Christmas, Burden, Bunch, etc). The notion of race and skin color is outrageous in this book. Joe Christmas led a tragic life as a desperate, oppressed, enigmatic drifter who was irreparably consumed by his mixed ancestry. His very own grandfather talked of lynching him because of his copper, parchment-colored skin.Political overtones seep through the book. Miss Burden's father moved back south from California and spent much time cursing slavery and slaveholders. I get the impression that the curse of the black race is God's curse, while the curse of the white race is those whom the white race has suppressed. The chapter on the reverent is so obscurely filled with dissertation on sins (some of the most arduous, tenacious reading of the entire book).The structure of the novel is worth a discussion. With 21 chapters, Lena Grove's search for the father of her child is deferred until the very end. Faulkner barely mentions her in passing in Chapter 14 when she settles down in Jefferson. The third and the second-to-the-last chapters devote to Reverent Gail Hightower. From Byron Bunch seems to be sewing all the pieces together as he recounts all the happenings in town and Lena Grove to the reverent. So everything in between shrouds the story the Joe Christmas. The result is a concentric ring structure Faulkner has astutely and deftly constructed in the novel.Light in August deftly captures the Southern life focusing both on the personal histories of his characters and the moral complexities and uncertainties of an increasingly dissolute, diverse (of which Joe Christmas is an epitome, nobody recognized him as part Mexican) society. The book is a unique combination of a plethora of symbolism and a stream-of-consciousness technique. The characters stay with readers.
pickwick817 on LibraryThing 3 months ago
I had been dreading this book because I found 'The Sound and the Fury' difficult to read. This book was a page turner for me. The only difficulty I had was dealing with Faulkners tendency to skip around from the viewpoint of one character to the next. This would seem to happen when I was really interested in the first character and I would have to wait patiently through the next section before I got back to the original characters storyline.Faulkner's writing is very unique in that he seems to understand human nature, and to describe each characters motivations, and needs through the writing, while at the same time conveying that the characters themselves don't necessarily understand why they are doing what they do. This shows that the best writers not only have a profound understanding of human nature, but that they can convey that through their writing in a way that makes the reader feel intimately connected.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though complex, this is a very approachable book, far from the modernist experimentation on books lik As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury. A book about race but the character has so little black blood that he can easily pass. Yet his profound secret makes him restless and violent accepted by neither blacks nor whites. The other story in this novel is that of a strong young Alabama woman pregnant and abandoned by her one night stand. Faulkner creates a strong female heroine unencumbered by either the social dogma of unwed pregnancy or her gender in a time when society would assign her the role ou outcast. Although their stories overlap only in the father of the baby, their stories combine to show a changing South the violence to come from those who hold to the established structure of Southern culture and the forces that will destroy this culture quiet soon. Well worth reading both for those well acquainted with Faulkner and for those waiting to fall in love with his page-long sentences, his profound descriptions, and his heartbreaking picture of a flawed yet beautiful time that will soon end.
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