William Faulkner’s Light in August examined the issues of race, gender, community etc. However the thematic currents introduced several enquiries regarding the nature of identity and the way it is affected by society, nature, history and individual lives. The people in Jefferson have resolved an implicit acceptance of Joanna Burden, Reverend Hightower, and even Joe Christmas (Dondlinger, 98-125). However all these characters resisted or abandoned the influence of the strict social and moral order prevailed in Jefferson.The society that is depicted in the novel is found to be tying to superimpose inflexible, restrictive concepts of race, community, and gender in the people. Individuals are restricted or segregated on the basis of these classifications and many of them struggled to such an extent that they lost their whole existence itself (Dondlinger, 98-125). For example, Joe Christmas was not sure of his self existence and its purpose.
His journey was not for achieving anything in his life. It was but a wandering journey for self discovery.He trip was just symbolic one that sought the answer for questions who he is, where he has originated from etc. The whole attempt was illusive, bringing nothing good to the life of the character. Racism is found to be the motivating factor of many characters in the novel.
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All the characters in the novel are much particular about race and the associated concepts (Dondlinger, 98-125). We can even conclude that racial politics is a major theme of the novel. For example, the biracial background of Joe Christmas made him pay a heavy price.Similarly the racial identities of other characters also play a major role in the novel. Racism, Racial politics is portrayed in the novel in the form of realistic details (Towner, 45-65). Racism was an important topic of the social fabric of the time and setting during which the novel was written. The racial background of the characters was the most crucial factor of the whole novel (Towner, 45-65). Light in August throws light into the racial conflict in the Southern American society that prevailed during that time.
The very title of the book, ‘Light’ signifies the light that illuminated Mississippi in August that appeared to originate from far past. The title of the book was inspired by the special light that illuminates Mississippi in August, which seems to come from the far past. (As per the biography of Jay Parini’s “One Matchless Time” the title Light in August came from his wife and referred to giving birth in August).
Faulkner showed great interest in history and the way history can be related to the present. Faulkner was very much concerned about the practices that prevailed in his society (Neumann, 53-75).The practice of racial discrimination seized his attention that he wrote the novel Light in August with racism being the central theme. Racism was in his thoughts to such an extent that he linked all the characters to racism. The title Light in August is all about the pregnancy and childbirth of Lena Grove.
Therefore Light in August is the novel about the new born child of Lena. The child was born in August and is considered as the ‘light’ of the new generation (Neumann, 53-75). The child is the representative of the generation or the society that is free from racism, prejudice, hatred.
The child therefore shows an era that is untouched by gender differences and other differences. Faulkner’s initial plan was to name the novel as Dark House. This dark house represent the dark period at which the novel was written. The society was darkened by racial differences, segregations, gender disparities and several other blind practices (Neumann, 53-75).
But one fine day he noticed the light that the south experience during the month of August. His attention turned to a ‘new light’ a new revelation, a new era, the new period of the new born baby of Lena.This new born was thus considered as the symbol of a period with no darkness; free from the dark practices of racism, discrimination etc. All these make ‘racism’ the major theme of the novel though it is only indirectly referred (Dondlinger, 98-125). The racial identity of Joe Christmas is an example or part of the major theme of racial identity. Christmas considered his black identity as something that destined him to be inferior to the whites. He was of the belief that his black or Negro birth represents some original sin that stated since his birth (Dondlinger, 98-125).He considered his black origin as a grave sin that has tainted his body, mind and actions since he was born.
Blackness or racial inferiority was supposed to be associated with an abyss-like imagery and a kind of uncleanness (Towner, 45-65). It was considered as an impurity that was supposed to separate people from God. Black color was considered to be associated with inferior disadvantage birth that takes out all general privileges of the person. Joe Christmas was in real trouble because of his Caucasian-appearing. He appeared black even though he was no sure of his African lineage (Towner, 45-65).
He strolled along various societies. He was an alien to all this societies and he continued wandering. The unfortunate young man lives his life always on the road seeking his real identity and self. He was not happy in the white society he lived and ran away as he felt it is not the right society for him to live. He could not settle in any society as the people were constantly chasing for his black identity and dark color. He hated to live in the seemingly clean societies as they failed to understand the depths of his irremovable damnation (Dondlinger, 98-125).He was not happy with the societies as they never had their heart wide enough to accept a black man who is seldom responsible for his plight.
The racial identity of Joe Christmas is portrayed as a secret that he abhors as well as cherishes. We can see him often openly confession that he is black. He is also found to enjoy the astonishment, pitying, and the hate-filled reactions of people (Towner, 45-65). However we can find the unfortunate Joe suffering in the white society just for the reason that he is born black. Joanna and Hightower are also characters who are influenced by racism.They are ostracized and even threatened because of their black sympathies. However both of them stay in Jefferson as hermetical characters.
Thus all the characters are found to be enduring the consequences of the discriminations related to gender, race etc. Faulkner considers racism (curses of racism), gender differences and other prejudices as the major theme of the novel Light in August. (Dondlinger, 98-125).
Work CitedDondlinger, Mary Joanne. “Getting Around the Body: The Matter of Race and Gender in Faulkner’s Light in August.” Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996. Eds.
Donald Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999, 98-125. Towner, Theresa M. “Unsurprised Flesh: Color, Race, and Identity in Faulkner’s Fiction. ” Faulkner and the Natural World: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1996.
Eds. Donald Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1999, 45-65. Neumann, Claus-Peter. “Knowledge and Control in William Faulkner’s Light in August. ” Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 24.
1 (1999): 53-75.