full title Light in August
author William Faulkner
type of work Novel
genre Modernist southern morality tale
time and place written 1931–1932; 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.