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Free Barron's Booknotes-Light in August by William Faulkner-Free Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 5

Faulkner now moves to Christmas's point of view. The chapter portrays Christmas readying himself for his violent confrontation with Joanna Burden.

It's late Thursday night, almost three days before Byron's unexpected Sunday evening visit to Hightower. Christmas is lying awake in bed as Brown walks into the cabin they share. Brown is drunk and noisy. Christmas tells him to shut up. When Brown falls on the floor and laughs loudly, Christmas repeatedly hits him in the face. Brown calls Christmas a nigger, but Christmas continues slapping and choking him until Brown finally agrees to be quiet. He falls asleep.

In the last chapter Byron reported having heard about an incident in which Christmas slapped Brown's face. Now Christmas is hitting Brown gain. Look for other incidents of violence to the face or head in Light in August, especially in connection with Christmas.

So far, Christmas seems cold, ruthless, and violent, hardly Christ-like. But in this chapter you will get some hints about Christmas's motivations and your first brief glimpses of his thoughts and feelings. Christmas thinks that something is going to happen to him and that he is going to do something. These two thoughts, the first of his you've had access to, could suggest two opposite interpretations of Christmas's behavior. The first is that Christmas is the victim of forces beyond his control, and the second is that he controls his own actions. Some readers see Christmas as a passive pawn of society or fate. Others see him as the novel's only character who consciously takes charge of his own destiny. As you read further, consider which approach to Christmas's life you agree with more. Neither extreme is necessarily true.


NOTE: THE CHORUS OF SOUNDS

Christmas thinks he hears what Faulkner refers to as "myriad sounds." A similar expression appeared in Chapter 4, when Byron was taking Lena to town and again when Hightower and Byron were talking. In the first instance it described the townspeople abuzz with the rumors of Burden's murder. In the second it described the insects chirping outside Hightower's house. Here the reference is less specific. Many kinds of sound seem to be emerging from Christmas's memory, and indeed the next seven chapters will take you into that memory. Why does Faulkner include this chorus of sounds humming in the background? Perhaps this image of "myriad sounds" connects his characters to something larger than themselves. However, the image, while powerful, is open to other interpretations.

Christmas cannot sleep. He suddenly says, "It's because she started praying over me," and he repeats this insight several times throughout the night. You don't know yet what he is referring to. But this exclamation is the first hint that religion is an issue in Christmas's life.

As Christmas thinks about his relationship with Joanna Burden, he tears the last remaining button off the underclothes he is wearing. He thinks about a time when a woman used to sew on his missing buttons, and he would deliberately thwart her by cutting them off again. Here is another insight into Christmas's character. He seems to feel hostile to women's kindness, perhaps even to feel that such kindness confines him, buttons him in. Note that Christmas is becoming the third character in Light in August to avoid sustained relationships with women. Note also that the button is one of many circular images to appear in Light in August.

Christmas walks outside nude. He yells, "White bastards!" at a passing car. Then he goes to sleep in the stable with the horses. (Here is another character who seems fonder of horses than people.) Less than two hours later, Christmas wakes. It is dawn, Friday morning. He returns to the cabin, dresses, gets his shaving things, and walks to a nearby valley. He spends the day there, thinking the same thoughts over and over, thinking that he is going to do something and that she, Burden, shouldn't have started praying.

That night Christmas goes into town. Walking aimlessly, he finds himself in Freedman Town, the black section of Jefferson. He panics and runs away. What provokes Christmas's fear? Note that in this passage Christmas associates blacks with women and both of them with softness and warmth. When he gets back to the white section, the air feels cold and hard. He sees some blacks and curses them, just as he cursed the whites the night before. He seems hostile to both races.

Christmas lies awake until midnight. His mind is empty as he gets up and walks to Joanna Burden's house.

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