Hightower asks Byron whether he has told Lena about Brown’s current predicament, and Byron replies that he has not, because he is afraid that Brown will go on the run again.


One of the major themes of Light in August is the isolation of individuals from communities and from one another. In the first four chapters of the novel, Faulkner presents four major characters, each of whom is separated from society in some important way. Lena Grove, though she relies cheerfully on the kindness of strangers, is morally isolated because of her illicit pregnancy and socially isolated because of her constant traveling. The sullen Joe Christmas is isolated because of his seemingly mixed racial heritage, which causes him to emphasize the differences between himself and those around him. Byron Bunch is, like Lena, morally isolated, though by his own choice; he makes no friends except Gail Hightower and works almost all the time because he is so afraid of how he might spend his time otherwise. Hightower himself is isolated as an outcast, rejected by society—in his case because he failed in his appointed task as guardian of public standards, delivering incoherent sermons while his wife carried on obvious sexual affairs.

Faulkner establishes similarities between Hightower and Lena early on. Both characters use language willfully to manipulate or obscure the truth. Just as the church elders were unsure whether Hightower, in lying to cover up his wife’s indiscretions, “believed what he was telling or not,” Lena also distorts the facts surrounding her pregnancy and status as an abandoned single mother. Even though community gossip exposes both Lena’s and Hightower’s predicaments, they both continue in their distortions as a form of self-protection, a way of easing the shame they feel at being betrayed by their respective partners. In an attempt to salvage some form of dignity, they sidestep the truth, broadcasting elaborate self-delusions to try to justify the failings and misdeeds of their loved ones.

Even though neither Lena’s nor Hightower’s excuses fool anyone, they reveal competing layers of truth, representation, and belief—layers that Faulkner uses to infuse his characters with complexity and dimensionality. Characters’ interior states, with all their inconsistencies and unspoken motivations, overlap with the generalized voices of the community to create a dynamic and realistic portrait of individuals constantly asserting and renegotiating their places in the larger social order. In the face of these pressures, characters are left fractured, their various states of consciousness threatening to divide and unsettle them. Though the characters search for a sense of stability, belonging, and consistency, their inherently fractured natures consistently conspire to thwart these desires.

Faulkner often refers to these fractured natures implicitly, through imagery. For example, as Hightower, wounded and frozen in his self-imposed exile, sits listening to Byron relate Lena’s story, “it is as though there were two faces, one imposed upon the other.” This image serves as an apt summation of one of Faulkner’s many preoccupations in the novel. In plumbing the depths that exist beneath people’s words—the vulnerabilities, fears, and evasions that often do not register in articulated speech—Faulkner portrays inherently inconsistent and self-contradictory nature of identity. People, he argues, in all their complexity, cannot be reduced to a simple summation or generalized description. What exist instead are warring impulses and an often wide gulf between private and public worlds.