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because 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.’
Byron Bunch thinks these words near
the end of Chapter 3, when his growing friendship
and intimacy with Reverend Hightower is initially traced. Eventually,
Byron, out of curiosity, asks the minister why he chose to stay
in Jefferson “almost within sight of” the scene of his humiliation
at the hands of his parishioners, who turned their backs on him
in the wake of his personal crisis upon his wife’s death. Hightower
avoids the question and turns the tables, interrogating Byron about
his habit of working at the mill every Saturday night instead of
enjoying his leisure in town like the other men. Both men conclude
facilely that it is simply “life,” that it is the course their individual
destinies have taken. But both know that such a pat and simple-minded
response is an elaborate avoidance of the fear, loneliness, isolation,
and inability to reenter and embrace life that underlies each of
their existences. Byron uses the exchange as the occasion to meditate
on the nature of personal risk and the potentially harmful self-exposure
involved in seeking and embracing change.
Isolation and emotional detachment are among the numerous defense
mechanisms that both men employ in their approaches to their individual
lives. Each engages in a strategy of emotional risk management.
Hightower, by cloistering himself and cutting himself off from the
outside world, believes that he is minimizing the risk that tragedy
or disappointment will ever be visited on his doorstep again. This
somewhat paranoid reaction and fear of the unknown comes as a response
to the tension and wide gulf that exists in Light in August between
the individual and the community. In a world in which the past brings
a conflicted legacy of personal and public shame, individuals such
as Byron and Hightower, subject to the harsh criticism and censure
of the community at large, choose to avoid any situation or course
of action that might compromise their sense of self.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Light in August!