Light in August (Faulkner)

Light in August
William Faulkner, 1932
Knopf Doubleday
528 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780679732266

Light in August interweaves the stories of several major characters. Lena Grove, orphaned as a young girl and living with her brother’s family, becomes pregnant by a man named Lucas Burch. 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.

Bunch’s friend, the Reverend Gail Hightower, is otherwise completely friendless in the community where he has lived for years. 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.

The novel’s central figure is Joe Christmas, a drifter and bootlegger who has settled for a time in Jefferson. 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. (From the publisher.)

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