Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 8 | Summary



Joe Christmas slips out his window and retrieves his hidden, new suit in the stable. He realizes Mr. McEachern knows about it. Still he dresses in the dark, leaves, and walks up the lane where he will meet a car. He hears it approach. It is driven by Bobbie Allen, a waitress whom he met 6 months before when he was in the restaurant with Mr. McEachern. For 6 months he had not gone to the diner again, and when Joe sees her again, it's spring. He's 18. He has a dime from Mr. McEachern, and he goes to the diner where he orders pie and coffee. He cannot afford both, so he sends the coffee back. When the blonde woman at the counter—the proprietor's wife, Mame Confrey—questions Bobbie about the coffee, Bobbie lies, saying it was her fault: she misunderstood the order. Afterward he sees Mr. McEachern who has purchased a heifer for him. Joe thinks that the cow is not a gift but a threat. A month later Joe returns to the diner to give Bobbie the nickel he owed her for the coffee. Bobbie isn't there and the proprietor refuses the nickel. Outside Joe sees Bobbie, and they talk.

Faulkner now jumps to another scene 4 years before in which Joe and his friends talk about girls. The boy who had arranged the meeting with the girl in the shed observes that "they all want to ... but sometimes they can't," a reference to their menstrual cycles. The boy explains in detail, though not accurately. So Joe learned about menstrual cycles and it upsets him, and he has trouble accepting it, and then he forgets about it.

Joe is now meeting Bobbie for a date. Bobbie tries to explain that she is ill; she's forgotten "the day of the month." After she explains her meaning to him Joe runs away and vomits. They meet again the next Monday and go into the woods to have sex. Thereafter Joe begins to steal from Mrs. McEachern's hidden money.

In the final pages of the chapter, the diner owners, Max and Mame Confrey, tease Bobbie about "coming all the way down here from Memphis. Bringing it all the way down here to give it away" to Joe. She points out that she's with Joe on her own time, not theirs. Joe and Bobbie are lovers for a month before he sees her naked, and while they are there naked, he tells her, "I think I got some nigger blood in me." She doesn't believe him. Joe sees her at the house where she lives with Max and Mame Confrey. Several weeks later Joe goes to the house where Bobbie lives and sees a man in her room. He doesn't see her for 2 weeks, and when he does, he strikes her, but she comforts him and explains that she's a prostitute. When she says she thought he knew, he responds, "I reckon I didn't." Now that he's realized Bobbie is a prostitute, he begins to spend more time with her, drinking and smoking. However, he is sure to be home before daylight so he can "get into the house before he was caught."


Here, again, the division of women into pure and impure continues. When Joe Christmas first sees Bobbie with another man, he reacts by striking her repeatedly. He had thought she was pure, and his discovery of her with another man shocks him and prompts his violence. But then he discovers she is a prostitute, and he adjusts rapidly to this new information. Apparently, it no longer bothers him that she has sex with other men because, after all, she's impure, a prostitute.

The issue of sexuality as abhorrent and disgusting is drawn in vivid detail, and the imagery is notably unsettling. Upon hearing about menstruation, Joe imagines that he sees "a diminishing row of suavely shaped urns." Further, none of the urns are "perfect." Instead "each one was cracked and from each crack there issued something liquid, deathcolored, and foul." These images of smooth, bleeding vessels fill Joe with horror. His response is to vomit.

The fear and disgust and violence associated with female sexuality is extreme in this particular chapter. And it gives the backstory that explains Joe Christmas's violence as an adult when he kills and nearly decapitates his lover, Joanna Burden. Readers might reasonably conclude that Joe's fear of women and views of sex are steps that lead to that act.

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