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Light In August By William Faulkner Essay, Research Paper

Light in August by William Faulkner is a story about three character?s lives-Joe Christmas, Lena Grove, and Rev. Gail Hightower- blended together to show the consistent struggles. A theme of Light in August, a man?s past experiences mold his present and future, is concentrated on Joe Christmas and his racial identity.

Joe Christmas is perhaps the most controversial character in Light in August. He is labeled as a victim because of his plights with Doc Hines, the orphanage, his adoptive father, Simon McEachern, and his waitress girlfriend Bobbie Allen. At every major mile stone in Christmas?s life he was put down, shut out, or beaten by people that should have cared about him. His racial grandfather, Doc Hines, gave him up for adoption. Mr. McEachern tried to force religion on him. Bobbie Allen abused his trust. ?Why, I committed murder for her. I even stole for her? (Faulkner 217). Christmas progresses through his life as at first only a little knowing child, then an angry adolescent still capable of some human interaction, then an adult at war with the world. As Christmas arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi, his past struggles show through. He is very anti-social at the mill, and he lives in the woods. Perhaps his biggest fear is someone finding out that he has ?black blood.?Race is one of Joe Christmas?s biggest issues; fear of the truth, and trying to embrace it at the same time. Throughout his life, Christmas was punished for having a black father. Given up by his grandfather, Christmas lived in an orphanage. At the orphanage the other children called him names and suspected his hidden racial identity. After Christmas ran away from the McEachern?s house, he lived with some black women and tried to embrace his black heritage. ?He thought that it was loneliness which he was trying to escape and not himself? (226). When this failed he found himself living in Jefferson in an old slave cabin owned by Joanna Burden. Joanna Burden also victimized Christmas; although she cared about him, she reacts to him as not a distinct individual, but as a member of the black race. Her abolitionist views take on her actions toward him when she tried to convince Christmas to admit he is part black and be in the black law firm. Although Christmas did not seem to detest his racial identity, to an extent he brought some of the persecution on himself, by telling people that he could be black and not standing up for himself. Another racial issue, maybe the most important, is that Christmas is a victim of racist mythology. In order to keep blacks inferior to whites, white Southerners convinced themselves that blacks were a threat, not only to the men, but most importantly to the women. When Joanna Burden was murdered, Joe Brown turns Christmas in to get the thousand-dollar reward. Thus, when Jefferson hears that Christmas is part black, he is automatically assumed to be guilty. ?That bah?fellow; the murderer. I said all the time that he wasn?t right. Wasn?t a white man? (308). He becomes the town?s scapegoat, which maintains the town?s racial stereotype. Even though Joe Brown has almost no credibility, he still can be trusted more than Christmas because Christmas is black.

Racism is the central focus of most of the characters throughout Light in August. Race reinstates the theme, past actions determine the present and future. In the past Christmas has rebelled against himself; at times condemning the black race, then at times blaming the white race for his problems. By the time he is arrested for killing Joanna Burden, he is so confused about his own identity that he doesn?t know why he killed her. The town just uses the excuse that he has ?black blood,? the root of all Christmas?s problems. Because Christmas had a black father and made some mistakes, his future is ruined.


Faulkner, William. Light in August. Vintage International, New York;1959

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