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Light in August | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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Course Hero. "Light in August Study Guide." April 7, 2018. Accessed June 10, 2023.


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Light in August | Quotes


I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking.

Lena Grove, Chapter 1

Lena's note on her travel here is echoed in the final lines of the novel. Here she is coming to Mississippi from Alabama, and at the end she has left Mississippi for Tennessee. At the onset, she is pregnant and alone. At the close she is with Byron Bunch and her baby and in a wagon. Thus, the novel moves through Lena's life in a circular fashion. This quote gives readers an idea of Lena's voice and character—she's poor, poorly educated, and her life has been hard.


That's why they dip snuff and smoke and want to vote.

Armstid, Chapter 1

Armstid is thinking about women after he has offered Lena Grove a place to sleep at his home and she has replied that she "wouldn't be beholden." The right to vote had only just been granted to women in the United States in 1920 with the passing of the 19th Amendment. The world is changing, he is saying, and he doesn't appear certain it is for the better. The fact that the women in his life also dip snuff and smoke indicates that the women he knows are very poor and working class.


Did you ever hear of a white man named Christmas?

Mooney, Chapter 2

Byron Bunch has just overheard this comment by his foreman, Mooney. Characters in the novel are regularly confused by Joe Christmas's identity, particularly his race, which this quote hints at. The world in which he lived insists that his identity and his race are equivalent, and that his race determines his destiny. However, Christmas "passes" in an effort to transcend his destiny.


It's the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don't try to hold him, that he can't escape from.

Byron Bunch, Chapter 3

Faulkner's focus on the past, a hallmark of Southern Literature, is both personal for his characters and cultural for the community. Here, it is personal. Byron is speaking with Reverend Gail Hightower—who lost his position in town when he lost his wife. "It's the dead folks that do him the damage," Byron is thinking.


Her head had been cut pretty near off.

Byron Bunch, Chapter 4

Joanna Burden was not only murdered, she was savagely killed. The attack against her nearly decapitated her. There is a violence here that raises questions about what could lead a man to such acts. Light in August does not provide the easy answer many people of the era might have given by suggesting that the black race is naturally more violent than the white race. Rather, after this revelation, the text explores Joe Christmas's past, allowing the reader to wonder what experiences in his past led to this moment.


'That's all I wanted,' he thought. 'That don't seem like a whole lot to ask.'

Joe Christmas, Chapter 5

For all of Joe's acts of rage and crime, what he sought (according to him) was a home, acceptance, and love. These things were denied to him from his earliest memories. From this point, the novel begins to explore Joe's history from age 5 to the present. It starts this journey by planting in the readers' minds this clear expression of what he sought in this world. Readers will witness the path he took that leads to violent murder.


Memory believes before knowing remembers.

Narrator, Chapter 6

This enigmatic line, often quoted, is reflective of the novel as a whole. The history of the major characters is revealed to lesser degrees in some cases (Lena Grove) or exhaustively in others (Joe Christmas). This line transitions the reader from the present day of the novel when Joe Christmas is an adult murderer to his experiences as a 5-year-old unwanted child in an orphanage.


Each one was cracked and from each crack there issued something liquid, deathcolored, and foul.

Narrator, Chapter 8

At this point in Joe Christmas's young life, he is about to embark on sexual relations with his girlfriend—a prostitute named Bobbie Allen. She has just told him about menstruation, something that shocks him, although he has heard something of it before. He runs away, and his imagination raises up this image of "suavely shaped urns," and vomits. His experience and reflection on it are part of the novel's exploration of the female as both giver of life and harbinger of death.


I know now that what makes a fool is an inability to take even his own good advice.

Joe Christmas, Chapter 12

This is Joe assessing his situation. He has just taken on Joe Brown as a fellow bootlegger and invited him to live in the cabin. He is now worried about hiding his relationship with Joanna Burden. He acknowledges to himself at this point that he is afraid of her.


That's how he finds that he can bear anything ... That's what is so terrible. That he can bear anything.

Reverend Gail Hightower, Chapter 13

This notion that man can perform and endure more than he should be able to, more than he thinks he can, is echoed years later in Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech when he remarks on men's capacity to "endure" and a hallmark of tragedy since Greek times. The characters that Faulkner depicts often are those pressed down by extreme circumstances. It is as much a trait of his writing as are his lengthy sentences and non-linear narratives.


Time, the spaces of light and dark, had long since lost any orderliness.

Joe Christmas, Chapter 13

Joe Christmas is on the run and has just accidentally slept for hours and has lost all sense of time. He has had to ask someone what day it is. His sense of time has been erased by shock, flight, hunger, and sleeplessness. This sort of poetic phrasing is a mark of much of Faulkner's prose. It conveys information, but it often does so in a beautiful way even when the subject isn't beautiful. And in so doing, it reflects a character's mangled thought process far better than any linear description could.


It's God's abomination of womanflesh!

Doc Hines, Chapter 16

Doc Hines (Joe's biological grandfather) cries out in fury against all women and more specifically against his daughter, Milly, who is Joe's mother. Faulkner's characters in this and others of his novels act in confused and conflicted ways when confronted with women. Joe Christmas experiences it when he has an opportunity to experience sex for the first time, and then beats the young woman instead. He experiences it with Bobbie Allen and later with Joanna Burden, whom he murders.


A fellow running ... toward a gun ain't got time to worry whether ... what he is doing is courage or cowardice.

Byron Bunch, Chapter 17

The idea of whether it's courage to act in the moment is intriguing in light of the speaker. Byron is steadfast. He protects Lena Grove, and his most radical acts are fighting Joe Brown and asking Hightower to lie to provide an alibi for Joe Christmas. Many other spur-of-the-moment actions on the part of other characters are far less heroic, but this quote examines whether that is due to the nature of the characters or the nature of their circumstances.


Now you'll let white women alone, even in hell.

Percy Grimm, Chapter 19

Percy is the extreme manifestation of the anti-miscegenation sentiment that pervaded the United States, especially the South, for more than a century. He says this as he enacts brutal violence on Joe Christmas, castrating him as he dies.


Here we ain't been coming from Alabama but two months, and now it's already Tennessee.

Lena Grove, Chapter 21

This statement is the bookend to the opening remark that Lena Grove makes about her journey into Mississippi when she expresses mild surprise at the distance she has traveled. It is a surprise the reader may feel as well, considering the spiritual distance over which the novel has traversed. It is significant in that it reflects her character, still steadfast, still calm and placid, still in search of her child's father, Joe Brown, but now accompanied by Byron Bunch, who has offered her marriage repeatedly.

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