Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 5 | Summary



The chapter opens with a recounting of some of the same information that Byron Bunch shared about Joe Christmas, specifically that Christmas and Joe Brown have a physical altercation. After that Christmas goes and stands outside Joanna Burden's house. He remembers that when he was sexually aroused, he would go into her darkened house and to her bed. He sleeps 2 hours, waking at dawn, and returns to the cabin where Joe Brown is still sleeping. He gathers a few things (including a few magazines) and leaves, only to fall asleep again in the woods. He digs up 6 metal tins of whiskey and spills the whiskey onto the ground. Then, at 7:00 p.m., he is in town. Two hours later he walks through "the negro section, Freedman Town" and then to the part of town where "the houses of white people" are. He walks again, this time through woods and exits to encounter a group of black men and women—who think he is white. He thinks about the razor in his pocket and listens to the courthouse clock, which is 2 miles away. He does this at 10, 11, and 12 o'clock as he sits outside Miss Burden's house.


Here, the narrative repeats some of what the reader had learned in the previous chapter. This is a part of Faulkner's storytelling style. The important details that Byron Bunch provided are validated from the point of view of Joe Christmas. This establishes Byron as a more reliable voice within the novel. Christmas was intimate with Joanna Burden. Christmas recalls that he would "take his sure way through the darkness to her bed. Sometimes she would be awake and waiting and she would speak his name." There is no mistaking the truthfulness of Byron's version of the intimate nature of the relationship between Burden and Christmas.

Further, in the prior chapter Byron notes that Miss Burden's head was "cut pretty near off." The reader will easily see a clue that the murder was by Christmas's hand as there are references to his pocket knife and using it "with the cold and bloodless deliberation of a surgeon" to remove buttons that a woman had sewn on his clothes. Also in this chapter Christmas is noted, pointedly, as removing several items "from the floor beneath his cot." Those items are a magazine with picture of "young women in underclothes or pictures of men in the act of shooting one another," as well as his razor, brush, and shaving soap. At this time the razor that he would likely have had is what modern readers would think of as a straight razor.

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