Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Light in August | Chapter 9 | Summary



Simon McEachern lies awake in bed, thinking about Joe's suit. He sees Joe get in a car, so he saddles a horse and follows him to a schoolhouse where there's a dance. He sees Joe Christmas and Bobbie Allen and approaches, telling her, "Away, Jezebel! ... Away, harlot!" McEachern starts striking at Joe, who hits him with a chair. Bobbie is furious, screaming, flailing as people at the dance try to hold her. He goes after them with the chair, and they release Bobbie and back away. "I said I would kill him some day!" Joe cries. Bobbie has fled the room and gotten into her car. Joe follows and tells her to leave, that he will see her back in town, but she is furious at him as well and strikes at him, pounding him in the face.

As Bobbie drives off, Joe takes McEachern's horse and rides home. He takes Mrs. McEachern's money and goes to town to Bobbie. He is stopped by Max Confrey and another man, who ask if Joe killed a man. Joe says he doesn't know but is there to get Bobbie, that he "went home to get the money to get married." He gives Bobbie the money, and she tosses it and tells the others that Joe's not white. The conversation falls into italicized snippets: "Is he really a nigger? He don't look like one" and "We'll see if his blood is black." They beat him until a woman stops them.


The backstory of Joe's life isn't only his story. Joe is a product of the events that happened in his life. He was apprehended—still barely a man—by his religiously zealous adoptive father. McEachern calls Bobbie Allen a "harlot" and "Jezebel." He responds to the sight of Joe at the dance with violence.

The reader can easily see how violence affected Joe and shaped his personality both as a young adult and later in his life. Readers must also consider the statement Joe made as an adult in Chapter 5. He is walking through a white neighborhood and observes 4 people playing cards on a veranda, peacefully enjoying a "trivial" game. He thinks that such a peaceful interlude is all he wanted and isn't "a whole lot to ask."

Here in Chapter 9, Joe has found someone, Bobbie, who gives him affection rather than violence. She is older and a prostitute, but he wanted family and peace, an ordinary life. It is then no wonder that Joe reacts as he does when McEachern interrupts the dance, calling Bobbie names and then striking out at Joe. His rebuff by Bobbie adds insult to injury, and the beating that follows further demoralizes him.

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