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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 11

This chapter relates the first phase of the relationship between Joe and Joanna. It also fills you in on Joanna's family history.

Joe and Joanna fall into a routine. She leaves food for him in the kitchen, but they talk to each other very little if at all. She lends him a cot and lets him stay in the cabin outside. He learns that Negro schools and colleges regularly ask her for advice. But he knows very little else about her.

One night he sneaks up to her bedroom. She struggles with him, then gives in. Later he calls her way of struggling manlike. Because you are learning about Joanna only through Christmas's thoughts and memories about her, much of this chapter tells you something about both of them at the same time. Note that Christmas sees in Joanna and her house the possibility of a security he had never had on his endless street. But his thoughts don't dwell on this possibility. Instead, as he seems to do with most people, he defines his relationship with her as a battle. Christmas seems to relish his battle with the "manlike" Joanna more than he does the security and intimacy most people seek in romantic relationships. And the quality he describes as manlike seems to be part of what attracts him to Joanna.

Joe is angry at Joanna's calm reaction to his sexual assault. The next night he attacks her again. The following day he plans to flee to his endless street once more, but that night he finds himself heading to the house again. He finds food waiting for him, but he throws it against the wall. Remember that he threw it on the floor when Mrs. McEachern tried to feed him. The following day Joe goes to the mill and gets a job there. For the next six months, he goes to the mill by day and eats at a restaurant in town during the evening, thereby avoiding Joanna entirely.


One day Joe gets home from work and finds Joanna sitting on the cot in his cabin. She tells him some of her family history. Born in Jefferson, she has never been away from the town for longer than six months. But her grandfather, Calvin, was the son of a New Hampshire minister. Calvin traveled to California, converted to Catholicism, then denounced the Catholic Church and married a Protestant. He brought up his son and three daughters with the frequently repeated warning that they must learn to hate hell and slaveholders. And he threatened to beat God into them.

Note that like Joe himself Joanna was brought up in a strict religion. Grandfather Calvin talked about what his children must hate rather than about what they should love. Like Simon McEachern, he seemed to think that the way to teach a child religious feelings is with beatings.

NOTE:

Faulkner says that the Burdens come from a background of New England Unitarianism. But the Unitarians are noted for championing individual freedom of belief and for their advocacy of a religion based on reason rather than on fixed biblical doctrine. As Faulkner describes the Burdens, they seem to be another variety of Calvinist, just as Joanna's grandfathers first name suggests. Some readers resolve the apparent discrepancy by noting that when Calvin Burden first left New Hampshire the Unitarian Church had not yet evolved far from its Calvinist roots.

After Calvin Burden killed a man in an argument over slavery, the family had to move west. Then Calvin's son, Nathaniel, ran away from home at age fourteen. What do you make of the profusion of runaways in this novel? Lucas Burch, Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, and now Nathaniel Burden all flee home.

When Nathaniel returned sixteen years later, he was living with a woman, Juana, and they had a child, also named Calvin. Grandfather Calvin commented that his grandson looked black. According to Grandfather Calvin, the black race is "stained by the sin of human bondage." You may now be wondering if this family of firm abolitionists was itself racist.

The three Burden men received a Federal commission to go to Jefferson, Mississippi, to help with the freed slaves. In Jefferson a Confederate officer named Colonel Sartoris killed both Calvins. Later Nathaniel's wife died too. But Nathaniel stayed in Jefferson, though he sent to New Hampshire for another wife.

One day Nathaniel Burden showed his four-year-old daughter, Joanna, the graves of her grandfather and half-brother. He told her that God had made the black race as a curse for the white race's sins and that the only way for the white race to rise is to lift the black race up with it. But he also said that the white race would never be completely successful in that mission.

Is the racism of the Burdens any different from that around them? Though Jefferson ostracizes the Burdens for helping blacks, the Burdens seem to be haunted by racial categories, and they see blacks not as individuals but as a "curse."

Joanna's description of her past raises some other interesting questions about her. How much is she a part of Jefferson? You might see her as an outsider from the North. Yet you could also point to the fact that she has lived in Jefferson all her life. Has the town shaped her at all? Finally, think about Joanna's isolation. Is it something unfairly imposed by the town? Or is it a choice of Joanna's and a sign of her limitations?

Joanna asks Joe if he is sure that he is part black. Joe says that he isn't sure but adds that if he isn't part black he has wasted a lot of time. If you decide to argue that Joe has freely chosen his way of life, might not this statement be evidence of his awareness of having made such a choice?

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