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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 14

Chapter 14 recounts both the posse's continued search for Christmas and Christmas's actions during his flight. It shows Christmas achieving a new self-awareness, and it concludes with Christmas's decision to allow himself to be captured.

The sheriff receives a report about Christmas. A white man had entered a black church during a revival meeting, had slapped the preacher in the face, had hit one of the older men, and then had begun to smash things. This behavior is not so strange when you consider that Christmas has been striking back at preachers ever since he hit Simon McEachern over the head with the chair. He has just killed Joanna Burden, and one possible reason was her preaching at him. And you have already seen his hostility to women and his tendency to associate feminine qualities with blacks.

NOTE: MORE PARALLELS BETWEEN CHRISTMAS AND JESUS

In addition to Christmas's name and some of the imagery Faulkner uses in describing him, a third element in Light in August also connects Joe Christmas to Jesus Christ. Some of the events of his life parallel events in Jesus's. For example, this incident in the black church occurs on a Tuesday. Tuesday of the Christian Holy Week was the day Jesus cleansed the temple. Later in this chapter, on a Thursday night, the night of the Last Supper, Christmas is fed a mysterious meal. Some readers conclude from these parallels that Christmas is meant to resemble Jesus at least in being an example of suffering and sacrifice. Others feel that the parallels only point out the ways in which Christmas's sacrifice is less meaningful, even empty. And still others think that the religious parallels are too superficial to be important at all. Interestingly, in Faulkner's early drafts of Light in August, Christmas died at 33, as did Jesus. But in Faulkner's final typescript, the author deliberately deleted this parallel by making Christmas three years older.


Once more the sheriff brings out the posse and the bloodhounds. The dogs seem to be on Christmas's trail, which leads to a black family's cabin. The men surround the house skillfully and professionally. But the only people in the cabin are a black woman and her child. The mother is wearing Christmas's shoes. Faulkner relates this incident in a way that brings out its absurd and even slapstick qualities. Some readers have criticized Light in August for a lack of unity among its various stories and between its comic and tragic elements. Here Faulkner alternates between the serious story of Christmas's flight and a much more lighthearted narration of the sheriff's pursuit. What advantage do you see in such a technique?

As Light in August returns to Christmas's point of view, try to reach a final opinion about this central character. Some readers perceive him primarily as a victim. You could argue that he is a victim of society's (and in particular the South's of that epoch) arbitrary categories. You might claim that he is a victim of religious fanaticism. You could further point out that he is forced to be a sacrificial scapegoat so that Jefferson can confirm the stereotypes that bolster its prejudices. But others see Christmas as a hero, a man who refuses to accept the security that he would gain by conforming to people's expectations of either race. You might even want to see him as a villain, a man so brutalized by others that he can only be brutal himself. Whichever opinion you hold, you will have to decide if Christmas changes and develops after his murder of Joanna Burden. What new understandings does he come to?

NOTE:

Faulkner has narrated Christmas's story in the past tense and Lena's in the present. In this section he narrates Christmas's story in the present tense. Could this change of tense be evidence for a change in Christmas's consciousness?

For example, he is wearing a black man's shoes and feels that the blackness be has been trying to escape all his life is now creeping up his legs. Does this feeling suggest defeat or a new maturity? Christmas is aware that he no longer knows what day it is. After a while, he no longer feels the need for food or sleep. He refers to the blacks who flee from him as "brothers." Are these changes only signs of the gradual deterioration of a fugitive deprived of food and shelter for several days? Or are they signs of some new and higher awareness?

Christmas thinks that he is tired of running. He may be thinking about the days after the murder, or he may be talking about the running he has been doing all his life. He seems to feel a new sense of peace. When a young black from another county comes by in a horse-drawn wagon, Christmas gets a ride into Mottstown, twenty miles from Jefferson. As they arrive in Mottstown, Joe sees in his mind the endless street that he has been traveling all his life. It has made a circle, he thinks. He thinks that in the last few days he has traveled farther than in his whole life before, yet he has still not broken outside of that circle. One way of reconciling both parts of this thought would be to say that during his flight Christmas has attained a new self-awareness but that this new awareness is fatalistic. According to this interpretation, he sees the pattern of his life and of his choices but feels it is too late to change them.

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