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Light in August

William Faulkner

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions and Essay Topics

full title ·  Light in August

author · William Faulkner

type of work · Novel

genre · Modernist southern morality tale

language · English

time and place written ·  19311932; Oxford, Mississippi

date of first publication · October 1932

publisher · Harrison Smith and Robert Haas, Inc.

narrator · The novel is, for the most part, related by an anonymous narrator privy to the characters’ inner thoughts but also to the developments and information of which they are not personally aware. This approach is varied by the inclusion of the voices of actual characters, often outside the main current of the action (and often representing the collective voice of the community), relating events and offering their own particular perspective on and version of the novel’s proceedings.

point of view · The novel is narrated predominantly in the third person, hinging on the interconnections of the various characters whose lives intersect in Jefferson. The narrator’s point of view is also omniscient, exposing in particular those moments when characters are misinformed, bending the truth, or openly blinding themselves to the truth.

tone · The narrator neither condemns nor extols his characters nor their actions. The characters may be unreliable in relating the events of their lives, but the narrator serves as a clear, undeluded backdrop to the objective reality many of the characters are prone to distort or manipulate.

tense · Past and present

setting (time) · Unclear, but most likely the 1920s, with flashbacks to periods of time stretching thirty years previous

setting (place) · Jefferson, Mississippi; nearby Mottstown; and various other locations in the area

protagonists · Joe Christmas, Gail Hightower, Lena Grove, Byron Bunch

major conflict · Joe Christmas struggles for self-acceptance and to find his place in the world.

rising action · Joe is adopted from an orphanage, given a stern upbringing, kills his father, then wanders for years before arriving in Jefferson, Mississippi.

climax · Miss Burden is killed and her house is set on fire.

falling action · Joe is pursued for the crime and captured, escapes, and is eventually hunted down and killed.

themes · The burdens of the past; the struggle for a coherent sense of identity; the isolation of the individual

motifs · Compound words; fluid time; names and naming

symbols · The dead sheep; smoke rising from the burning Burden house; the street

foreshadowing · Byron muses on Christmas’s unique name and the fact that there is more to a name then its sound, anticipating Lena’s mistaken belief that Byron’s last name is Burch nor Bunch. When Christmas arrives in Jefferson, he asks a young boy whether Miss Burden ever gets scared living alone in such a remote and vulnerable location, presaging the violence and violation he himself brings to the Burden home. Young Christmas’s killing of the sheep foreshadows the later bloodshed of his two murders and his own violent death.

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Joe Christmas

by Lubasi, June 07, 2014

I think Joe Christmas' upbring is responsible for his complex behaviour in his adulthood. More often heredity creates individuals, but in the case of Joe Christmas its the environment in which lived that played a significant role in his creation. But what are the ramifications of Joe Christmas' biracial background?

Was Faulkner a racist?

by rhythmethod, June 11, 2014

I can't get past the ugly racism in this book. I'd like to think the racism belongs to the characters, but the author gives no reason for the reader to think it didn't belong to him as well.

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