Light in August
Fiction, Modernist Literature, Southern Gothic
Light in August is a 1932 novel by the American Southern author William Faulkner. It belongs to the Southern gothic and modernist literary genres. Set in the author's present day, the interwar period, the novel centers around two strangers who arrive at different times to Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, a fictional county based on Faulkner's home, Lafayette County, Mississippi. The plot first focuses on Lena Grove, a young pregnant white woman from Alabama looking for the father of her unborn child, and then shifts to explore the life of Joe Christmas, a man who has settled in Jefferson and passes as white, but who secretly believes he has some black ancestry. After a series of flashbacks narrating Christmas's early life, the plot resumes with his living and working with Lucas Burch, the father of Lena's child, who fled to Jefferson and changed his name when he found out that Lena was pregnant. The woman on whose property Christmas and Burch have been living, Joanna Burden, a descendant of Yankee abolitionistshated by the citizens of Jefferson, is murdered. Burch is caught at the scene of the crime and reveals that Christmas had been romantically involved with her and is part black, thus implying that he is guilty of her murder. While Burch sits in jail awaiting his reward for turning in Christmas, Lena is assisted by Byron Bunch, a zealous bachelor who falls in love with her. Bunch seeks the aid of another outcast in the town, the disgraced former minister Gail Hightower, to help Lena give birth and protect Christmas from being lynched. Though Hightower refuses the latter, Christmas escapes to his house and is shot and castrated by a state guardsman. Burch leaves town without his reward, and the novel ends with an anonymous man recounting a story to his wife about some hitchhikers he picked up on the road to Tennessee—a woman with a child and a man who was not the father of the child, both looking for the woman's husband.