Major Themes In Faulkner’s Light In August

Light In August:
A Study of 20th Century Man\'s Search for Self
A Study of the Origins of Evil




"...a man\'s future is inherent in that man..."
-Faulkner in the University. p.139


Faulkner\'s Light in August is a metaphor. In fact it is many
metaphors, almost infinitely many. It is a jumble of allusions,
themes, portraits, all of them uniquely important, many of them
totally unrelated. In fact no 20th century writer has even
approached the sheer quantity of symbolism Faulkner packed into
every page, with, perhaps, the exception of James Joyce who went so
far as to surpass Faulkner in this regard. So obviously it would be
foolish to attempt to trace every line, follow every branch to its
root, one could spend a lifetime dissecting the book in this
manner. Fortunately, in the midst of this menagerie of wonders,
there are dominate themes. There are veins of meaning that permeate
throughout. Chief among them; Faulkner\'s study of 20th century
man\'s search for identity, and his compassionate portrait of the
origins of evil.
I have come from Alabama a fur piece (Faulkner, p.3). The
reader begins the book in this manner, following the simple-minded
and determined Lena as she travels, neither coming nor going,
simply moving. Immediately the book draws into her past, relating
events leading up to this point, explaining her motives. One gets a
definite feel for her character, and settles into her narrative,
but as soon as this happens, the book switches gears, turning
instead to a vague character, Joe Christmas. With little
introduction, or warning, the book reels into Joe\'s past, catching
the reader totally unaware and throwing off the entire continuity
of the book. Faulkner\'s desire for unity and coherence in the
pattern is not as strong as is his desire for truth to individual
response (Reed, p.123). Thus Lena is a frame, she serves only to
accentuate Christmas\'s story, by contrast. Faulkner demands the
reader follow, and realize this.
So we now see Christmas\'s childhood. From the beginning,
Christmas is two things. One, he is a totally clean slate in that
he has no idea whatsoever of his past, his origins. He is neither
predestined to good nor evil, simply born. By this same token,
Christmas is left confused. Because he has no idea of his origins,
he has no idea of self, even to the extent of not being sure of his
race. Christmas is thoroughly alone in the world, irredeemably
separate from everyone.
"Well, here I am" (Faulkner, p.134). This is the first thing
The boy Christmas says. A fitting statement on his utter aloneness.
While Christmas is emotionally alone, he is not left alone by
others. Light in August reiterates its themes by a series of
different dramatic scenes acted by different examples of the same
types (Gold, p.41). McEarhern and the dietitian are essentially the
same: Authority figures who try to force on him their own ideas of
who he is, or who they want him to be. And the two, identical,
dramatic scenes acted by different examples of the same types, are
these: When Christmas is carried off by the insane janitor, and
when Christmas faints after spending hours standing while McEarhern
tries to force him to learn a pointless Catechism. Both scenes
involve Christmas\'s inability to resist, as authority figures try
to determine who he will be. Both scenes end with Christmas being
more confused than ever, yet more unwilling than ever to commit to
either picture of himself.
The dietitian does all in her power to convict Christmas of
being a Negro, and then, his foster father, McEarhern, tries to
force on Christmas an ideology totally foreign to him. McEarhern
uses extreme Calvinism to mold Christmas into a purely moral
person, while the dietitian tries to force Christmas into a state
of immorality, or at least portray him as such. Forces beyond his
control work against him, trying to force him in ways he is not,
sending him in contradicting paths.
Inevitably he rebels against these forces, finding refuge in
immorality, a whore, and later going so far as to strike out
against his oppressor, his own father, killing him. This final act
of defiance is not so much an act of