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Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 13 | Summary



This chapter shifts back in time to the fire at the Burden house. People have gathered to stare at the body of Joanna Burden. The narrator says the "casual Yankees and the poor whites and even the southerners who had lived for a while in the north" looked at the corpse and hoped she had been sexually violated "at least once before her throat was cut and at least once afterward." While the sheriff's men are containing the scene, they notice the cabin and ask who lives there. Someone says one of the black men must have lived there, but the black man who is questioned about this says "two white men" lived in the cabin. Another man says the residents were Joe Christmas and Joe Brown. The authorities find Joanna Burden's instructions to contact her lawyer in Memphis, and her nephew offers a $1,000 reward for capturing her murderer.

Back in Jefferson, Joe Brown goes to see the sheriff, hoping to collect the reward. He declares Joe Christmas to be the killer. The next morning, a posse with dogs shows up at the cabin and begin a hunt for Joe Christmas.

The narration now shifts to Byron Bunch and Reverend Gail Hightower. The two men discuss Byron's plan to relocate Lena Grove, who is nearing her due date. Hightower notes Byron's interest in Lena. Byron regrets that he accidentally revealed Joe Brown's identify to Lena. Lena decides she wants to go out to the cabin at the Burden place where Brown and Christmas had been staying. Lena considers it Brown's home, so it's hers as well. After settling Lena in the cabin, Byron returns to Hightower's house. Hightower asks about hiring a doctor, and Byron says he hasn't yet. After Byron leaves, Hightower thinks "I should not have got out of the habit of prayer." He goes to the wall of books in his study and selects a volume of Tennyson.


The response of the local people to Joanna Burden's violent death confirms that it was the only possible outcome of her relationship with Joe Christmas. Joanna's suggestion that she could hand her business to Joe was tragically flawed. Joe's expectation that she might insist on marriage was equally flawed. She was an outsider in Jefferson, despite a lifetime there. Her roots as a Yankee were too significant to the community—as were her dealings with African Americans.

The people do not appear appalled by the violence done to Joanna. She has—just as Hightower did in the past—behaved in ways that the people of Jefferson and the South in general do not endorse. She has violated both laws and community mores. Additionally she is a Yankee. Byron Bunch, for all his positive traits, did not characterize her positively when speaking of her to Lena. When the fire is first mentioned in the novel, Byron suggests, "folks in this town will call it a judgment on her" because she is a Yankee. Her death is followed by a fiery conflagration in both a literal condemnation of her actions, as the house burns around her, and a symbolic one.

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