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Literature / Light in August

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Light in August (1932) is a novel by William Faulkner that examines race, class, and religion in 1930s Mississippi.

The story begins when Lena Grove, a young pregnant woman from Alabama, arrives in Jefferson, Mississippi (a recurrent Faulkner setting) searching for the father of her child. Her story intersects with, and is then subsumed by, that of Joe Christmas, a biracial white-passing man whose fanatical religious upbringing and inability to square his mixed-race heritage with his life experiences sets him on a path toward inevitable tragedy.

Contains Examples Of:

  • Abusive Parents: Mr. McEachern is abusive towards Joe and Mrs. McEachern is something of an enabler, causing Joe to hate her even more than Mr. McEachern.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Joe Christmas. He has somewhat dark features, and although he can sometimes pass for white, he knows or suspects that he has non-white ancestry, probably black and/or indigenous Mexican.
  • Ambiguous Situation: While it's strongly implied that Joe Christmas murdered his former lover Joanna, it's also possible that Joe Brown committed the murder to frame Christmas.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Near the end of the novel, the narrative focus suddenly shifts to Percy Grimm, who has been of no significance to the story up to that point (but who will soon become very significant).
  • Babies Make Everything Better: Subverted despite Lena's undying hope.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Joe Christmas, whose ethnicity no one is initially sure of.
  • Happy Ending: Although it's not a classic happy ending, there is a little hope—Lena is actively searching for her place in the world rather than constantly running and denying like Joe Christmas. This suggests that maybe her life won't be so tragic, that maybe she'll be able to begin again.
  • Identical Stranger: Joanna's namesake is her father's first wife, Juana, who looked almost exactly like his dead mother.
  • Karma Houdini: Joe Brown is forced to flee town, but he basically gets away with everything he does, including possibly Joanna's murder, for which he was just as viable of a suspect as the person who actually took the blame for it.
  • Significant Monogram: Joe Christmas. And he's 33!
  • Sinister Minister: "Doc" Hines, who is grandfather to Joe Christmas, is a fanatical lay preacher who mixes extreme religious fundamentalism with anti-black racism in his sermons (often preached to black audiences). Hines refused to hire a doctor when his daughter was dying while giving birth to Joe, and when he found out that Joe was suspected of Joanna Burden's murder, he helped insight a lynch mob against him.