Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 2 | Summary



Byron Bunch recalls the arrival of a new worker, a man in a pressed suit whose surname is Christmas. He works in his fine clothes, smokes, and isn't social. In fact, he is something of a mysterious figure about whom none of his coworkers know anything. Come the second week, he has new overalls. Christmas works at the mill for 3 years and then, just 6 months ago, another worker, calling himself Joe Brown, is hired. Several of the men then recall that they've bought whiskey from Joe Christmas for several years in the woods "behind an old colonial plantation house" owned by a woman named Burden. Christmas and Brown work shoveling sawdust. One day—right after the workers see Brown and Christmas in a new car—Christmas quits. Brown follows not long after.

Byron Bunch is approached by Lena Grove (a young woman unknown to him), who is disappointed that he is not the man she was seeking. They discuss that no one is around because of the fire at Joanna Burden's house. Byron suggests that "folks in this town will call it a judgment on her" because she is a Yankee. He tells Lena about Joe Christmas and Joe Brown, and in the conversation she realizes that Joe Brown is Lucas Burch. Byron is "already in love, though he does not know it" and "could have bitten his tongue in two" when he realizes what he's told her.


Byron Bunch enters Lena Grove's life due to a name similarity. Lucas Burch and Byron Bunch sound close enough that Lena seeks him out, hoping that he is the man she's looking for. Notably, he is in some way the man she seeks in that upon her arrival Lena enters into Byron's care. He protects her, shelters her, and he does so for reasons of his own. The narrator—and later Hightower—attribute this to love or to lust or covetousness. Regardless of the reason (which Faulkner never explicitly clarifies), Byron becomes a husband-like presence in Lena's life. Lena maintains her Madonna-like state in that she does not have relations with him or accept him as a spouse.

In contrast to Byron, Joe Brown (Lucas Burch) is an irresponsible man. He has abandoned Lena and even changed his name in an attempt to hide from her. He and Joe Christmas are engaging in the illegal act of selling alcohol. The reader will recall that the novel takes place during the period of Prohibition (1919–33).

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