Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 10 | Summary



The chapter picks up where the last one ended. Joe Christmas remembers a blond woman putting a banknote in his pocket before she left. Eventually Joe gets up and goes "toward the door, his hands out before him like a blind man or a sleepwalker." The narrator notes that after "that night the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene." Joe's life from then until years later is summarized as a series of rides—on trains, trucks, and wagons—as he grows from 20 to 25 and 30. He travels to "Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico" and then returns north to Chicago and Detroit. The narrator tells of Joe both being with a white woman unmoved by his confession that he thinks he is black and living with a black woman "who resembled an ebony carving" and trying to "breathe into himself" the essence of being black.

Finally Joe arrives one afternoon in a small town in Mississippi. There he learns of the woman in the big house, Miss Joanna Burden, who is looked after by "colored folks around here." He settles in town and goes into Burden's house one night. Upon seeing him, she is unafraid. She says, "If it is just food you want, you will find that."


The novel skips over many years of Joe's life. Instead, its focus is his foundational experiences with women. These include the deceitful woman at the orphanage, his weak mother, the young woman in the shed whom he beats, his reaction when he learns about menstruation, and his rejection by a prostitute. All of these experiences lead the story back to Jefferson, Mississippi, where Joe Christmas encounters Joanna Burden, the woman he will murder 3 years later.

The narrator does make a point of detailing Joe's sexual encounters with both white and black women. He continues to see prostitutes and to occasionally be beaten by other patrons. He also has a relationship with a very dark-skinned black woman who cannot help him to identify as an African American.

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