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Light in August | Symbols

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Streets

The first character to be introduced in the novel is Lena Grove, a placid, young, pregnant woman sitting beside a road, or street, in the midst of her journey. The narrator notes that "she is looking ahead, to where the road curves on and away, crossslanted with shadows." Her road is the journey of life, and she continues on it with surety and calm. Lena is unflappable. She believes she is walking toward something and is certain she will find it in time.

In contrast Joe Christmas has been running from something. The narrator writes that Joe has been following "one street" for 15 years, noting that "the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene." While Lena has the refrain of a "fur piece" (a long distance), Joe's experience of the street is that of a long journey that "ran into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south again as Mexico and then back north to Chicago and Detroit and then back south again and at last to Mississippi." No matter where he runs, it's the "same" street.

Sheep

The sheep in Light in August is referenced four times in a short space in Chapter 8. Around the time when Joe Christmas is becoming involved with the waitress Bobbie Allen, a prostitute, he shoots a sheep he has "stalked." He then kneels, "his hands in the yet warm blood." Two days later he sees Bobbie, who cannot have sex because she is menstruating. The sheep is again referenced as he "fled backward, past the slain sheep" when Bobbie tells him of menstruation. The sheep, a Christian symbol of innocence, is dead—as is Joe's innocence.

Fire

Fire, like the symbol of the slain sheep in Light in August, is drawn from Christian imagery. Joanna Burden is a Yankee. Her family had moved to the South looking for post-war advantages. Miss Burden lives in solitude, an unmarried woman who spent 3 years having sexual relations with Joe Christmas. Her death is followed by a fiery conflagration that is the earthly equivalent of hellfire and damnation for her "immoral" ways. The local people come and watch the Burden house burn; "Within five minutes after the countryman found the fire, the people began to gather."

Questions for Symbols

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