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TESTS AND ANSWERS
11. If you want to argue that Joe Christmas is a victim, first list all the people and social forces that persecute him. You might order them from the most specific to the most general, or you might simply put them in chronological order. Then devote a paragraph to each in your essay. You would certainly want to include the people who hurt him in his childhood (Eupheus Hines, Miss Atkins) and in his adolescence (Simon McEachern, Bobbie Allen). You would also want to discuss the harm done him by religious extremism and the South's strict racial categories.
If you want to argue that Joe Christmas is not a victim, you can point to his statement in Chapter 12 that he has made himself what he "chose to be." Then show how his rebellious behavior begins as early as age eight, when he defies his foster father (Chapter 7). Argue that he brings about most of the harm people do him. Use as one example his suicidal escape from jail (Chapter 19).
12. You can answer this question in two fundamentally different ways. One is to argue that the community persecutes those who don't conform to its rules. Point to Joe Christmas, Gail Hightower, and Joanna Burden as examples of people made scapegoats by the community of Jefferson. Refer to the way the sheriff and the townspeople are ready to believe the worst of Joe Christmas as soon as Brown accuses him of being part black. Tell how the townspeople, not satisfied with driving Gail Hightower from his church, want to force him to leave the city (Chapter 3). And mention the unfriendly comments that the mill workers make about Joanna Burden's burning house in Chapter 2. Include the history of town hostility to Joanna Burden's family and the murder of her grandfather and half-brother (Chapter 11).
But you can also argue that Faulkner is criticizing those individuals who choose to isolate themselves from the community. Point to the distorted personalities of loners like Christmas, Hightower, and Burden. Mention that none of these three try to integrate into the community. Therefore, the community cannot be blamed for their isolation. Moreover, Jefferson lets Hightower live in peace for many years, and the town never follows through on its threats against Joanna. Finally, show that Joe Christmas is not lynched by a mob from the town but is killed by another loner, Percy Grimm (Chapter 19).
13. You can make a reasonable argument for any one of four characters being the central protagonist of Light in August. If you choose Joe Christmas, you can point to the amount of space the novel devotes to him. He is a major part of fifteen of the novel's twenty-one chapters. The novel delves more deeply into his past than into that of any of the other characters. The novel's most dramatic actions are part of Joe Christmas's story. And the Christ symbolism that surrounds him further emphasizes the significance of his life.
But because Lena Grove's story opens and closes the novel, and is the other major subject of town gossip and the other major preoccupation of Hightower and Bunch, you can also make a case for her centrality. if you argue that Lena Grove is central, you can point out that only she is in harmony with herself and the world around her. It is she who provokes Byron Bunch to change his old habits, and this change stimulates Gail Hightower's change too.
Still, you can make a case for the centrality of either Byron or Hightower. Both change for the better in the course of the novel. Hightower's final vision seems to summarize the lives of all the characters. And Byron's persistence in his efforts of love and compassion certainly sets him apart from the other characters and is the note on which the book ends.
14. You can argue that Faulkner is indicting Christianity. Point to the several Christian figures who seem intolerant and even insanely suspicious. You will certainly want to include Simon McEachern, Doc Hines, and Calvin Burden. Show how the novel associates racism and misogyny (hostility to women) with religious fanaticism. Write about the way McEachern beats his adopted son for not learning the catechism (Chapter 7), about Calvin Burden's drunken threats to beat his children if they don't learn to hate hell (Chapter 11), and about the way Doc Hines lets his daughter die just because he feels that she has sinned (Chapter 16). If you argue this way, you will also want to maintain that the Christian symbolism around the character of Joe Christmas criticizes Christianity by connecting it to such a violent character.
But you can also defend the idea that Faulkner is only against distortions of religion and that he praises the more genuine variety. You might quote Milly Hines's statement in Chapter 16 that her husband is possessed by the devil, not by God. Calvin Burden's religion is a strange blend that seems to be his own concoction rather than anything preached in a church. Point to contrasting characters like Gail Hightower's father, who is a minister and doctor (Chapter 20), and Byron Bunch, who leads the church choir on Sundays.
15. You can argue that Light in August is not a sufficiently unified novel. Most of the novel is the tragic story of Joe Christmas. Hightower's story is somewhat tragic as well. By comparison, the book's brief comic portions are only jarring appendages. Consider Chapter 14. An amusing description of the sheriff and his bloodhounds is abruptly followed by Joe Christmas's desperate flight and final decision to turn himself in. The comic section only undermines the seriousness of the rest of the chapter. And Chapter 21, with its humorous way of telling the end of Lena's and Byron's story, is a letdown after the gruesome death of Joe Christmas and Hightower's final reexamination of his own life.
But it's also possible to demonstrate that the novel effectively blends the comic and tragic. Faulkner is trying to encompass the diversity of human experience. He devotes the middle third of the book to a tragedy, the story of Joe Christmas. But he sets this story against a background of more ordinary people. Even when not comic in the narrow sense of funny, these people's lives are comic in the broader sense that their conflicts can be resolved happily. Faulkner successfully contrasts the tragic fate of an outcast like Christmas with the humbler but happier lives of more socially integrated people like the sheriff, the furniture dealer, Byron Bunch, and Lena Grove.