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Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 3 | Summary



This chapter introduces Reverend Gail Hightower, a disgraced minister whose wife "went bad" and was killed or committed suicide in Memphis. He's fallen on hard times because of the scandal created by his wife. The next section of the chapter shifts to Byron Bunch, who recalls wondering what the D.D. after the reverend's name meant. Byron recalls more of Hightower's history and of his wife's history and decline. She left for extended stretches of time, and one day she started shrieking during services. Mrs. Hightower was put in a sanatorium. Briefly following her release she was a model minister's wife. Then she began vanishing again. Eventually she either jumped or fell from a hotel window in Memphis, where she had been staying with another man. The town tried to fire Hightower, but he refused initially. The town's hostility included threats against his black cook by the Ku Klux Klan, as well as a beating suffered by Hightower at the hands of the KKK. The chapter closes with Byron showing up to see Hightower.


The reference to the Ku Klux Klan in this chapter is as if for background information. The topic of race is central to the novel. The reader cannot miss the use of racist language, violence toward African American characters, and the hostility Joe Christmas exhibits because of his belief that he is of mixed ancestry. The overt details of racial inequality are overwhelming in the book, but the matter-of-factness of the telling about it is also noteworthy.

The Ku Klux Klan is the oldest hate group in America, and it remains active today. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that the KKK was formed in 1865. Over the last century and a half, in addition to black Americans the group has "attacked Jews, immigrants, gays and lesbians and, until recently, Catholics." The group was formed at the end of the Civil War to intimidate Southern African Americans—and any whites who would help them—and to deprive them of their civil rights. In this chapter, the KKK threatened Hightower's (black) cook and assaulted him. They function almost as a side note within the text, notably because they were not an atypical presence in the post-war South. They are, in context, a more violent version of the town's censure of Hightower as a result of his wife's scandalous death. Hightower did not bend to the town's will, and he woke to a note tied to a brick "commanding him to get out of town by sunset and signed K.K.K." When he didn't obey, he was tied up and beaten until he was unconscious.

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