Faulkner's Light in August Essay

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¶ … Nature of Man Explored in William Faulkner's Light in August

William Faulkner's novel, Light in August, represents the complicated nature of life, mankind's complicated responses to life, and the intrepid spirit of all men. Faulkner presents us with characters that face complex circumstances and what we find mesmerizing is the very nature to which each individual responds to his or her circumstances. While the novel is present in third person narrative, Faulkner does allow us to understand the point-of-view of several key characters in the novel. These points-of-view help us understand how the community of Jefferson operates. Sexuality and trauma emerge in the novel as obstacles to be overcome. As is the case is real life, some do well to overcome while others do not. One of the most predominant aspects of the story includes the effect religion plays upon the community. Jefferson's moral foundation is constructed around certain beliefs and to fit in; one generally goes along with these beliefs without making much trouble. Those who do not accept the beliefs are known for it and often ostracized. These issues loom heavy over the lives of Lena Grove, Joe Christmas and Gail Hightower. Each character deals with difficulties in a different way, reinforcing the complexity of man. Faulkner demonstrates through these characters the fragility and strength born to every man and how each man emerges from them depends upon his reaction to his circumstance.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Essay on Faulkner's Light in August Assignment

Most of the novel is presented in third-person narrative, allowing Faulkner to reveal exactly what he wants us to know about the characters. Through very interesting and realistic characters, Faulkner allows us to see how event shape one's point-of-view. An example is Byron Bunch who, according to Wendy Perkins, becomes the "moral conscience of the novel as he observes the townspeople of Jefferson City and declares, 'people everywhere are about the same'" (Perkins). Bunch's point-of-view brings the actions of others under scrutiny, especially pointing out how those who do fit in the community are treated for being different. This is an important aspect of the novel because it is closely linked with the notion of religion and Puritanical restraints. Bunch is convinced that evil is more difficult for one to accomplish when living in a small community such as Jackson. Because of this interesting phenomenon, people can invent evil from nothing more than knowing an individual's name. This is significant to put understanding of those in Jefferson and all of humanity as well. With this notion, Bunch is bringing to light the idea that all we need as creatures looking for something to devour is a morsel, a "that single idle word blown from mind to mind'" (Perkins). Perkins points out how this is crucial in the novel because it reveals "the disastrous effects the community can have on the individual who tries to establish a sense of independence" (Perkins). This point-of-view set the stage for things to emerge in the novel, beginning with Lena and then merging her story with his as they become two characters in the same small community.

The Puritanical overtones in the novel are essential to understanding how Faulkner frames situations and characters. Hightower's criticism of organized religion represents the "most powerful attack upon the forces of patriarchal repression and white supremacy in the novel" (Lutz), according to John Lutz. Hightower becomes a voice of philosophy in the novel because of his humanistic point-of-view and his rejections of Jefferson's strict social mores. He refuses to be manipulated by the town and the petty dispositions of its members. We see Hightower embark upon a journey that leads him to a certain knowledge about himself that is rather spectacular. He comes to accept himself in a way that is remarkable in contrast with some of the other characters in the novel. Of the three primary characters at the center of the novel, Hightower, Lena, and Joe, Hightower does the least to act on what he learns, or accepts, from life. Hightower is similar to Lena and Joe because he does endeavor to recoup his pride. He successfully learns to live in the world he has created for himself. This world is not realistic because it is not the real world in which everyone else lives. From his point-of-view, his life is over already and he seems fairly adjusted to this idea until involvement with Lean and Byron bring him out of his reclusive shell. Hightower is damaged like Lena and Joe are damaged and he does eventually make peace with his life and his past, accepting the fact that pain is unavoidable regardless of how far removed one might make oneself. Lutz maintains an important aspect of Hightower's presence and point-of-view in the novel and the calling of attention to the function of religion through creating fundamental assumptions that are in direct opposition to what Hightower believes. Lutz states, "Hightower's insight directly challenges racist and sexist ideology. Furthermore, in Hightower's narrative, the imagery of Plato's cave is used to deconstruct the very assumptions which underwrite idealism" (Lutz). Faulkner frames Joe's story through this prism. Hightower's point-of-view allows us to look at Joe's life from the perspective of someone on the outside of religion and the outskirts of town. Similarly, Lena's story frames Hightower's life because it serves as "both a substitution and an atonement for the history represented by Joe's story" (Lutz) by reasserting the "idealism but transforms it into a means of challenging the racist and patriarchal ideology which it originally informed" (Lutz). Faulkner encapsulates both thread of history in this community to demonstrate the importance of wise choices.

Hightower is a strange man in that he refuses to leave the community that ostracizes him. Hightower was an energetic and "gleeful" (Faulkner 52) preacher when he arrived in Jefferson. He spoke wild in the pulpit "using religion as though it were a dream. Not a nightmare, but something which went faster than the words in the Book"(53). He was fixated on the Civil War and spoke too often about it. Hightower was not a favorite among those in Jefferson, however. Had he been a "more dependable kind of man, the kind of man a minister should be instead of being born about thirty years after the only day he seemed to ever lived in" (Faulkner), the town might have been more open to him. The incident with his wife and the controversy surrounding it made that practically impossible. Hightower is his own man, regardless of what the members of Jefferson do. Things transpire as if both parties simply forget about what happened with Hightower and his wife and move on to other happenings in the town. Hightower thinks, "I am not in life anymore . . . that's why there is no use in even trying to meddle, interfere" (Faulkner 263). This attitude demonstrates Hightower's sense of loss. He has lost his reason to live and he is not even compelled to leave the town that destroyed him. Hightower says he is not a man of God but that this lot in life is not of his own accord. He says, "Not of my own choice that I am no longer a man of God. It was by the will . . . Of them like you and like her and like him in the jail" (319). What this circumstances allows us to see, however, is the depth people will go to support their own dogged beliefs. Jefferson is filled with narrow-minded individuals and self-righteous bigots and this thread runs through the entire novel. It is central to the town's existence and it never goes away. It festers in the souls of man and as long as they keep it alive, it will keep them from forming real bonds and connecting with others.

This intersection of social criticism and religious persecution is where when Lena arrives and it is there when she leaves. During her stay, we see it destroy many lives, although Lena seems to be spared from this terrible fate. Perkins believes this is because "she is trying, in their view, to rectify her sin by marrying Brown" (Perkins). Interestingly, Lena does end up leaving Jefferson "more perhaps to get away from the restrictive values of the community than to find Brown" (Perkins). This is significant to understanding the psyche of man. More importantly, we see how Lena has enough sense to realize the mores of the community were not for her and she did not want to raise a child in that kind of environment. Faulkner uses Lena and her passage through Jefferson to expose the dramatic forces at work in post-Civil War white southern societies. The line between whites and blacks is not tangible but it is very noticeable and, as a result, alienation will occur -- not by accident but purely by design. It is important to realize that in some societies, this otherness is perceived as evil in some situations. That undefined but recognizable line between races only exacerbates the separation between individuals… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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