Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

Download a PDF to print or study offline.

Study Guide
Cite This Study Guide

How to Cite This Study Guide

quotation mark graphic
MLA

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Light in August Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 Apr. 2018. Web. 14 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Light-in-August/>.

In text

(Course Hero)

APA

Bibliography

Course Hero. (2018, April 7). Light in August Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Light-in-August/

In text

(Course Hero, 2018)

Chicago

Bibliography

Course Hero. "Light in August Study Guide." April 7, 2018. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Light-in-August/.

Footnote

Course Hero, "Light in August Study Guide," April 7, 2018, accessed November 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Light-in-August/.

Light in August | Chapter 19 | Summary

Share
Share

Summary

The chapter begins with a summary of Joe Christmas's escape and how he had "taken refuge" in Hightower's house. Some people wondered why he had gone there; others gave an easy answer. "Like to like," they said, referring to what people regarded as the disgrace and criminality shared by Hightower and Christmas. A new character, Gavin Stevens, is introduced. Stevens, the District Attorney, is from an old Jefferson family and his grandfather was a slave owner. A friend of Stevens sees the D.A. as he puts Mr. and Mrs. Hines on the train, assuring them, "I'll see that the boy is on the train in the morning." Stevens's friend, a professor, listens as Stevens explains why Christmas went to Hightower's house: he says, "I think it was his grandmother." He goes into long detail in which he says she confused the child born that day and her grandson in her mind. Ultimately Stevens says that he thinks Mrs. Hines "told him about Hightower, that Hightower would save him." Stevens goes into a rambling account of what he thinks Joe did because of his "black blood" and his "white blood." His "black blood" is blamed for every wrong act, and the "white blood" for courageous or good acts.

The perspective shifts to Percy Grimm, a 25-year-old captain in the State national guard. Clearly racist, Grimm believes "the white race is superior to any and all other races" and "the American is superior to all other white races." Grimm goes to the American Legion and assembles a group of about 15 or 20 men to patrol downtown. The sheriff disapproves, but later makes Grimm a "special deputy." When Joe Christmas escapes, Grimm pursues him. Eventually Grimm sees Christmas enter Hightower's house. Hightower tries to calm Grimm, but to no avail. Grimm shoots Joe Christmas repeatedly and then castrates him with a butcher knife before he is dead. He says, "Now you'll let white women alone, even in hell."

Analysis

Gavin Stevens, the District Attorney, and his companion, the professor, represent law and education. Unfortunately they are no more reasonable or ethical than Percy Grimm, the other character who is introduced here. All 3 men look down on Christmas's race, blaming his blackness for his violence and flaws. Stevens, for example, describes how it was Joe's black blood that caused him to seek out Hightower. And somewhat later, he comments that "the black blood failed him again ... He did not kill the minister." Finally, in Christmas's last stand, he tells how Christmas "defied the black blood for the last time" when he allowed Grimm to shoot him although he held a loaded pistol in his hand. Stevens's mind appears to work in a manner not unlike Percy Grimm's.

Grimm, the novel's most extreme racist, represents both Southern racism and the nationalist ideals that were flourishing at the time of the novel's writing. The reader will recall that Light in August is set in the 1920s, but it was published in 1932. In the 1930s, the publisher William Randolph Hearst was opposing President Franklin Roosevelt with the stance of "America First," arguing in favor of the nationalism popular in Germany and Italy. The phrase had originated with President Woodrow Wilson, who had argued for "America First" when asking for Congress to declare war on Germany in World War I. Both the racism and anti-miscegenation stance that pervades the book and the nationalism that Grimm espouses were issues with which Faulkner's readers were quite familiar.

The two most shocking acts of violence in the novel are tied to miscegenation: Joanna Burden's near-beheading by Joe Christmas and the castration of Christmas. The virulent racism that Percy Grimm embodies leads to the most brutal violence in this already dark novel: he castrates Joe while the man is still alive so he cannot have intimate relations with any "white women." This punishment is exacted even though Joanna Burden was a "Yankee" ostracized in her adopted town. Whiteness alone placed her higher on Grimm's hierarchy of worthiness than Joe Christmas.

Cite This Study Guide

information icon Have study documents to share about Light in August? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access!