criticism dealing with Light In August

KeskusteluWilliam Faulkner and his Literary Kin

Liity LibraryThingin jäseneksi, niin voit kirjoittaa viestin.

criticism dealing with Light In August

Tämä viestiketju on "uinuva" —viimeisin viesti on vanhempi kuin 90 päivää. Ryhmä "virkoaa", kun lähetät vastauksen.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:12 pm

This is a long essay on confronting social crisis

Hookwormridden heirs or good stock?: confronting social crisis in light in August.(Critical essay).

The Mississippi Quarterly 61.3 (Summer 2008): p435(25). (10364 words)

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2008 Mississippi State University

It had been there seven years and in seven years more it would
destroy all the timber within its reach. Then some of the machinery
and most of the men who ran it and existed because of and for it
would be loaded onto freight cars and moved away. But some of the
machinery would be left ... gaunt, staring, motionless wheels rising
from mounds of brick rubble and ragged weeds ... a stumppocked scene
of profound and peaceful desolation, unplowed, untilled, gutting
slowly into red and choked ravines.... Then the hamlet ... would
not now even be remembered by the hookwormridden heirs at large who
pulled the buildings down and burned them in cookstoves and winter
grates. (4-5)
This passage shows William Faulkner's concern for those many Southerners who struggled against desperate conditions during the Great Depression. Here and elsewhere, Light in August seems to evince genuine anxiety about social conditions and point to the structural causes of these conditions. (1) In his revisions Faulkner made this critique even more explicit. The manuscript's phrase "All the men in the village worked at the mill" became "worked in the mill or for it," a change which stressed the lumber industry's domination of rural communities. Similarly, "some of the machinery and most of the men who ran it could be loaded onto cars and moved away" became "some of the machinery and most of the men who ran it and existed because of and for it," a change which also suggested, in near Marxist terms, the condition of alienated labor. In addition, Faulkner changed "hookworm ridden people" to "hookwormridden heirs at large" to emphasize the continuity of poverty and illness across generations (Light in August 1986).

That Light in August should reveal anxiety about social conditions is understandable: Faulkner wrote it during the worst years of the Depression, beginning August 17, 1931, and finishing the first draft February 19, 1932 (Blotner 701,764). During this rime, net income in the US fell from ninety to forty-two billion dollars. By the end of 1932, fifteen million Americans--thirty-one percent of the population--were unemployed (Bauman 3). Mississippi suffered greatly, in 1932 having a debt of fourteen million dollars with only a thousand dollars in its treasury (Daniel 111). On a single day in April 1932 a vast quantity of land was auctioned off to pay back taxes--"a fourth of the entire area of Mississippi," writes George Tindall, "went under the hammer" (355).

The Oxford Eagle frequently commented on these hard rimes, this "melancholy financial situation, the likes of which has never vexed the taxpayers of the commonwealth." "The entire human economic structure," the Eaglewrote, "has been brought to the verge of ruin under the difficulties that have swept over not only the nation but the entire world" ("Hard Times"). The Eagle also offered suggestions for ending this crisis. Foremost among these was the view that the Depression could be overcome by a change in individual psychologies: "If we were a little more optimistic, a little more sympathetic with our fellow man, a little more confident in our abilities . . . we would not have business depression, farm relief, or the unemployment to be worried about" ("Hoarded"). People should realize, according to the Eagle, that the suffering caused by the Depression could actually be beneficial: "It is a good thing for humanity that life is not always pleasant and easy. Intelligence, ability and character are developed best in the face of adversity. And the harder the struggle, the more fun there is in looking back" ("The Cure"). These problems could also be solved through neighborly kindness and assistance. Oxford citizens were advised to "Help a deserving man or woman to get a little paying work or better, a regular job" ("Hoarded"). Several businesses, meanwhile, were said to "have instituted cures for unemployment within their organizations. Every business," the Eagle urged, "should do likewise" ("The Cure"). Behind this wishful thinking lay a fear that outside forces might intervene in local affairs and intrude on the workings of the market. The Eagle warned, "One of the inevitable results of hard times is renewed demands for further extension of the activities of the Federal Government.... hardly a day passes without a new suggested panacea" ("Government"). Government-sponsored relief was no solution; rather, it led to "the destruction of character and pride" ("The Cure"). Mississippians should ignore the destructive allure of government handouts. And they should "discourage calamity howlers," those who spoke in dire and pessimistic tones ("Hoarded"). Above all, the people should recognize that the spirit of individual effort would resolve this crisis, for "when the snake of hard times comes along we just have to get out of a hole ... we find some way to do what we didn't believe we could do" ("The Cure").

Faulkner's cranky individualism and (for 1930s Mississippi) liberal views hardly suggest shared values with the chamber-of-commerce-endorsing Oxford Eagle. In his fiction, Faulkner often depicts the injuries produced by capitalism. Yet like the Oxford Eagle, Light in August expresses both an anxiety about the Depression and a wishful belief that this crisis can be resolved through individual effort (and it expresses the corollary: that this instability is produced by individuals). (2)

The novel begins with pregnant, unmarried twenty-year-old Lena Grove on a trek to find the man who impregnated and deserted her. With only thirty-five cents, carrying her possessions in a bandanna handkerchief, and wearing her brother's worn out shoes, she seems an icon of the Depression. Even the trajectory of her life--from parents' home to a crowded lean-to room to a penniless journey by foot--traces a path of decline familiar to many in the 1930s. But the pregnant Lena, deliberately pursuing her lover, Lucas Butch (and in turn being pursued by Byron Bunch), is more than a figure of the Depression: she is driven by and embodies the life-force. Faulkner contrasts her slow-moving vitality with the remains of the mill, its "profound desolation, unplowed and untilled." Unlike this desolate landscape, Lena remains a fertile Grove planted with and by Burch. Lena is a product of nature, at one with its generative powers and cyclical rhythms. She seems to reside in a timeless realm, moving "with the untroubled unhaste of a change of season" (52), unaffected by the hardships a homeless pregnant woman would confront in the Depression. She easily survives on the kindness of strangers, perceiving her journey as "a peaceful corridor paved with unflagging and tranquil faith and peopled with kind and nameless faces and voices" (7), a perception reinforced at the end of the novel by the comments of a traveling furniture dealer: "she had got along all right this far, with folks taking good care of her" (506). (3) Part Madonna, part holy fool, Lena is blissfully ignorant of her plight, and this ignorance is her saving grace.

Lena transcends her setting as well through her appearance: her journey has left her unmarked. Homeless for nearly a month, with little if any change of clothing, Lena is miraculously healthy and well-groomed: "From beneath a sunbonnet of faded blue, weathered now by other than formal soap and water, she looks up . . . quietly and pleasantly: young, pleasantfaced, candid, friendly, and alert" (11); "her hair is combed smooth.... her blue garment looks freshened and rested" (17). In contrast, Joanna Burden (in the words of Byron Bunch) "stood in the yard in a dress and sunbonnet that some nigger women ... wouldn't have wore for its shape and how it made her look" (88). The same apparel that ennobles Lena degrades Joanna.

Some may argue that Bunch's statements should be read ironically, that Faulkner valorizes more than critiques Burden. (4) Irony, of course, is omnipresent in Faulkner. Although Faulkner may be gently mocking him (and the community's views which he paraphrases), these comments, we believe, are consistent with the novel's character system, which largely repudiates Joanna Burden and what she stands for, especially her racial beliefs. By "character system" we mean a hierarchy of valuation that (largely though not wholly or simplistically) sympathizes with some characters and criticizes others through formal parallels and contrasts. For example, in light in August, the valuing of Lena Grove, an embodiment of the life principle, is inseparable from the devaluing of Joanna Burden, whose character weds disease and Northern abolition.

Thus while Lena's worn clothing is associated with cleanliness, Joanna's nearly identical clothing is evidence of her degeneracy. For Joe Christmas, Joanna's cleanliness merely disguises her innate filth: there "moved articulate beneath the clean, austere garments which she wore that rotten richness ready to flow into putrefaction at a touch, like something growing in a swamp" (262). Similarly, whereas Lena, with her "neat hair" (17), appears the picture of health (in keeping with her vital connection to nature), Joanna, with "hair just beginning to gray drawn gauntly back to a knot as savage and ugly as a wart on a diseased bough" (275), is ill (in keeping with her pathological racial beliefs and sexual practices). In the novel's symbology, Lena is a healthy Grove, Joanna a sick bough.

Lena seems immune to the wearying, dirtying experience of life on the road. Even descriptions of the shacks she lived in give little indication of the grime of poverty. Before the death of her parents, Lena lived in a three-room log house "without screens, in a room lighted by a bugswirled kerosene lamp, the naked floor worn smooth as old silver by naked feet" (4). After her parents' death, she lived in more narrow circumstances in "a four room and unpainted house with her brother's labor- and childridden wife," sleeping in "a leanto room at the back of the house" (5). This setting conveys a sense of the hardscrabble life of the poor, but in Light in August we get only a fleeting impression of life on the bottom. Little about Lena suggests that poverty has injured her. The descriptions of Lena contrast with the gaunt face and dead eyes that later in the decade would haunt the photographs of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. Unaffected by her quest, she is "young, pleasantfaced, candid, friendly, and alert" (11). Her well-being persists to the end of the novel. Even after she has given birth and returned to the road for another eight weeks, she is a "young, pleasantfaced gal" (495) with a "face ... just as quiet and calm as it had ever been" (504). This emphasis on Lena as "pleasantfaced," as having a face quiet and calm, fits the novel's mythos, Lena as comic Madonna.

Although the most prevalent disease in the novel is psychological (racial and sexual pathology), Faulkner alludes to the aforementioned "hookwormridden heirs-at-large" who live off the remains of an abandoned mill. Hookworm was generated by "two widespread deficiencies of rural life: lack of shoes and unsanitary toilets" (Charles Stiles, qtd. in Flynt 179). Though overly optimistic assessments of Northern philanthropists claimed that hookworm had been eliminated by the 1930s, Charles Stiles found its incidence widespread in the South--varying from twenty-six to forty-nine percent (Flynt 179). Hookworm caused severe anemia that was exacerbated by inadequate diets. Also, as one doctor noted, "In children, development, both physical and mental, is retarded and an infected child is dull and backward at school" (Ettling 4). Thus when the elite and the middle class stereotyped poor whites as "yellow skinned, shiftless and lazy" (Flynt 179), as slow and dumb, they were often describing people suffering from a poverty-induced disease which was explained as "degeneracy." This poverty in turn was perpetuated by an oppressive class system that promoted, and was itself a form of, violence against the poor. (5) Although Light in August refers to "hookwormridden heirs" who scavenge for firewood from the remains of a sawmill, and associates Lena with just this class of people by describing her slow movement in ways that suggest anemia and by repeatedly noting her bare feet, (6) symbolically, Lena cannot be a hookwormridden heir. Instead, this Grove is rooted in the soil. (7) The contrast between realist moment (poor, homeless, malnourished white woman and hookwormridden heir) and symbolic role (incarnation of peace and stability) could not be greater. Rather than weakened by disease, pregnancy, and homelessness, Lena is, at the end of the novel, the embodiment of health, "a young, strapping gal" (496) who, the furniture repairer who saw what happened surmises, "picked Byron Bunch up and set him back outside on the ground like she would a child of.., about six years old" (503). This conflict between realism and mythology is indicative of the novel's ambivalence about contemporary social crisis. Its realist elements express a concern for the Depression's victims and hint at the causes of their victimization. Yet the narrative's reliance upon myth (character types residing in a timeless setting) means the ramifications of the Doane's Mill passage--of hookwormridden heirs-at-large pulling buildings down and burning them in cookstoves--are not pursued.

Byron met Lena at the planing mill where he had worked six days a week, for seven years (since 1926). (8) He was alone at the mill, the only person who worked a full day on Saturdays (by his own choosing): "Saturday afternoons ... he spends there, alone now, with the other workmen all down town.... On these Saturday afternoons he loads the finished boards into freight cars ... keeping his own time to the final second of an imaginary whistle" (47). While Byron chooses to work on Saturday afternoons, workers in lumber mills had little such flexibility. Since employment in lumber mills was intermittent due to market fluctuations and the difficulty of extracting logs from rain-soaked land, many could not count on full-time employment. (9) Those fortunate enough to work full-time faced grueling days, between fifty-nine and sixty-two hours per week (in 1928). Conditions at the Eastern Gardiner Mills in Laurel, Mississippi, were typical: "There were 807 employed on a 10-hour basis, 6 days a week, and pay was not much more than in 1893. Machine tenders at the Masonite Presswood plant in Laurel, had to come in Sunday to clean and repair their equipment which took several hours or all day but there was no extra pay" (Todes 104).

Depression-era overtime and job insecurity become in Light in August steady and personally fulfilling employment in which Byron controls the pace of work, keeping his own time and listening for an imaginary whistle, with no co-workers or supervisors. (10) Byron needs no threat to undertake back-breaking labor: he "makes . . . steady and interminable journeys between the shed and the car ... bearing upon his shoulder stacked burdens of staves which another would have said he could not raise nor carry" (50). (At the end of the novel--to reinforce Byron's dependence upon Lena's vitality--Lena picks up this strong man like a child.) And he allots himself only a five-minute break. When Lena asks the obvious question, "A few minutes wouldn't make no difference, would it?" Byron responds, "I reckon I aint paid for setting down" (52). The furniture dealer who meets Lena and Byron at the end of the novel recognizes Byron's essential character: he "looked like a good fellow, the kind that would hold a job steady and work at the same job a long time, without bothering anybody about a raise neither, long as they let him keep on working" (496). In light in August, a "good fellow" is not just quiet and hardworking but obedient. Byron's refusal even to consider a raise is part of his goodness--only a malingering womanizer like Lucas Burch would complain about working "ten hours a day... for a little piddling fifteen cents an hour" (431). Byron is the ideal worker; he has internalized the rhythms of the planing mill and the logic of his employer, to work long and hard with little rest, for little money, and without complaint. Having no life outside of work, Byron is almost inseparable from the mill (like the men of Doane's Mill who "existed because of it and for it")--until rescued by the epiphany of Lena.

While it would be overstating the case to say that Byron is associated with the destruction of nature--his work conditions are too much under his control and far too pleasant and pastoral--his lonely adherence to the Protestant work ethic and his association with the mechanical and unnatural would seem to require the supplement Lena provides. Byron may continue working at the mill, internalizing the strictures of the Protestant work ethic and severing himself from nature, or he may join the fertile Grove, embracing the female principle and achieving a life freed from Calvinist pathologies. From their initial meeting, Lena and Byron are linked, "her face quiet and tranquil, and he watching her as quietly" (52). In contrast, the quietness of Joanna and Joe is, like their cleanliness, a means of hiding their true natures, which are revealed in their depraved sexual encounters, in Joanna's "avidity for the forbidden wordsymbols; an insatiable appetite for the sound of them on Joe's tongue and on her own" (258). Lena and Byron, on the contrary, represent an ideal-typical community uniting the Protestant work ethic (divorced from a psychopathological Calvinist psychology) and Nature. (11) This community includes those white workers who, embodying Franklinian ideals, come

quietly and soberly to work, in dean overalls and dean shirts,
waiting quietly until the whistle blew and then going quietly to
work, as though there were still something of sabbath in the
overlingering air which established a tenet that, no matter what a
man had done with his sabbath, to come quiet and clean to work on
Monday morning was no more than seemly and right to do. (41)
Going to work on Monday dean, sober, and quiet is a sign of reverence that contrasts with the loud, unruly behavior of Doc Hines and the fanatical religiosity of Simon McEachern. And it contrasts with Joe, also loud and unruly, who, like Hines, barges into a black church, disrupting the service. Joe's fellow outcast Lucas Burch is loud and unruly as well. While the mill's workers walk quietly to work, Lucas "would be more noisy than ever, shouting and playing the pranks of a child of ten" (41), and at work "he would laugh, shout with laughter" (40). (12) Joe is quiet at work, though this quietness is not a sign of dutiful acceptance of the work ethic but of a barely concealed rage: he "worked with silent and unflagging savageness" (40). If Byron's silence suggests acceptance of the social order, Joe's silence suggests rebellion--a rebellion driven by psychopathology, not recognition of oppression. In Light in August there is no genuine resistance to exploitation--such resistance is read as flawed character, the product of a diseased psyche. The only strategy for dealing with exploitation seems to be mute acceptance of the way things are. As Hightower tells Byron, "all that any man can hope for is to be permitted to live quietly among his fellows" (75).

This emphasis on workers' quietness obscures the dangerous nature of their labor. Except for one mention of the men who "work among the whirring and grating belts and shafts" (32), the novel takes no notice of work conditions. These men have leisure enough to stand around and chat, to follow an "imaginary whistle," and in the case of Lucas Burch, to "work ... some, though, after a fashion," to not even "do a good job of malingering" (38). There is no indication here that industrial work in the South was undergoing a process of Taylorization that led to a labor revolt in Carolina textile mills in the late 1920s. (13) As W. J. Cash explains, to be a white Southern worker victimized by this form of industrial speed-up was to

be deprived of one's dignity as an individual and made into a sort
of automaton; to be stood over by a taskmaster with a stop-watch in
his hand (a taskmaster who himself would have an "efficiency
expert," usually a Yankee, at his elbow), and checked on at each
visit to the water-cooler or toilet; to be everlastingly hazed on
to greater exertion by curt commands and sneers, and to have to
stand periodically and take a dressing down with a white face, just
as though one were a nigger, under the ever present threat of being
summarily dismissed. (352)
Work conditions in sawmills were harsh, sometimes intolerable. Charlotte Todes explains: "exposure to unguarded machinery, conveyers, belts and saws in the mills ... caused many serious accidents," "dangers were intensified by the speeding up of the processes," and conditions at these mills led to a "high mortality rate from tuberculosis among woodworkers" (135). Yet the logic of the novel, which valorizes the work ethic, inverts these dangers. It is not a spinning saw that one should be wary of but that tool of the devil, idleness. Thus Joe and Lucas, with the luxury they gain from selling bootleg liquor, move "about the town, idle, destinationless, and constant, with Burch lolling behind the wheel and not making a very good job of being dissolute and enviable and idle" (46). Byron does not fall prey to these sins because he knows that "a fellow is bound to get into mischief soon as he quits working" (55). But if idleness breeds mischief, work offers safety: "out there at the mill on a Saturday afternoon ... the chance to be hurt could not have found him" (417). Yet the very sound of the circular saw was a health hazard. Forty feet in length and moving at a rate of thousands of feet per minute, the saw generated a noise

so overpowering that survivors of the experience say it vibrated
the skull. Verbal communication was out of the question.... After a
long time at this type of work, one former blocksetter admitted he
could read the lips of actors in silent movies. The question should
have been whether he would have been able to hear the dialogue if
there had been sound. (Mayor 47)
Ironically, the men employed by the planing mill are quiet on the way to work but make easy chatter during work, the earsplitting din of saws and belts and engines muffled by the novel's aesthetic.

In this emphasis on quietness it is hard not to hear a fear of the mob, the poor workers who threaten to rise against oppressive conditions. (14) During 1931 and 1932, the number of workers experiencing strikes or lockouts in the United States increased nearly three-fold: from 324,210 to 1,168,272 (Green 143). Union organizing in the South, difficult at all times, grew even tougher in the Depression, with its vast army of surplus labor. Organized resistance in the Southern lumber industry did not increase--because of racism, employer hostility, the instability of the lumber industry, and the prevalence of child labor. (15) Organizers faced death or jail, where they often served as convict labor. An anonymous letter from Mobile, Alabama, in 1937 summarizes both the working conditions and the obstacles to organizing labor in Southern lumber mills:

I used to get in 1929 and for several years prior to that time one
dollar per hour straight time for my work, and now get sixty cents
per hour. About ninety-five per cent of the saw-mill work is done
by negro common labor and they get in this section from 16 1/2
cents per hour to 20 cents per hour ... I do not see how they live
and work on what they are able to buy to eat.... There has never
been an opportunity for the Southern hardwood and pine saw-mill
workers to organize as nearly all the work is done by negroes, and
they have no chance to organize in this part of the country.
(Markowitz 168)
Nonetheless, it is important to note that, despite these obstacles, there exists a long history of labor struggle in the Southern timber industry. (16)

This history is not alluded to in Light in August. When describing the sober and quiet men marching dutifully to work, the "good fellows" like Byron refusing even to consider higher wages, the novel does not suggest this passivity might be due to the smashing of lumber workers' organizations. These good fellows are likely to have been quiet because being vocal risked abuse and termination. Yet Light in August does show the determining power of a very different kind of history. Hightower, who grew to "manhood among phantoms, and side by side with a ghost" (474) and who preached sermons "full of galloping cavalry and defeat and glory" (63), is defined by struggle with his grandfather's martial legacy. History as ever in Faulkner's fiction shapes the present. But in Light in August this history appears in the form of romantic legend, a patrimony of honor haunting both Hightower and the South. As Bryon explains, "A man will talk about how he'd like to escape from living folks. But it's the dead folks that do him the damage.... It's the dead ones ... that he cant escape from" (75). While showing the determining power of regional mythology, Light in August, except in anomalous moments like the Doane's Mill passage, shows little concern for the determining power of political economy. A better understanding of this background and of the novel's masking of it, we believe, can lead to a better understanding of how Light in August functions aesthetically and ideologically. By shifting blame from society to character, from economy to psyche, Light in August offers--as a response to the Depression--near homilies about individualism and hard work. Thus while critics continue to assert its subversiveness, we see the novel as decidedly anti-radical, and thus mirroring Faulkner's own fear of radical change.

The most dramatic instance of the novel's marginalizing of economic conditions appears in the mill's hiring of Joe Christmas (in 1930) and Lucas Burch (in 1932). Both men appear suddenly and are just as suddenly hired. The mill workers "saw the stranger Joe standing there.... They did not know who he was. None of them had ever seen him before." But within ten minutes, the mill superintendent tells the foreman to "put this man on" (31-32). Likewise, "one day ... another stranger appeared at the mill as Christmas had done, seeking work" (36). Although his inadequacies as a worker are recognized by Byron and the foreman Mooney, who remarks that "Simms is safe from hiring anything at all when he put that fellow on. He never even hired a whole pair of pants" (37), Lucas is added to the mill's payroll.

Contrary to this easy hiring of two itinerant troublemakers, employment in the Southern lumber industry was in decline well before the Depression. Employment, two hundred and thirty-five thousand in 1924, sank steadily, reaching a low of ninety thousand in 1933 (Jensen 76). Lumber production fell from thirty million board feet in 1905 to seven million in 1932 (Jensen 10). Much of this decline was because of the destruction of prime timberland. The lumber industry--as Faulkner shows in the Doane's Mill passage--savaged vast stretches of land with no effort to conserve or reforest, in part due to its hyper-competitive cut-and-run nature. Don Doyle details the destruction in and around Faulkner's home county:

lumber companies came into the hills ... and cut huge swathes
through the hardwood forests. Small farmers in the hilly woodlands
had long regarded the trees as little more than a nuisance; now
they were an unexpected source of income.... Once all the oak was
harvested, lumber operations cut down hundreds of acres of scrubby
pine trees. Small mobile 'peckerwood sawmills' were hastily set up
in the hills to gnaw away at the last of what, less than a century
before, had been the Chickasaws' wilderness.... Northern lumber
companies, having cut most of the North Woods of the Upper Midwest,
now came South to take advantage of cheap land, cheap labor, and
abundant timber. (299-302)
The results of this destruction were identified by the US Forest Service in 1929: "many millions of acres in the South have reached a degree of denudation that virtually precludes any hope of their forestation to productiveness as a private undertaking and apparently ensures their eventual abandonment" (Todes 24). Writing in 1931, Todes estimated that "virgin stands furnished less than one-hail of the timber cut in the South. As the timber was exhausted, the lumber men moved on to cut forests in other regions" (25). (17) At one point in Light in August these harsh conditions are acknowledged: after Christmas quits, a worker says, "I dont reckon Simms will have any trouble finding a man to fill his shoes in these times." To which the foreman, aware of the region's longstanding poverty, replies, "He wouldn't have any trouble doing that at any time" (42), a conversation at odds with the easy hiring of Christmas and Burch. (18)

But the novel offers an explanation for these men's unstable and migratory employment. Joe's and Lucas's rootlessness is depicted as innate, a product of their character rather than of large scale socioeconomic forces. Joe's life is lived out on a "savage and lonely street which he had chosen of his own will" (258): "there was something definitely rootless about Joel," writes Faulkner, "as though no town nor city was his.... He carried this knowledge with him always as though it were a banner, with a quality ruthless, lonely, and almost proud" (31-32).

Joe is a vagrant. He has wandered from Mississippi to Oklahoma to Mexico to Chicago and back to Mississippi; he has worked in oil towns and wheat fields; he was "laborer, miner, prospector, gambling tout; he enlisted in the army, served four months and deserted" (224). His movement is purposeless, circular (unlike Lena's purposeful journey). He declares, "I have never got outside that circle. I have never broken out of the ring of what I have already done and cannot ever undo" (339). This rootlessness and accompanying rage are explained in several ways: imitation of transients and professional hoboes, rejection of McEachern's Protestant orderliness, the product of Joe's tortured sexuality and contradictory racial identity.

Joe is idle and shiftless, stereotypes that have long plagued oppressed groups, especially African Americans. Lucas, too, is idle and shiftless, "living on the country, like a locust. It was as though he had been doing it for so long now that all of him had become scattered and diffused and now there was nothing left but the transparent and weightless shell blown oblivious and without destination upon whatever wind" (38). Similarly, Joe sees people "blown as completely out of his life as two scraps of paper," as "part of the long wind" (216, 217) that drives his life. Although Joe and Lucas are victims of a trajectory followed by millions of the newly dispossessed, what Carey McWilliams calls the "migratory circle" (3), Joe's circular movement is a symptom of an individual, however tragic, pathology. McWilliams describes men and women in search of work during the Depression as "going from nowhere to nowhere" (159)--a phrase similar to Faulkner's depiction of Lucas's aimlessness. But Lucas's motion, though it could represent the movement of millions of displaced workers, is idiosyncratic.

Light in August only vaguely alludes to the systematic causes of vagrancy and homelessness. Labor migration was perpetuated by the interlocking nature of the Southern political economy--an extractive industrial base that depended upon cheap raw materials and surplus labor. While the denudation caused by clear-cutting made some land available for farming, it also depleted the soft, as did the desperate attempt to produce high yields of cotton. Cotton farming too was seasonal. As sociologist Harold Hoffsommer suggests, the "whole cropper system of cotton farming is nothing more than a certain species of unemployment" (Flynt 295). (19) Lack of stability, as always, characterized the lives of the poor: "of 158,382 white farm families in 1940, 29% lived on their land for less than a year, 50% fewer than three" (Flynt 296). Often the only relief from the grueling occupation of sharecropping was the even more grueling occupation of lumbering. In lumber work, laborers either worked in company towns, were paid in scrip, and traded at company stores at inflated prices, or else were poor rural folk farming on shares part of the year and working at sawmills during the winter. (20) According to Jacqueline Jones, "single men straight from the farm provided the 'floating' labor demanded by these seasonal industries.... Men in the timber industry were especially 'notoriously itinerant'" (156). (21) While hinting at the systematic roots of this instability (what Jack Temple Kirby called "the southern pathology of permanent dependency" 3), Light in August ultimately attributes Joe's and Lucas's transience to their individual characters, thereby repeating the dominant view that transformed forced migration into shiftlessness.

Although the labor system of the South produced hoboes like Joe and Lucas, transiency was blamed on character. Shiftlessness as a trait of inferior moral character merged with stereotypes of innate criminality. Vagrants were viewed as subversive foreigners, I.W.W. men breeding discontent. (David Timms argues that behind the fear generated by Joe Christmas is the image of Sacco and Vanzetti 139-40). But as Alan Dawley explains, this imagery is mostly fantasy, transforming powerlessness into imminent threat. (22) Though transiency became associated with the menacing figure of the lone wolf, in fact, transiency was less a problem of feral individuals who posed a threat to stable communities than of unstable communities threatened by the forces of dislocation. (23) Well-off citizens complained that hobo camps were turning "our little paradise" into "a living hell." Transients were perceived as "a race of shiftless nomadic barbarians" who "robbed and pillaged and threatened the safety of ... daughters and wives" (Flynt 293). Yet even as this huge multiracial migrant labor force was viewed as menace, migrant labor was often preferred by employers, as the imagery reflects: vagrants were dangerous subversives or happy-go-lucky berry pickers, the threatening Joe and Lucas or the comic Byron and Lena.

Joe Christmas is both threatening vagrant and masterless man, even as he is trapped inside the migratory circle. He is also the explosive mulatto and razor-wielding, prostitute-frequenting, gambling and bootlegging black beast. This figure of black man as gambler elaborates the familiar idleness-and-criminality motif. But as many historians have noted, gambling houses and houses of prostitution (often white-owned and run) were set in black communities because they were not tolerated in white communities. Horace Clayton and St. Clair Drake explain this blame-the-victim logic:

The superficial observer believes that these areas are blighted
because large numbers of Negroes and Jews and vice gravitate there.
But real-estate boards and city planners know they are located
there because the area has been written off as blighted. Outcasts
have no choice but to huddle together where nobody else wants to
live and where rents are low. (206)
To survive, the poor often resorted to illegal activities like bootlegging, since the long hours required by the lumber industry did little to improve living conditions, which remained at or near subsistence level throughout the 1920s and '30s. Thus, in contrast to the picture of bootlegging in light in August, where it is an outgrowth of Christmas's and Burch's unsavory characters (Joe makes thirty to forty dollars a week selling whiskey, roughly three times what he would make at the planing mill), and in contrast to the social stereotype, bootlegging was often a necessary supplement to the irregular incomes of the working class. Highland farmers and out-of-work miners turned increasingly to whiskey-making. The collapse of the lumber and coal industries and the onset of the Depression coincided with Prohibition to make moonshining and bootlegging a logical choice for coping with misery: "Men often made whiskey well past the age of 18 to feed their families when farming went bad." "Liquor men," Kirby writes, "were torn between necessity ... and formal morality." Because "great numbers of bootleggers remained poor," "making and selling whiskey permitted survival and hardly more" (205-09).

The bulk of the workforce in the Southern lumber industry was Italian immigrants, native poor whites, and African Americans. Lumber was "the largest employer of Negro labor in the South outside of agriculture," but employment was not equal: common labor was about seventy-three percent black, skilled labor fifty-five percent white (Jensen 76-77). Faulkner gives evidence of this racial division of labor: Joe knows he has a "negro's job at the mill" (36) and Lucas complains about "slaving all day like a durn nigger" (44). Such "negro's work" was not only physically demanding but dangerous. Because "the work with the open saws, rolling logs, and log ponds is hazardous," writes John Howard, "the nature of the work has been extremely important in structuring the racial employment in the industry" (5). Joe and Lucas are reduced to this degrading level because of their characters and, for Joe, because he either unconsciously seeks out work that matches his perceived racial identity (punishing himself thereby) or else falls to the level of his biologically (i.e., racially) determined character. Although not suggested in the novel, men like Joe and Lucas might have worked a "negro's job" because, during the Depression, they were desperate for work. (24) Yet Joe's job is described as merely "the veil, the screen" (36) behind which he hides his criminal conduct. And although the foreman says about Lucas's work habits, "a nigger wouldn't last till the noon whistle, working on this job like some white folks work on it" (44), there is no sense that Lucas might be replaced by another worker, black or white. Lucas shows no concern about keeping his job, and even more striking, the mill shows no interest in replacing him.

If Joe and Lucas represent a roofless, amoral, socially destructive individualism, Lena and Byron represent the saving power of community. Joel Williamson argues that Faulkner associated plain white folk (the honest workmen, the good fellows) with the natural aristocracy, V. K. Ratliff with Gavin Stevens: "In Faulkner's fiction, V. K. eventually became the key character to bridge the gap between the mass of common white people and the persisting aristocracy. In effect, he worked to marry the two in an all white communion," representing "the souls of white folk" (424). (25)

Married "in an all white communion," Byron and Lena are crucial to the ideological function of the book's character system, in which the consequences of large-scale social ills are read as the effects of character. This community includes the sober, quiet workers, of whom Byron is representative. He embodies the values of cleanliness, sobriety, kindness, hard work, and stability, values ratified by the furniture dealer (whom Joel Williamson plausibly names as Ratliff himself 367) and by Gavin Stevens. Though Byron and Stevens have no contact in the story, both act kindly toward the Hineses. Both are notably thoughtful, quiet, helpful and caring. The stability represented by the plain folk (Lena and Byron) and the natural aristocracy (Stevens and the furniture dealer/Ratliff) is opposed to the instability of Joe Christmas and Lucas Butch (not to mention fanatics like Hines, Grimm, and Joanna). If like Byron you work hard and play by the rules, you will find work. If, in other words, you are psychologically stable, you will find stable employment, regardless of economic conditions. If, on the other hand, you are unstable like Joe and Lucas, your work history will be unstable.

Meanwhile, Lena's own movement is assimilated to the slow and steady movements of the earth. An incarnation of peace and stability, she will not be blown about like Butch or Christmas from nowhere to nowhere by a destinationless wind. Hightower recognizes Lena's importance in generating more good fellows, asserting that childrearing "will be her life, her destiny. The good stock peopling in tranquil obedience to it the good earth; from these hearty loins without hurry or haste" (406). And yet she, like Joe, is one of the dispossessed. Emphasizing their nearly polar opposition, Light in August downplays their substantial class affinities, as well as the class affinities between Joe and Byron. Light in August opens with a vivid depiction of the human and environmental consequences of the Southern political economy and thus suggests the deepening social crisis at the time of the book's composition. Elsewhere the text alludes to these conditions, pointing to social ills but with little elaboration or explanation. A novel that begins with hookwormridden heirs living in desolation concludes with good stock unhurriedly and tranquilly peopling the good earth. This transformation emphasizes individual responsibility and innate goodness over the power of the Southern political economy and thus diminishes the novel's real anxieties about large-scale social crisis. (26)

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:17 pm

Anthropology and Light in August

The death of difference in Light in August.(Critical essay).

Criticism 49.1 (Wntr 2007): p55(30). (15699 words)
Author(s): Avak Hasratian.

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2007 Wayne State University Press
READERS OF FAULKNER HAVE LONG agreed that the human community, as defined by kinship relations, is a central preoccupation of such novels as Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury. (1) These same readers have far greater difficulty making sense of Light in August, where kinship is conspicuously absent. (2) That absence indeed structures the novel, much as an over-inscription of kinship relations organizes the rest of Faulkner's fiction. Light in August begins with what might strike us as the very embodiment of kinship, a pregnant mother--and the unclear parenthood of Lena Grove herself (her parents are dead and unidentified) and of her child has induced critics to search for what went missing. (3) But does the novel's lack of kinship imply that kinship is indeed there to be discovered? To answer this question in the affirmative is to fall into the trap of reading the novel as an allegory of race, gender, and the communities formed by the elaboration of such categories. Light in August refuses to take for granted a definition of the human within which such differences can be made. In so doing, I argue, the novel radically questions the human itself.

Anthropology traditionally provides the terms for the differences that constitute human communities, and these are the very terms that Light in August consistently rejects. In The Open: Man and Animal, Giorgio Agamben mounts an argument against what he calls "the anthropological machine" that I find particularly helpful in understanding this novel's resistance to forms of human difference. (4) Agamben accuses anthropology of reinforcing a nature-culture binary as the one thing all human communities have in common, thus the basis for drawing comparisons among them. In The Elementary Structures of Kinship, to take one influential example, Claude Levi-Strauss "allows the natural to be isolated from the cultural" so that we can understand "the conflicting features of these two mutually exclusive orders." (5) To his way of thinking, it is only "natural" for "the great apes" to engage in incestuous activity, where incest among human beings is subject to a taboo or cultural "rule" (8). The ape therefore serves both as a link between nature and culture and as a way of denying any "illusory continuity between the two orders" (8). What is a natural instinct for the ape is therefore a cultural imperative for the human and consequently what makes us human rather than animal. As Levi-Strauss puts it, "culture can and must, under pain of not existing, firmly declare 'Me first,' and tell nature, 'You go no further'" (31). By this circular process, he calls on the animal to define the human.

Agamben targets this strategy on the grounds that it denies the instinctual and natural basis of the human so as to disavow our fundamental connection to and dependence on biological life. The modern tendency to understand the instinctive, species-wide aspects of culture as nature is responsible for dehumanizing the biological component of human existence in two related ways. The first form of dehumanization introduces divisions within the species-body: Agamben sees the nature-culture binary as the basis on which we have considered such fixing beings as "the slave, the barbarian, and the foreigner" less than human (Open, 37). Acting as a form o f power, "the anthropological machine" distinguishes acceptably human bodies from such alien bodies as the sexual deviant, the primitive, or "the Jew" (37). By introducing the difference between nature and culture into biological life itself, the machine not only induces some living bodies to remain outside and excluded from culture; it also takes other bodies and sets them outside the human community on grounds that they muddy the boundary between human and animal. The nature-culture binary also dehumanizes life by introducing this same division within the individual body itself. Agamben describes what he calls "the physiology of the blessed" as the modern tendency of man to dwell inside consciousness, or spirit, and, from that viewpoint, regard things, including his own flesh, as if they were outside and posed a threat to the purity of that consciousness (19). No less so than the devout Christian, the modern individual comes into being through separation from and disavowal of the body and its functions as so much natural matter. Repeated disavowals turn nature into a dumping ground that props up consciousness as autonomous and unique. By disavowing certain aspects of himself, the modern individual can use that remainder to define the animal.

To get around this tautology; Agamben proposes a category in between animal and man that reveals the human qualities we relegate to the animal as the most basic--"nutritive"--means on which all other forms of life successively depend and from which man separates higher orders of life (Open, 14). Agamben proposes what he calls "bare life" as a category that returns to the animal all the complexity and radical alterity of its existence, as it reduces humanity to little more than biological life (38). (6) The kind of experience that brings us closest to understanding this state of being is "the experience of boredom" (63). In what Agamben, drawing on Martin Heidegger, calls "the first essential moment of boredom," the world withholds the phenomenal cues that we need to establish a relationship between ourselves, as self-enclosed individuals, to the world outside ourselves: we "are totally delivered over to something that obstinately refuses itself" (65). By depriving us of conscious engagement with things in the world around us, boredom momentarily destroys the very relationships--bridging, thus presupposing, difference between individual consciousness and world-that make us human in the modern sense. Without that difference, we are, in a sense, open to our environment and, in this one crucial respect, in a position to understand animal existence. (7) A "second structural moment of profound boredom" comes close on the heels of awareness that our consciousness is, by definition, closed off from the world (66). Here, in the "passage ... from animal environment to human world," we are suddenly filled with a sense of the multiple possibilities for relation to the world that are withheld from us, thus our condition of being closed to the openness of the animal (68). On grasping that we are at once closed off to biological nature and yet utterly dependent on it, we catch a glimpse of the un-human component of humanity, or what Agamben calls "bare life." As I understand the concept, "bare life" is the essential continuity between human beings and other living creatures and the eco-biome itself.

Agamben uses this term to represent human existence before culture divides it into such categories as culture and nature and begins to classify humanity on the basis of its proximity to and distance from the latter. He also insists that life itself tenaciously resists such divisions. In determining which divisions within the category of the human are operative in a given text, we tend to suppress the division that we necessarily straddle as both conscious individuals and members of a species and participants in the eco-biome. To place ourselves as conscious individuals on the culture side of the divide, relegating all other species to nature, is simply wrong-headed in that human beings are, at one and the same time, both. We are not only constituted as subjects by differentiating ourselves from the world of objects, which includes our own bodies, but also inhabited by biological life, which extends well beyond ourselves, well beyond the human species. To embrace this contradiction is to accept what Agamben calls "an existing, real thing that has gone beyond the difference between being and beings" (Open, 92).

The protagonist of Light in August is inescapably self-enclosed, thus compelled to carry on relationships with things. On this basis, Joe Christmas is clearly not an animal. At the same time, he cannot inhabit the categories of human difference that would allow him to exist within a human community. No stranger to the categories human and animal, in this novel Faulkner attempts to stop their mutual production in much the same way that Agamben tries to stop the anthropological machine--namely, by creating a protagonist who is "in between." In Joe Christmas, as well as the shadow maternal figure of Lena Grove, Light in August makes us think of humanity in terms that disallow the very divisions--race, class, gender, families, religion, and so forth--that organize kinship and community Reading Light in August in terms of the continuity of life across cultural divisions changes how we think of kinship in the novel. I demonstrate that in Joe Christmas we have the model not of an individual so much as representative humanity designed to test the limits of the life of the body. To do so, I contend, the novel performs experiments in ingestion, abjection, reflex, instinct, and action, which refuse to set those aspects of bare life in a relation of opposition and difference from supposedly "higher" or "human" levels of consciousness and collective organization that begin and end with kinship. Rather than assume that the characters represent positions within an already-constituted human world, I argue that Light in August challenges the cultural ground on which that world is constituted: the biological life of the species.

Share a Story, Name, or Meal

Kinship is one of the chief bones of contention in anthropology. (8) When A. R. Radcliffe-Brown claims that "the nomenclature of kinship is an intrinsic part of a kinship system just as it is also, of course, an intrinsic part of a language," he suggests that kinship is not only a key part of a larger cultural system, but is also the language of the system itself. (9) It would make no more sense to separate kinship from the categories that constitute it than it would to separate the practices of a group from the language rules that govern those practices. Kinship is a kind of writing in and of itself. Like language, then, kinship acts as a differential system to give us our identities and places as subjects and objects. For this reason, it is the only means and medium by which to navigate the world as both narrators and protagonists. We both tell stories and participate in them; we are both "etic" and "emic." (10) The "character of kinship" in the novel works in much the same way by laying down the rules of the story that it enacts in writing. (11)

Emile Durkheim implies such an equation between kinship and language when he argues that "kinship does not necessarily arise from the fact that a clan has well-defined relations of common blood; they are kin solely because they bear the same name. They are not fathers, mothers, sons or daughters, uncles or nephews." (12) Here, the character of kinship works by means of designation: Anyone can come together under the same rubric, title, or name. A common designation can make a group into kin by creating reciprocal obligations for all members, prescribing rules of endogamy and exogamy, and authorizing ways of taking revenge on another group. The name can be any combination of proper nouns that designate the group itself, an adjective that describes what it does, or a verb that does that action. (13) In Light in August the family called "Burden" displays all three of these properties of the name. In novelistic terms, kinship is established when an entity such as a narrator designates a name in common and by the protagonists who, so designated, carry out obligations to their members. Names that both designate and obligate allow a group to share a history and a practice without blood ties. In Light in August the character "Grimm" seems to have no direct family, but his function is to kill, as suggested by his appellation. The narrative of the group is the story of its name; the name of the group and what it does are one and the same.

Practice and story, group life and material substance, are brought together in the sharing of a meal. Taking a meal together, according to Durkheim, creates an intense bond of kinship among those who are not otherwise related by literally making of those who share the meal "the same flesh and the same blood." (14) Food is what constitutes the group, as it ensures the sameness of its various members. When it is taken as a meal, food performs an "alimentary communion," making group composition and bodily composition identical. (15) To partake of the same body is to share the same history, which creates a multiplicitous human entity connected by one alimentary canal that nourishes the bodies of all its part(icipant)s. In view of the definitions proposed by Radcliffe-Brown and Durkheim, one cannot assume that blood, family, and connubial relations are the only bases for kinship, as these categories serve as just so many languages of kinship that work exactly like stories, names, or food to make a common body out of various members. A novel without kinship would be one whose naming system and narrative grammar cannot be determined and therefore shared by a community of both characters and readers.

Insofar as he is a figure that radically obscures racial and familial connections, be they connections of name, common consumption, or shared histories, Joe Christmas is the novel's way of imagining a modern assemblage of individuals that lacks all the traditional criteria of a community. (16) In Christmas, Faulkner has assembled properties and capabilities that are the very conditions of another kind of corporate body, one composed, paradoxically, of anonymities who share no common descent, have never entered into an alliance, do not engage in the exchange of women, and cannot be said to reproduce by normative means. This body historically preexists and takes exception to the rules on which readers depend whenever they imagine an individual as a member of some group. (17) To the degree that Christmas represents this other corporate body, he both enables and thwarts this way of reading modern fiction. (18)

Like my use of the notion of "bare life," my use of the term "exception" is borrowed from the work of Giorgio Agamben. (19) I can explain the importance of "bare life" in Light in August by showing how the logic of the exception unfolds when embodied in a fictional protagonist and put in play as the novel's narrative engine. It is only stating the obvious to say that Joe Christmas does not embody some emergent group, be it race, class, or gender, within the category of the human; the novel is overdetermined in this respect. One of Christmas's early memories is of the moment of his renaming by "the stranger" McEachern (145). That moment inscribes the protagonist within the three different rules of kinship that can constitute a group without consanguinity: "'From now on his name will be McEachern.' ... 'He will eat my bread and he will observe my religion,' the stranger said" (145). McEachern intends the name change to act as a decree that transforms "Christmas" from "a heathenish name" to the sacred name of the McEachern family (145). The McEacherns shared nothing with Christmas before they adopted him, but eating food together can be construed as sharing religion, because there is, in Mary Douglas's terms, an "analogy between altar and table." (20) For an old-fashioned Christian patriarch like Mr. McEachern, breaking bread at the table in his home amounts to the eucharistic partaking of a sacred body. Any such act of communion retroactively imposes a shared past that becomes the only possible future for the child. A future anterior history is fed to his soul as food is fed to his body. (21)

The protagonist's defiant response is to tell himself that "My name aint McEachern. My name is Christmas" (Light in August, 145; italics in original) His name therefore becomes an anti-name that prevents him from being taken into the household and excludes him from the relationships regulated by kinship. Christmas will not become Christian, because he would lose his name, a name assigned to him simply because he was, as the matron tells McEachern, "'left on the doorstep at the orphanage on Christmas eve'" (142). He neither prays nor learns the catechism with his father, and would rather faint from hunger or eat alone in a corner than share a meal with the McEachern family. Mr. McEachern may have adopted Christmas, but the reverse is not true: McEachern always remains a "stranger" to his adoptee (142). While Christmas lives with the McEacherns, he is within that family and yet impervious to its rules. Those rules presuppose within the order of law, something outside the law--an outlaw to which the law does not apply and so must be applied. As Agamben formulates this paradox, "the rule applies to the exception in no longer applying, in withdrawing from it" (Homo Sacer, 18; italics in original). By defying, refuting, and attacking if not killing his adoptive father, and nearly starving himself as well, Christmas not only makes himself the exception to the laws of kinship but also makes it necessary, to create those laws. We might say, using Agamben's terms, that because the novel "includes" Christmas as that which "is outside itself"--outside the rules of kinship that we have identified with writing--he becomes "the figure in which singularity is represented as such, which is to say, insofar as it is unrepresentable" (24).

Out of Nowhere

To understand how the protagonist came to be called Christmas--and, indeed, to call himself by that name--we might trace him back, to the extent the novel allows, to his origins. Such origins, as Louis Althusser explains, are circumscribed by "the family ideology ... in which the unborn child is expected: it is certain in advance that it will bear its Father's Name, and will therefore have an identity and be irreplaceable. Before its birth, the child is therefore always-already a subject ... once it has been conceived." (22) By the word "conceived," Althusser asserts the translatability, of the biological conception of the child into its ideological conception disguised as pure ideality. (23) In neither sense of conception, however, does Christmas support such a theory of identity. He has no identifiable father and thus no namesake. He cannot assume his mother's father's name (Hines), because he was conceived exogamously, or outside the exchange of women. Lacking what is needed to assign him an individual identity, Christmas is outside the normative machinery of social reproduction. As such, he serves to detach social from biological reproduction. The closer the narrative approaches the origins of its protagonist, the more impossible it becomes to ascertain them, as they are located in a domain of disguise, misrule, and carnivalesque inversion: "One night a circus passed the mill," and at some unclear point Doc Hines's daughter, Milly, runs off with someone from the circus (Light in August, 373). The ensuing unreliability, indeed mendacity, of the testimony provided by members of the circus--coupled with the insanity of Doc Hines--tells us that any attempt to account for the protagonist in terms of origins will be another masquerade; the novel quite deliberately offers us a protagonist whose "conception" eludes interpellation.

Doc Hines does consider the child racially mixed and rejects him on that basis. But we cannot assume, as he does, that his daughter was impregnated by a "black" or "Mexican" (Light in August, 374). Rather, it is the lack of knowledge as to who that other man was that robs Hines of control of the position that men maintain by exchanging women, thus the perpetuity of his family In Jean-Francois Lyotard's discussion of knowledge, narrative, and custom, this lack obviates "Ithe consensus that permits such knowledge to be circumscribed and makes it possible to distinguish one who knows from one who doesn't (the foreigner, the child) and is what constitutes the culture of a people." (24) Thus his indeterminate origins make Hines's grandson necessarily a pollutant. By introducing a child of elusive identity into the ideological narrative of the Hines family, Faulkner deliberately disturbs both the distinctions and the common ground that have to be there before the rituals, practices, and even fantasies of the family can take root. Byron Bunch's speculation that" 'maybe the circus folks told Doc Hines. I don't know. He ain't never said how he found out, like that never made any difference,'" suggests that whatever it is that makes Christmas different recedes with his origins and disappears into the circus (Light in August, 374). The point, as Mrs. Hines herself explains, is that there is no evidence: no one "'never knew for certain'" who impregnated Milly (378). That the unknown father is cast in suspicious racial-hereditary terms is as much a function of kin reproduction as the name of the father is of perpetuating it. As one of the means by which kinship is controlled or disrupted, race is a subset of the ideological fantasies and irrational fears that induce individuals to imagine themselves as unique parts of a family, community, or nation, and to exclude those who cannot be assimilated to the same. (25)

Following his midnight deposit of the child at an orphanage on Christmas Eve, Hines silently oversees the child's upbringing. He watches the nurses, dieticians, and other women of the asylum

desecrating the Lord's sacred anniversary with eggnog and
whiskey ... and open the blanket with the child in it. And it
was her, the Jezebel of the doctor, that was the Lord's instrument,
that said, "We'll name him Christmas" and another one said "What
Christmas. Christmas what" and God said to old Doc Hines "Tell
them" and they all looked at old Doc Hines with the reek of
pollution on them, hollering "Why, it's Uncle Doc. Look what Santa
Claus brought us and left on the doorstep, Uncle Doc" and old Doc
Hines said "His name is Joseph" and they quit laughing and they
looked at old Doc Hines and the Jezebel said "How do you know" and
old Doc Hines said "The Lord says so" and then they laughed again,
hollering "It is so in the Book: Christmas, the son of Joe. Joe,
the son of Joe. Joe Christmas" they said "To Joe Christmas." (Light
in August, 384-85)
One could argue that Hines did in fact name the protagonist. But the fact that "Joseph" is not only a Christian name rather than a surname, or name of the father, but also an irreverently shortened nickname created by a group of substitute pseudo-caretakers suggests that he is, in fact, renamed. In the spirit of a joke, they assign to him a family name--"Christmas"--that does not place him within but rather outside of any family. The women mock the interpellative gesture described by Althusser: "This is your origin! ... This is your place in the world! This is what you must do!" (26) which in turn mocks Hines's belief that God told him "'You have served the foreordained will of God'" (Light in August, 385). That "hollering" women rather than the patriarch do the naming sets aside the naming practices that were the exclusive property of men (and of God to self-beget a son). By ventriloquizing that authority, the women turn naming into an erasure of origins, not because it profanes the "sacred anniversary" of the birth of Christ, but because it evacuates the divine performative of its power (177). (27) By withholding knowledge of Christmas's origins, I would argue, Faulkner not only made the protagonist's race unknowable, but he also--and more importantly-made it irrelevant. This alone is enough to make him exceptional in the disturbing way that only Agamben's "Homo Sacer" can be exceptional, thus destined to promote the construction of social categories within the novel and to be excluded from them. (28)

Christmas can incorporate the salient differences of the novel's population in a way that sets him within the community and yet makes him incapable of settling anywhere. The protagonist of Light in August transforms race from something on the surface of the body to be read into something the reader inscribes on or within the body. Obsessive attempts--by characters in and critics of the novel--to categorize Christmas suggest it is impossible to do so. It is also a sure sign that both characters and community know what those categories are. While it would be absurd to suggest that this novel is unaware of the racial categories that constitute its context, the sheer proliferation of racial descriptors in the text betrays its formal skepticism about so placing any specific individual. The fact that he cannot be pinned down to an origin or place within any community influences how others see and strive to position him in relation to themselves. That Christmas is "parchmentcolored" suggests he is made of raw material subject to inscription, but he proves to be quite the opposite (Light in August, 123). His body is not made for writing in the manner of John Locke's white paper of the mind. (29) The protagonist is, I would argue, placed in what Agamben calls a "zone of indistinction" (Homo Sacer, 64). This is his way of getting beyond the culture-nature binary that produces "the human through the suspension and capture of the inhuman ... In the reciprocal suspension of the two terms," he contends, "something for which we perhaps have no name and which is neither animal nor man settles in between nature and humanity" (Open, 83).

Christmas is a challenge to the tradition of Enlightenment thinking that represents consciousness, mind, or self as that which distinguishes modern man from the primitive counterpart. In this respect, he is that "something for which we perhaps have no name and which is neither animal nor man." Faulkner clearly refuses the break between the mind of Enlightenment man and an animal body that operates by processes that do not belong to any individual or group thereof. Faulkner uses Christmas to produce continuity where all kinship systems depend on such a break between mind and instinctual body. (30) One character in fact uses the term "chimaera" to describe the protagonist's ability to inhabit a body that passes from one side to another of any number of binary oppositions (Light in August, 449). (31) His capacity to exist between categories cuts both ways in that it both offers the protagonist an escape clause and renders him susceptible to harm. A categorical crisis follows the accusation that Christmas kills a white woman, as other characters in the novel try and fail to define him as black. (32) In Agamben's terms, the crime of which Christmas is accused does not "have the character of the transgression of a rule that is then followed by the appropriate sanction" but "constitute Is instead the originary exception in which human life is included in the political order in being exposed to an unconditional capacity to be killed" (Homo Sacer, 85). Thus the protagonist is forced to inhabit a "zone of indistinction in which the life of the exile" becomes one of "bare life" (110). (33) On the assumption that his legal status is suspended in that he refuses to observe and embody racial boundaries, a posse hunts him down. As if to acknowledge that prohibitions are made not before but after and, in a sense, for him, Christmas says to himself, "'Like there is a rule to catch me by, and to capture me that way would not be like the rule says'" (Light in August, 337).

But if the law defines Christmas as outside its limits, then it is both null and omnipotent in relation to him, which is the very definition of vigilante law. Christmas acquires certain attributes specific to the principle of lawlessness that shapes the law:

Time, the spaces of light and dark, had long since lost
orderliness. It would be either one now, seemingly at an instant,
between two movements of the eyelids, without warning. He could
never know when he would pass from one to the other, when he would
find that he had been asleep without remembering having lain down,
or find himself walking without remembering having waked ... House
or cabin, white or black, he could not remember which.
(333, 334)
By serving as the exception around which the law forms itself defensively, Christmas loses his sense of the difference between self and world--indeed, the difference by means of which the external world organizes the internal world of the subject in terms of "light and dark," "one" or "the other." (34) For Agamben, this ability to be within sociality and yet define what is beyond it is the source of politics and power. Faulkner was clearly interested in imagining this (im)possibility. How does the novel detach life from the rules of association we consider "culture"?

As what Agamben calls the "inclusive exclusion" to the rules of community that form around him, Christmas does not depend on the group that he interacts with any more than he acts as an individual member of that group (Homo Sate); 27). At the orphanage, he was "set in a grassless cinder-strewn packed compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentiary or 700, where in random erratic surges, with sparrow-like childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denim lived" (Light in August, 119). Denied individual identity, as they are forced into the same series of "uniform blue denim," the orphaned brood forms a body that isn't defined by its opposition to individuals any more than it is to groups. Christmas is created so that the novel can examine the propensities and limits of the biological life of human beings when they form such a body. Michel Foucault's notion of biopower conceives of bare life as energy to be harnessed rather than divided up and, failing that, suppressed; the cultural compulsion to classify, divide, and ultimately purify is less important than the fact that the mass body is always, by definition, alive. As such, the mass body is not "in between" culture and nature in a way that presupposes their difference; it is what connects even the most self-conscious individual to the very nature from which he must distinguish himself in order to exist as such. (35) We might say that for Agamben, "bare life" is the nature we are in, where for Foucault it is the nature we are always in as part of the biological entity "man-as-species." (36)

You Are What You Don't Eat

As the figure of bare life, Christmas provides the threshold at which life is defined as not dead but the point at which life is no longer worth making live. At this level, his living body is another manifestation of in-betweenness in that it serves as a point of intersection where the species-body, or at least the population of the novel, is "replaced by general biological processes." (37) The biological process perhaps most basic to existence is that of taking in food. One narrative thread of the novel ties Christmas to what might be called a history of eating, which explains how food creates a body out of a people who might otherwise not be kin. Food does not serve this function with respect to his adoptive family, but he has to eat nevertheless. In doing so, Christmas tests the limit between what is and is not human. Mary Douglas calls such a threshold "the fit between the meal's symbolic boundaries and the boundaries between categories of people." (38) After Joe has endured several beatings and near starvation, Mrs. McEachern brings him

a tray of food. She set the tray on the bed. He had not once looked
at her. He had not moved. "Joe," she said. He didn't move. "Joe,"
she said. She could see his eyes were open. She did not touch him.

"I aint hungry," he said.

She didn't move ... "I know what you think. It aint that. He never
told me to bring it to you. It was me that thought to do it. He
dont know. It aint any food he sent you." He didn't move. His face
was calm as a graven face ... "You haven't eaten today. Sit up and
eat. It wasn't him that told me to bring it to you. He dont know
it. I waited until he was gone and then I fixed it myself." (Light
in August, 154)
The young Joe refuses a meal prepared by a McEachern on grounds that eating it would make him a McEachern. But eat he must "the dishes she would prepare for him in secret and then insist on his accepting and eating them in secret, when he did not want them" (167). Although life compels him to eat, he resents the food Mrs. McEachern brings him, as such succor mitigates the "punishment which, deserved or not, just or unjust, was impersonal ... and between man and the boy" (167). Joe prefers violence with Mr. McEachern to the compromise formation of this curious relationship with a woman, because the former is a relationship not of self and kindred but an "impersonal" relationship between sheer social power and a resistant body

To maintain that relationship, he performs a ritual that strips the meal of any positive relational meaning by removing and breaking all the containers that separate and thus transform various nutrients into a meal. The text begun above continues:

He sat up then. While she watched him he rose from the bed and took
the tray and carried it to the corner and turned it upside down,
dumping the dishes and food and all onto the floor. Then he
returned to the bed, carrying the empty tray like it was a
monstrance and he the bearer ... she knelt in the corner,
gathering the broken dishes back into the tray. Then she left the
room ...

He was just eight then ... an hour later, he rose from the bed
and went and knelt in the corner as he had not knelt on the rug
to pray, and above the outraged food kneeling, with his hands
ate, like a savage, like a dog. (Light in August, 154-55)
Joe turns a meal into something that simply sustains life. This ritual produces neither the raw nor the cooked but something entirely different--something in which difference has been negated. (39) What is demonstrated by this "monstrance" is the bare life of the body itself, its impulses, its needs, and even its nature, rather than its consecration or transformation into culture, spirit, ontology, or moiety.

In traditional anthropological terms, the overturning of the meal traces a movement from the sacred human body to the profanity of the animal that merely eats because it is starving: culture is turned back into nature. Viewed thus, the rituals and accouterments of alimentation that organize bodies and their nourishment produce the norms by which some are deemed human and others less so. Inclusion or exclusion from such a norm is effected by the organization of food into categories of purity and its defilement. (40) Were this the case, Christmas would be violating a taboo against eating unclean items. But Joe's literal overruling of the tray of food places him, like Agamben's "Homo Sacer," in a "zone prior to the distinction between the sacred and profane, religious and juridical" (Homo Sacer, 74). (41) Just as his name vitiates both religious and kin law, so his refusal to eat socially--or even alone from a tray--places (sacred) human and (profane) animal impulses and categories in continuity, destroying their oppositional and mutually defining relationship. It is not the inherent purity of the food that makes it suitably human but rather the classification of food as a meal contained in dishes on a tray that makes it fit to be eaten with kin. (42) By rejecting the organizing principles of dishes and trays, Joe puts himself at odds both with the McEacherns and with the reader--indeed with anyone having a claim to social or "human" identity. But this, 1 must hasten to add, does not reduce him to a state of nature. That he eats like an animal without being one indicates that he asserts similarity to rather than identity with a dog. As bare life, he is neither animal nor human but the switch point between them. Belonging in between the nature-culture divide allows Christmas to produce as much as to depend on the distinction between the two categories.

The four things defining the human-animal difference in this instance are: table and chair (as opposed to ground or floor), utensil or hand (as opposed to mouth), fitting food (not rot), and containers (rather than a pile of food). (43) This episode is designed so that human and animal interpenetrate instead of differentiate. Dogs, for example, are included in the human when induced to eat above the ground from a plate or bowl, but they are not human, because they eat with their mouths and do not bother to discriminate between food and rubbish. Christmas places himself among human beings when he eats good food with his hands, but he simultaneously sets himself outside the human in that he eats from a pile on the floor. As the figure of in-betweenness, Christmas both establishes and undoes the stability of the difference maintaining those categories. When it comes to alimentation, humans and animals are only a table's height, a hand's grasp, a dish's rim, or a day's spoil away from becoming each other. Food's chief function for Christmas is to keep him not dead, so his consumptive practices--like the body they create--serve as a "threshold of indistinction" between the nutritive and the inesculent (Homo Sacer, 27). (44) He is merely alive.

When Christmas lived in an orphan's asylum, which the novel terms a "penitentiary," he was forced to eat regularly (Light in August, 119). The discipline exercised on each orphan's body turned them all into the same mass body. Accidents, or what Foucault calls "aleatory events that occur within a population," tend to be eliminated when food is taken as a "serial phenomenon"; that is the objective of such discipline. (45) But Christmas does something that alters this uniformity and sets him apart from others when he consumes toothpaste "discovered by accident" (120). This discovery activates the aleatory operations of the mass body, which the rest of the novel tries and fails to regulate. The inherent unpredictability of an act of consumption that poisons the boy suggests that bare human life cannot distinguish between food that tastes sweet from non-food that tastes sweet. The mass of life, which is partly self-regulatory and partly regulated by the state and its apparatuses, is fed instead of able to feed itself and so cannot care for itself as an individual does. (46) In contrast to McEachern food, which is biologically digestible but repulsive to the protagonist, the dentifrice Christmas nibbles "for almost a year," while desirable, is undigestible (120). It does not "optimize a state of life" at the asylum. (47)

The mass body consumes until nothing consumable remains; that which it cannot convert into itself is thrown out or regurgitated. Indeed, vomiting is as important as consuming in this novel. (48) Although toothpaste tastes pleasing in small quantities, it is nevertheless a biotoxin if taken even in moderate amounts. (49) The mode of negative self-definition entailed by abjection is reinforced by the narrator's observation that neither "animal warning" nor "human being warning" could stop him from eating the goop, until "he seemed to be turned in upon himself" and any more "refused to go down" (122). After vomiting it up, Christmas says, "with complete and passive surrender, 'Well, here I am' "--as if to admit that he is constituted by what he casts out (122). (50) In overturning the McEachern meal, he is a starved body that eats like an animal; here he is defined by emesis. Hayden White would convince us that "the care, control, disposal, and cultivation of the body's effusions provide the basis of all 'culture.'" (51) But Christmas's effusions have nothing to do with eating the wrong food, because toothpaste is simply not food. Toothpaste is a particularly interesting substance for him to eat and to vomit, because it is a means of purifying and polishing the boundary between what is outside and what is taken in. Before or after a day's meal, one uses toothpaste to clean and sanctify the portal through which food enters the body For Christmas, there is no such sanctification, because there is no such boundary. Rather than reinforce the gastronomic distinctions of his culture, I am suggesting he excorporates a more basic "basis of all 'culture'"--the difference between food and non-food.

The history of Christmas's eating may be related--insofar as he is an orphan in a pen--to the many orphans used as test objects during the period of emerging biopower in the United States. In an essay aptly titled "Your Dog and Your Baby," Susan E. Lederer suggests that orphans and animals were equal-opportunity organisms for the study of the effects of germs and poisons. (52) Dogs, cats, the mentally ill, and bastard children as young as four were deliberately infected on grounds that their mental infirmities and/or lack of (responsible) parents rendered them, like animals, without human power to consent or even the capacity for pain. I do not wish to force a historical analogy between the toothpaste episode in this novel and the biological experiments that were well under way by the time it was written, but the ideological agreement between the two is instructive. In every product designed for improving life, there is a life allowance beyond which the cure becomes a poison. Arthur Kallet and F. J. Schlink documented this phenomenon in their expose, 100,000,000 Guinea Pigs: Dangers in Everyday Foods, Drugs, and Cosmetics (1933). It reads like a manifesto for the population to rise up against the "callous disregard for human life" perpetrated by both the companies who made the very products that were supposed to enhance life by killing germs and "the literary men of the advertising world ... who filled the subway and trolley cards with an endless row of ivory smiles." (53) This work of sensational nonfiction went through twenty printings between its initial publication on January 12, 1933, and January 15, 1934. The book continued in popularity and "became one of the best-selling books of the decade." (54) Ruth deforest Lamb, an FDA official, joined in Kallet and Schlink's biopolitical movement and, in 1936, published The American Chamber of Horrors: The Truth about Food and Drugs. (55) (Her title was taken in part from an FDA exhibit. (56) It is fair to say that the same readers who read these exposes were likely to be shocked by the novel's use of Joe Christmas as a fictional experiment in life at the limits of the human, well beyond the reach of the cultural machinery of kinship. (57) This limit domain, verging on that of the animal, is not set in opposition to life, but is home to the poor, parentless, animals, mentally ill, Jews, homosexuals, prisoners, soldiers, and nonwhites. (58) Joe Christmas seems to fit into the first three of these categories, and by implication, ascription, or accusation into the last four as well. (59)

But Christmas is not marked in a way that would allow us to group him with others who are socially positioned. The absence of a category where he could settle into some identity presents a more fundamental problem, one that troubles the category of the human itself and inspires those who think they know who they are to stigmatize him. On being unable to determine Christmas's race, one minor character puts it, "'You are worse than black. You dont know what you are. And more than that, you wont ever know. You'll live and you'll die and you wont never know'" (Light in August, 384). (60) Gilles Deleuze emphasizes the point that identity and belonging have "nothing to do with the character of this or that exclusive group, it's to do with the ... relations that ensure that any effects produced in some particular way (through homosexuality, drugs, and so on) can always be produced by other means ... there are people who think 'I'm this, I'm that' ... but I don't know what I am." (61) Because Christmas lacks origins, he is, as Radcliffe-Brown would say, without a "nomenclature of kinship." (62) In that he does not know who or what he is or where he is from, we can regard Christmas as the embodiment of a disavowed element of American identity. (63)

The Burden of Identity

In the McEachern house, Christmas was defined by "the simple fact of living common to all living beings (animals, men, or gods)" (Homo Sacer, 1). This is also true of the Burden household, the other major domestic space of the novel where women try and fail to take him in. What is the difference between these two instances of a life so defined? To answer this question, one must understand why Christmas rejects food from the McEachern family and accepts it in the Burden household. Joanna Burden's place signals a shift in the terms of bare life. Placed within a mass body of itinerant, poor, starving workers neither tied to a place nor bound together by anything but their barest needs, Christmas tries and fails to fend for himself. (64) As he wanders back to Mississippi and stumbles--as if by accident--on the house of Joanna Burden, he slips under cover of night into her kitchen: "Like the cat, he also seemed to see in the darkness as he moved as unerringly toward the food which he wanted as if he knew where it would be; that, or were being manipulated by an agent which did know. He ate something from an invisible dish, with invisible fingers: invisible food. He did not care what it would be" (Light in August, 230). Christmas cannot help but eat, so he lacks even "care for what it would be." Acting as a cat rather than a dog, the requirement of a body not to starve replaces consciousness of what food even is, much less the desire to know it. Rather than define food by means of the dominant (for humans) sense of sight, he uses a jumble of senses to locate the foodstuff. One could say that "the agent which did know" and of which Christmas is unaware is therefore an unconscious agency, but this would be misleading.

Here, the novel makes the point of telling us that certain sensory organs have displaced others. (65) Christmas, who already identified himself in the regurgitated contents of his stomach as opposed to in the face of the birth mother he never witnessed, takes in smell through the mouth, and tastes through the eyes. The passage above continues:

He did not know that he had even wondered or tasted until his jaw
stopped suddenly in mid-chewing and thinking fled for twentyfive
years back down the street ... I'll know it in a minute. I have
eaten it before, somewhere. In a minute I will memory clicking
knowing I see I see I more than see heat I hear I see my head bent
I hear the monotonous dogmatic voice ... I see the indomitable
bullet head the clean blunt beard they too bent and I thinking How
can he be so nothungry and I smelling my mouth and tongue weeping
the hot salt of waiting my eyes tasting the hot steam from the dish
"It's peas," he said aloud. "For sweet Jesus. Field peas cooked
with molasses. "(Light in August, 230)
How can Christmas name and thus know what the food is when he cares neither for food nor for what it is? He remembers food names by association with the McEachern household: "He was thirtythree years old" when he meets Miss Burden, so the memory he retrieves is from the age of eight (226). The "monotonous dogmatic voice" of the man with the "bullet head" and "blunt beard" is Mr. McEachern, who was described in exactly those terms when Christmas first saw him at the age of five (141). The "nothungry" man recalls Christmas's competition not to share a meal with his adopter. Then, he was willing to starve or eat like an animal; now, he eats. What may strike the reader as a significant difference is for Christmas a repetition: once he remembers the food's name, he stops eating, presumably because he will not become what the McEacherns earlier tried to force him to be.

These indicators of a minimal level of physical and psychic organization do not imply an integrated human consciousness. The novel describes Christmas's state of mind as he crawled through the kitchen window as one that obeys senses resembling those of a cat: "Perhaps he thought of that other window which he had used to use and of the rope upon which he had had to rely to escape the McEachern house; perhaps not. Very likely not, no more than a cat would recall another window" (Light in August, 230). If a human can be like an animal in this respect, then both exist on a continuum, not on either side of an ontological divide. Human difference presupposes consciousness or language, prompting the question, "Do animals think? Can they speak?" (66) The text reverses this priority by posing the question of human intentionality in animal terms: "Does Christmas know what he is doing when he crawls like a cat through the window?" The resulting displacement--wherein the text uses a human to ask an animal question-brings the human and animal into closer proximity than would a comparison based on similitude. That the novel "doles not spare any aspect of physiological life (not even the digestive function, which is obsessively codified and publicized)," indicates that the body and not consciousness constitutes the common ground between man and animal (Homo Sacer, 135). Were Christmas's intention to think, name, and thus control the object of that thought, he might be the subject who controls his body. Framed instead in terms of "pernaps ... or perhaps not," thought, intention, and memory fail to indicate a self-enclosed mind housed in a body that obeys it and is therefore human, distinct and apart from animals. The novel implies that "humans" are defined no longer by their individual subjectivity so much as by their objective multiplicity, or what might more accurately be called a genetic, shared "humanity." The point is that while Enlightenment individuals are defined in opposition to nature and by the individual's command over his or her "own" body, humanity exists within a system of species and rhizomatic bio-strata.

With this in mind, let us consider what makes Joanna Burden someone whose food Christmas can, on occasion, tolerate. By aiding his survival through food, Joanna may appear to establish some kind of kinship with him. The novel, however, asks us to see her altruistic gesture in a contrary light. Through food (and education), she in fact labors under what a member of her family calls its "'black Burden,'" which is to regularize the lives of poor southern African Americans, and the protagonist will have no part of it (Light in August, 247). That Christmas refuses to play Uncle Tom to Joanna's Emily Shelby is forecast in his adaptation to her foodways--namely, his understanding of and unwillingness to adopt the names of the food that he knows she "set out for the nigger. For the nigger" (238). His response to the language of that food is simultaneously a refusal to occupy the position of either child, adult, or black:

He watched his hand pick up a dish and swing it up and back and
hold it there while he breathed deep and slow, intensely cogitant.
He heard his voice say aloud, as if he were playing a game: "Ham,"
and watched his hand swing and hurl the dish crashing into the wall
... taking up another one ... sniffing... "Beans or
Greens?" ... "Beans or Spinach?".... All right. Call it beans."
He hurled it, hard, heating the crash, waiting ... he raised the
third dish. "Something with onions," he said, thinking This is fun.
Why didn't I think of this before? (238)
The peculiar behavior surrounding his ingestion of food in the family home--first through the McEacherns and here through Joanna--is, in Tony L. Whitehead's words, "part of a larger cultural complex" and thus "serves other social and cultural functions than the obviously nutritional." (67) Christmas knows that in feeding him, Joanna is enacting her own ideological fantasy of race, and he won't allow her to transform him gastrointestinally. By naming each item of food, he pins it to a sign in the same way that Joanna has classified it racially. Whereas, for Joanna, doing so is an act of border-drawing and difference-making, for Christmas, naming offers a way to cancel out the power of such acts, thereby abjecting not only Joanna's food but also what it stands for.

To incorporate her food would be to take her racial stereotype inside himself. An act of incorporation that might otherwise have created kinship thus ends in a refused identification with the gastric contents that would render an object of a racial sympathy. He will not bear Joanna's "black Burden" any more than he can accept Mrs. McEachern's dinner or feast on toothpaste. Whitehead shows that such southern food as beans and greens is considered both by poor whites and middle-class African Americans to be "black people's food." (68) "For both middle ... class blacks and ... poor whites," Whitehead concludes, "the reference to such food as black is an indicator of dietary content as an ethnic marker. For the former, it indicates 'ethnic inclusion'; while for the latter, it indicates 'ethnic exclusion.'" (69) Joanna uses "black people's food" to incorporate Christmas into the black body she secretly desires, which entails his exclusion from the white community This gesture of inclusive exclusion is particularly clear in the way she arranges the manner of his entry into her house and the reception of her food. She never invites him past the kitchen.

Sex is like food in that similar principles apply to what can or cannot be allowed into one's body, and Christmas indeed understands sex strictly in terms of incorporation and excorporation. That he succeeds in having sex with Joanna doesn't make him any more a man than eating her food makes him black. Joanna assumes a gendered position and tries to consume Christmas by turning him into the kind of man who can sate her racially inflected sexual appetite. He feels her attempted incorporation as a "rotten richness ready to flow into putrefaction at a touch" (Light in August, 262). By feigning pregnancy and "beginning to get fat," Joanna shows that she is, so to speak, full of Christmas (261). By describing his relationship to Joanna in grossly physiological terms, as a "sewer that ran only by night," Faulkner refuses to let Christmas participate in any normative reproductive exchange (256). In other words, the copulating body is a dumping ground that thwarts Joanna's attempt to define him as black, male, husband, father, sexual, reproducer, or food receiver. (70) From the figure of the sewer emerges "the body ... based on nutrition, digestion, and energies" that thus "inhibits the formation of any form of identity." (71) Mary Douglas's description of rubbish points to the same phenomenon: "The origin of various bits and pieces is lost and they have entered into the mass of common rubbish." (72) In becoming part of the mass, component parts lose integrity and turn into something altogether different, different by virtue of lacking difference and thus existing always in between, as categorical violations. (73) For Joanna, food and sex are, respectively, a creation and transgression of boundaries rather than their dissolution. (74) By escaping the categories Joanna would impose on him through both food and sex, I want to insist, Christmas remains connected to an unidentifiable "living mass." (75)

Christmas's multiple body cannot be construed as a failure of consciousness to live within the confines of one body and exercise dominion over it, because he embodies something more basic than the mind/body opposition. This, I believe, is why the novel will not let him die with Joanna. The novel keeps Christmas "alive when, in biological terms, he should have been dead long ago," given what his body endures. (76) That the novel, like Foucault's model of biopower, "is centered not upon the body which dies but upon life which goes on" raises questions about "the biological multiplicity" and how such a multiplicity is made to live. (77) Normative human reproduction depends on difference. To Gayle Rubin, reproduction must imagine a pre-social difference between male (exchanger) and female (object of exchange). (78) Nancy Chodorow shows how "mothering" reproduces daughters who then become domestically laboring wives to publicly working men. (79) Thus, in their view, reproduction naturalizes not only the sex/gender system but also one's position in relation to other kinds of difference: "male" and "female" are the basis for the reproduction of socioeconomic classes. What else is Friedrich Engels's tale of the family's origin if not the story of the transition from polygamy to monogamy in terms of women's duty to be domestically housed and reproduce bourgeois subjects? (80) At the limit of class differences, men and women not only make more bourgeois selves, but they also make more ethnic ones: exogamy marks the limits of the kin group.

Contrary to difference-based reproduction, Foucault's notion of life imagines a body that spreads rhizomatically. Like Christmas, who is its bearer, life is neither a productive (economic) power nor a reproductive (social) power. Wherever there is nourishment to be taken in and no force to curtail its extension, life will advance on that terrain. But where life is only a general biological humanity that is not completely distinct from the animal life and food consumption by means of which it extends itself, individual bodies and the groups they form are bodies that simply don't matter. Christmas is linked to the most basic digestive energies of existence and as such is available to the entire population of the novel. The same can be said of Lena Grove. Unable to form any family, Lena corresponds in important ways to Christmas. From the beginning, she "wears no wedding ring" and is defined by a lack of history, an obfuscation of kinship, and an itinerant existence (Light in August, 12). She is, in other words, "a stranger" with "a body that does get around" (319, 507). Alliance, descent, and exchange matter little to Lena. She takes on Byron Bunch as a surrogate husband and father not out of obligation but simply because he's there. (81)

"Power literally ignores death"

In contrast to the modern individual, the mass body does not confront the choice of perpetuating itself through reproduction or ending in death, but mindlessly strives to continue life in any way, shape, or form. Rather than create a social body of white men such as Percy Grimm or domestic women such as Joanna Burden, according to my reading, the novel validates a social body without race or sex. Christmas's life ends only if we are willing to force him into an identity as the novel's white male community would do. Instead of acting out the imperative to "turn differences into otherness and otherness into scapegoats" that the liberal individual disavows as part of itself, the novel uses Christmas to invalidate difference as the basis of the individual and the society composed thereof. (82) The novel shows there is no society that can so scapegoat Christmas, because it is Christmas who keeps out all of those who try to hail him into their categories. Since he cannot be so forced, the white men's attempt to kill him produces not a categorical overkill but an excess of life that spreads, in the words of the novel, "in whatever peaceful valleys, beside whatever placid and reassuring streams of old age, in the mirroring faces of whatever children they will contemplate old disasters and newer hopes. It will be there, musing, quiet, steadfast, not fading and not particularly threatful, but of itself alone serene, of itself alone triumphant" (Light in August, 465). To Deleuze, "Ithe life of the individual gives way to an impersonal and yet singular life that releases a pure event freed from the accidents of internal or external life, that is, from the subjectivity and objectivity of what happens." (83) We might say that the novel represents an unrepresentable and singular event--life itself at the moment that it is freed from living in one (human) body. In realizing that he can continue without an individual body, Christmas attains a "peace and ... quiet, until suddenly the true answer comes to him ... 'I don't have to bother about having to eat anymore,' he thinks. 'That's what it is'" (338). True, Christmas accedes to a life without sustenance, but this does not mean he dies. It does mean that he no longer has to deal with the aleatory nature of the mass body that induces him to fend off the categories that would make him useful to the agents of biopower, especially the family.

From the perspective of the mass body, Christmas is not dead, because he "dies" just after Lena's baby is born. Of course, the parentage of Lena's baby is questionable and her own family line even more uncertain. But this only secures her baby the same position Christmas occupied at his conception and birth. Because the baby remains unnamed, there is reason to see the baby as Christmas himself. Mrs. Hines not only confuses Lena's baby with her own grandson, Joey, but she also confuses Christmas with the father of Lena's baby. Lena gets "'mixed up too and I think that his pa is that Mr--Mr Christmas too--'" (409). Such confusion makes the point that Christmas lives, through Lena, as the principle of the exception to the system of differences that are prerequisite to kinship. The repetition rather than reproduction of the protagonist suggests that this principle spreads throughout the mass body, turning the prerogative of bare life from a lack of kinship into a positive extension of life.

Where Christmas's encounters with food, sex, and naming set others outside and apart from the body, serving to individuate them, Lena's encounters take others into the body and extend their lives. As the positive side of bare life, she differs from Christmas in one key respect. While he operates as a negative principle who enters the social body only to reject differences and cancel out kinship relations, she transforms multiple fathers into the principle of "bare life which is no longer confined to a particular place or a definite category ... but ... dwells in the biological body of every living being" (Homo Sacer, 140). Thus even the "race" of any father operates as a difference only within human sameness. Like those other social categories such as gender, Foucault explains that race is only a means of "introducing a break into the domain of life," which in Lena's body is continuous. (84) The mass body doesn't require such differences to thrive.

How can one imagine a social body without internal differences, much less our own lack of difference from the life of the species? By creating figures such as Christmas, who negates difference, and Lena, who incorporates differences within a single body, the novel conceptualizes a way of being "before" representation, when we "aint named ... yet" (Light in August, 410). Rather than simply marking an absence, the death of difference can become a positive event, because the differences that define individuals and the groups they form depend on exclusions. (85) What holds the living mass together if it cannot be defined in terms of race, class, gender, familial, and religious differences? Few of the characters of which the novel is made--Christmas, Lena, Hightower, or Byron Bunch--have families or are members of communities. Nor are they what Wendy Brown means by "sovereign, self-made, and privatized subjects." (86) Hightower cannot accept marriage, because "to him it was not men and women in sanctified and living physical intimacy, but a dead state ... of two shadows chained together with the shadow of a chain" (480). Like Christmas and Lena, he seems to be part of that life that goes on apart from the reproduction of men, women, marriage, family, foodways, religion, and naming. Lena can be read as a placeholder for life "before" naming and the imposition of boundaries. Instead of reproducing a family or living in a house where she never had one, Lena stays on the road and keeps "traveling ... with no idea of finding whoever it was she was following ... she had never aimed to... she had just made up her mind to travel a little further and see as much as she could" (506). To borrow Deleuze's metaphor, she won't "go for the root, but follows the canal." (87) In not being defined by where she did not come from anyway, Lena turns this double negative into a positive form that constitutes the living mass in its collectively generic rather than individually important "character."

Wesleyan University

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:20 pm

Lena Grove

Faulkner's Light in August.(William Faulkner's character Lena Grove).

The Explicator 60.2 (Wntr 2002): p89(3). (1240 words)
Author(s): Irene Visser.

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2002 Heldref Publications
Lena Grove, in Light in August, is one of the most mysterious and most underestimated of William Faulkner's fictional creations. In a 1957 interview, the writer stated that his original vision of Light in August had been "the idea of a young girl with nothing, pregnant, determined to find her sweetheart ..." (qtd. in Gwynn and Blotner 74). Later research showed that the novel had not originally started with Lena's story (Fadiman). Yet the inexactness of Faulkner's remark is less important than the fact that more than 25 years after writing the book, he remembered the destitute Lena as his inspiration.

Ever since Olga Vickery's description of Lena Grove as "stupid and selfish" (83), remarks about Lena's stupidity and amorality have reverberated in Faulkner criticism. Such readings, however, have overlooked the text references to Lena's intelligence, such as her "swift" thinking (9), as well as the many references to her moral sensitivity. The cabin episode, in which Lena and her "sweetheart" Lucas Burch finally meet, is a clear example of Lena's moral strength. Here, she sees her child's father as he really is--a liar, a cheat, and a weakling--but she still communicates with him respectfully, without judging, accusing, or condemning him. Her nonconfrontational but revealing gaze strips Burch "naked for the instant of verbiage and deceit" (477). Without anger or bitterness, Lena releases Burch from his parental responsibilities. In effect, she also releases herself, for she is now free to travel solely for the fun of traveling, unencumbered by the need to look for a husband.

Mysteriously, Faulkner describes Lena's face in this scene as "grave," having "either nothing in it, or everything, all knowledge" (477). This description apparently leaves the question of Lena's intelligence open to doubt, but what Faulkner in fact indicates here is that Lena possesses qualities that are hard to define. In The Origins of Faulkner's Art, Judith Sensibar notes that "grave" is one of Faulkner's favorite adjectives to indicate truthfulness and sincerity and that this preference can be traced back to his early days as an artist (97). He also uses itto describe Caddy Compson in The Sound and the Fury (99). Interestingly, Sensibar draws a parallel between Lena Grove and a character in Faulkner's early poem "A Dead Dancer." According to Sensibar, Faulkner tried to express a relationship without pretense or deceit in this early poem, a relationship where "false emotion falls away so that people experience a moment of truth" (100). This interpretation parallels the cabin scene in Light in August, for its crucial element is also the moment of truth, briefly experienced by the inveterate liar Lucas Burch and mysteriously invoked by the young mother, Lena Grove.

Ever since Joseph Blotner, Faulkner's first biographer, pointed out that Lena is the novel's "alpha and omega" (302), her thematic function as "light" and optimistic counterbalance to the dark and pessimistic story of Joe Christmas and the structural importance of her narrative (as the opening and closing chapters of the novel) have been amply analyzed. Martin Kreiswirth notes that "Faulkner wanted the reader to build the fictional construct upon this foundation" (59). Likewise, the contrastive thematic function of Lena's story has been discussed by various critics. Hans Bungert, in an article on Faulkner's use of humor, points out that "the action revolving around Lena Grove and Byron Bunch is a humourous antithesis to the tragedy, brutality, and horror prevailing in the other strands of action" (148). Andre Bleikasten, perhaps the most eloquent of Faulkner critics, writes, "Lena holds the novel together, enfolds it in her monumental serenity, makes it what it is: a story full of sound and fury set against a background of pastoral stillness, a tale of darkness fringed with light" (278).

The adjectives Faulkner uses to describe Lena underscore her madonnalike serenity; the related adjectives "serene," "quiet," "untroubled," "tranquil," "still," "calm," and "grave" occur most frequently (approximately 40 times). Less frequent, but still characteristic adjectives are "pleasant," "warm," and "friendly" (approximately 10 times). Least frequent, but closely related to the others, are "alert," "modest," "candid," "peaceful," "young," and "smiling," which also reinforce the sociable and serene aspects of Lena's character.

It is, therefore, impossible to conclude that Lena is presented as ignorant, stupid, or selfish. Likewise, it is impossible to ignore the many obvious parallels with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the many symbolic references to the story of Christ's birth. There is unshakable faith in divine guidance; the blue color of her dress and bonnet; and even the good but simple, oldish Byron Bunch, who may be seen as a Joseph accompanying the virgin Mary. Once Lena's baby is born, it is paralleled with the baby Joe Christmas. Millgate even suggests that this deliberate symbolism is "perhaps some slightly opportunistic exploitation of an available source" (Achievement 35).

Critics have also interpreted Lena as a fertility goddess or "earth mother." Bleikasten, for example, reads Lena as the Ephesian Diana in The Ink of Melancholy. Feminist critics, however, have found fault with what has been termed "the glorification of Lena as some sort of mythic figure, which has its roots in the dread of woman, and evinces man's feelings of awe, fear and sometimes disgust" (qtd. in Wittenberg, 115). Yet feminist critics have generally endorsed the interpretation of Lena as an earth mother, the symbol of maternal instincts, care, and strength. However, Lena's attitude towards her pregnancy and her baby reveals that her maternal instincts are not her prime motivators. She holds the child and feeds it patiently, but she finds her pleasure and fulfillment in traveling; in exploring the world and its people.

Lena is indeed more than what Wittenberg has called "an ambiguous celebration of the fecund female" (116). Her mysterious pleasure as a carefree traveler, moving slowly through various Southern states and crossing borders easily, is more noteworthy than her fecundity. This is also evident from Faulkner's reference to Lena's traveling "like something moving forever and without progress across an urn" (8): This is one of Faulkner's characteristic references to Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn," which to him symbolized timeless beauty, the unspeakable, mysterious beauty of art.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:22 pm

Ideology and Social Criticism

Faulkner's Parable of the Cave: Ideology and Social Criticism in Light in August.

The Mississippi Quarterly 52.3 (Summer 1999): p459. (9848 words)
Author(s): JOHN LUTZ.

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1999 Mississippi State University
They are like us, I said. Do you think, in the first place, that such men could see anything of themselves and each other except the shadows which the fire casts upon the wall of the cave in front of them? How could they if they have to keep their heads still through out life?(1)

IN A FREQUENTLY EXAMINED PASSAGE IN LIGHT IN AUGUST, a young Joe Christmas flees into the forest after experiencing Bobbie Allen's unwillingness to have sexual relations with him due to her menstrual period as both a rejection and an injustice. Repelled by what he perceives as the lawlessness of female sexuality, Joe finds himself "among the hard trunks, the branch shadowed quiet, hardfeeling, hardsmelling, invisible."(2) This dark and alienating space is described further in terms of its resemblance to a cave: "In the notseeing and the hardknowing as though in a cave he seemed to see a diminishing row of suavely shaped urns in moonlight, blanched. And not one was perfect. Each one was cracked and from each crack there issued something liquid, deathcolored, and foul" (p. 189). Although the reference to Keat's "Ode on A Grecian Urn" has been commented upon,(3) the more subtle allusion to Plato's parable of the cave has not been given sufficient attention. While the womb-like space described in the passage along with Joe's nausea and revulsion indicates his deep-seated ambivalence towards women, the very indistincness of the urnlike shapes in tandem with their imperfection are highly suggestive of the imagery of Plato's parable. Furthermore, at almost every crucial dramatic moment in the novel, images of shadows and light, ascent and descent, and stillness and movement dominate the action and suggest remarkable parallels with the description of the cave at the beginning of Book VII of The Republic. These parallels involve not only the imagery of Plato's parable, but extend to what is arguably the central concern of both The Republic and Faulkner's novel: moral education and its relationship to social justice. Both Joe's initial experiences in the orphanage and his later upbringing with the McEacherns provide examples of an education in racist and patriarchal values enforced by psychological and physical violence. Furthermore, Joe's origins will ultimately be revealed as coinciding with the murder of his mother by his fanatically racist and sexist grandfather, Doc Hines. Doreen Fowler aptly describes Hines as "a white-male supremacist, who stands for difference, boundaries, and repression; his life's work can be read as an effort to police the borders between self and other."(4) As such, he represents the negation of the values of sympathetic identification and compassion conveyed through the Lena Grove plot. Joe's education in violence provides both historical and psychological explanations for his instability and tendency towards irrational outbursts of aggression and insight into the ideological basis of his conflicted identity. Using Plato's parable as an implicit point of reference, Faulkner constructs a social world imprisoned by the shadows of racist and patriarchal ideology. In the social world of the novel, moral education is made manifest through the depiction of the often unspoken, but deeply held ideological views which inform the acts of collective violence in which many of the characters engage. Like the prisoners in Plato's cave, the vast majority of Faulkner's characters view their world through modes of perception dominated by moral blindness and self-delusion. Unable to pierce the gloom which surrounds them and unaware of their own imprisonment within a violent and brutal system of values, they fail to perceive the true shape and form of their society. Both the imagery of Plato's parable and its thematic concerns provide the central organizing principles of a novel which depicts the destructive impact of a patriarchal and racist system of values on the lives of its central characters.

As a metaphor for the social condition of the South, Faulkner's parable of the cave dramatizes racial contradictions by foregrounding the indeterminacy of Joe's racial origins. Joe's ignorance concerning his racial background contributes to the profound sense of alienation he experiences and intensifies his desire for immunity from the judgments of others. Caught between two widely divergent sets of social codes and expectations, Joe develops a social identity which is both ambiguous and internally conflicted. However, more than .simply suggesting Joe's ambivalence, the "notseeing and hardknowing" cave in which he finds himself serves as a metaphorical representation of the ideological mystifications of his social world. Joe Christmas is the embodiment of the South's racial divisions, and the metaphor of the cave can be extended to encompass the entirety of the social order depicted in Light in August. Joe's indeterminate position in relation to the categories of masculine/feminine and blackness/whiteness makes him the locus for the conflicts of gender and race which dominate his society. Through its depiction of Joe's internal conflicts, Faulkner's text deconstructs the binary opposition between these socially constructed identifcations by calling into question the verbal and cultural associations assigned to them. Joe's feeling of powerlessness and abjection, a feeling he continually struggles to repress throughout the novel, derives from his imprisonment within a social history informed by systems of victimization, oppression and cruelty. The imperfection of the "deathcolored urns" (an image which draws upon Keat's preoccupation in "Ode on a Grecian Urn" with the theme of change and permanence) suggests both the historical contingency of the ideological practices of Joe's social world as well as the continuing legacy of its violent and self-destructive past. As social criticism, the novel presents the inevitable disintegration of a social order built upon that past. At the same time, the novel presents the possibility of social change through a demystification of the attitudes and values of that order akin to the metaphorical significance Plato's ascribes to leaving behind the false images of the cave and ascending into the light of truth.

By utilizing Plato's implicit dichotomy between distortion and truth, Faulkner generates a method of critiquing ideology which is specific to the text of Light in August and linked to its dominant imagery. Moments of both insight and self-delusion are frequently connected to moments of descent into experiences of cave-like imprisonment and fear followed by an ascent into sometimes legitimate but more often self-deluded experiences of freedom or safety. An early event in the novel which utilizes the structural possibilities of the images of ascent and descent to suggest Joe's blindness to the unconscious psychological forces that direct his actions and his fear of the profound feeling of abjection that they signify occurs when he is unconsciously drawn towards Freedman Town, an area of the city reserved exclusively for black residents. When he finds himself in the town, Joe begins to experience a sense of enclosure similar to the one he experiences in the urn episode:

Then he found himself. Without his being aware the street had begun to
slope and before he knew it he was in Freedman Town, surrounded by the
summer smell and the summer voices of invisible negroes. They seemed to
enclose him like bodiless voices murmuring talking laughing in a language
not his. As from the bottom of a thick black pit he saw himself enclosed by
cabinshapes, vague, kerosenelit, so that the street lamps themselves seemed
to be further spaced, as if the black life, the black breathing had
compounded the substance of breath so that not only voices but moving
bodies and light itself must become fluid and accrete slowly from particle
to particle, of and with the now ponderable night inseparable and one. (p.
Joe's unconscious identification with the residents of the segregated Freedman Town is accompanied by a growing rejection of their foreignness and an insistence on their radical difference. Joe's complex psychological response involves both the degree to which he accepts the dominant values of his society and his deep-seated unconscious identification with the powerless and abject. The alien presence of the "invisible negroes" contains an implicit association with evil that corresponds to the dominant racist attitudes of the society. The geographically "lower" location of Freedman Town in relation to the white areas of the city along with its characterization as a "black pit" suggets a Calvinist vision of hell that conforms to Joe's religious upbringing. Joe's reaction is a clear indication of the extent to which he has internalized these values. At the same time, his unconscious attraction to the town and the disruption of boundaries that ensues suggest the indeterminate status of his own social identity. In a reversal of Plato's categories, Joe's descent into the town, a descent which also serves as a metaphorical descent into his unconscious, provides him with an opportunity for self-knowledge which he immediately rejects. Furthermore, the "bodiless" voices in tandem with the association with evil provide a parallel with Dante's Inferno, an allusion which suggests that Joe's flight from Freedman Town is a psychological defense mechanism that prevents him from acknowledging his unconscious identification with its residents. Like Dante, Christmas strays from the "correct" path and loses his way, an accident that provides him with the opportunity for insight into the hidden structure of his world. Unlike Dante, Joe rejects the insight into both self and society which the experience provides. In doing so, he represses his profound sense of vulnerability along with the possibility of discovering the victimization by the dominant values of his society which he has in common with black Southerners.

However, if Joe is unable to confront the degree to which his identification with racist values validates his own abjection and sense of inferiority, the text presents an extensive commentary on the extent to which the society of Light in August limits the possibilities of both blacks and outsiders like Joe Christmas. More than simply a descent into Joe's unconscious, the episode in Freedman Town reveals the ideological representations associated with blackness and whiteness which "naturalize" social inequality and conceal economic oppression. The fact that Joe has this experience in Freedman Town is doubly ironic. The blacks who live in the segregated town are free but not equal. They remain imprisoned by discrimination and the inferior position ascribed to them by society just as Joe remains imprisoned by the fears and obsessions produced by those same values. As the continuing description indicates, this imprisonment extends not only to blacks, but to women as well:

On all sides, even within him, the bodiless fecundmellow voices of negro
women murmured. It was as though he and all other manshaped life about him
had been returned to the lightless hot wet primogenitive Female. He began
to run, glaring, his teeth glaring, his inbreath cold on his dry teeth and
lips, toward the next street lamp. Beneath it a narrow and rutted lane
turned and mounted to the parallel street, out of the black hollow. He
turned into it running and plunged up the sharp ascent, his heart
hammering, and into the higher street. He stopped here, painting, glaring,
his heart thudding as if it could not or would not yet believe that the air
now was the cold hard air of white people. (p. 115)
Terrified by this brief glimpse of his own social imprisonment, Joe flees from a confrontation with the material conditions of his existence into a Platonic realm of geometric certainty which holds out the promise of freedom and the illusion of self-mastery. In this passage, blackness, vagueness, foreignness, sexuality and the feminine become explicit manifestations of all that the racist and patriarchal society identified with "whiteness" rejects and represses. Although he experiences it as a movement from danger to safety, Joe's ascent is a flight into ignorance and blindness, a flight into the white world of straight lines and coldness, and an ascent into the ruthless logic of racial and gender discrimination. Here, the allusion to Dante merges with the imagery of Plato's cave in an ironic characterization of Joe's flight which suggests that his ascent into heaven and knowledge is a form of self-delusion. In Joe's case, ascent involves a movement up a social hierarchy founded not upon divine justice or perfection, but upon forms of social justice deeply flawed by discrimination and institutionalized violence. In this hierarchy, distinctness and clarity are forms of self-deception which enforce the very inflexible codes of behavior that will ultimately be responsible for Joe's execution. The voices that Joe denies kinship with are also within him. As the locus for the South's conflicts of gender and race, Joe's consciousness can be viewed as a microcosm of the entire society: a society with profound economic and social investments in continuing to deny the suppressed voices within it.

The intricate connection among the economic, social and cultural elements of the institutionalization of racism in the South is given further emphasis through the interpretation that District Attorney and Harvard graduate Gavin Stevens provides concerning Joe Christmas's final moments. Speaking to a college professor from a neighboring university, Stevens speculates about Joe's psychological motivation in terms which equate "black blood" with violence, death and desire and "white blood" with restraint, religion and reason:

Because the black blood drove him first to the negro cabin. And then the
white blood drove him out of there, as it was the black blood which
snatched up the pistol and the white blood which would not let him fire it.
And it was the white blood which sent him to the minister.... It was the
black blood which swept him by his own desire beyond the aid of any man,
swept him up into that ecstasy out of a black jungle where life has already
ceased before the heart stops and death is desire and fulfillment. And then
the black blood failed him again, as it must have in crises all his life.
He did not kill the minister. He merely struck him with the pistol and ran
on and crouched behind that table and defied the black blood for the last
time, as he had been defying it for thirty years. (p. 449)
As a description offered by the District Attorney of Jefferson to a professor of a nearby university, the interpretation has enormous social and political significance. While the interpretation itself suggests that race is a biological inheritance rather than a social, political, and economic one, viewed in the context of the novel as a whole, the episode in which it is offered provides an implicit critique of any biological interpretation of racial identity. Through its emphasis upon "black blood" and "white blood," Gavin's interpretation naturalizes racist assumptions and conceives of violent and destructive behavior as characteristically "black" in origin.

In addition, Gavin's view of the events separates the intellect from the passions and the mind from the body by aligning intelligence with "whiteness" and aggressive and sexual drives with "blackness" in the same way Christmas does in Freedman. Town. Despite his education at a major Northern university (or perhaps because of it), Gavin continues to think within the categories that reproduce racial inequality. The significance of Gavin's interpretation lies in the degree to which it openly articulates the absurdity of the unconscious assumptions that inform commonly held perceptions concerning the foundation of racial differences. Far from being validated by the narrator, this interpretation provides a vehicle of social criticism when seen in relation to the dominant symbolism of the text. As Noel Polk points out, Gavin is not a reliable narrator of these events,(5) but rather a typical representative of Southern perceptions about differences between blacks and whites. Furthermore, the interpretation is offered by the head prosecutor of the county to a representative of cultural and intellectual authority in the university, a fact that suggests not only the degree to which racist assumptions are institutionalized in the justice system, but also the role which the educational system, plays in reproducing forms of knowledge which justify social and economic inequality. Gavin represents the Law that demands subjection to white male power; thus, it is far from surprising that his interpretation upholds the social boundaries between blacks and whites.

A more complete vision of this inequality comes shortly after Joe's flight from Freedman Town when he finds himself looking down from the woods at the entire town of Jefferson. Joe's ascent to the crest of the hill provides him with a vantage point from which he can survey the path which he has taken. Through Faulkner's unique version of free indirect discourse, we are given a perspective on the town which provides us with both Joe's subjective chain of ideological associations and an implicit critique of the brutal history underlying the ideological representations which reproduce social and economic inequality:

Then he could see the town, the glare, the individual lights where streets
radiated from the square. He could see the street down which he had come,
and the other street, the one which had almost betrayed him; and further
away and at right angles, the far bright rampart of the town itself, and in
the angle between the black pit from which he had fled with drumming heart
and glaring lips. No light came from it, from here no breath, no odor. It
just lay there, black, impenetrable, in its garland of Augusttremulous
lights. It might have been the original quarry, abyss itself. (p. 116)
In the preceding passage there are two intertwined levels of significance which are each conveyed through distinct metaphors and allusions. On the one hand, Joe's subjective psychological associations are informed by a racist ideology which associates "blackness" with evil, depravity and disorder. From this standpoint, the darkness and impenetrability of Freedman Town emanate from the fundamental nature of its residents. Joe's continuing reference to "breath" and "odor" along with the reference to the town as the "original quarry" suggest that his religious upbringing has instilled in him an obsession with purity that manifests itself in an additional association of "blackness" with the bestial, an association which places the residents of Freedman Town on the same level as animals. Here, smell replaces skin color as a signifier of race while remaining a cultural construct designating a "natural" difference.(6)

In addition, the allusion to Dante's Inferno continues to play a role in connection with Joe's Calvinist ideology but is not to be mistaken for the ideology of the text. Faulkner's use of free indirect discourse along with the metaphorical possibilities of Plato's allegory enable him to provide both a critique of the repressed history of Southern society and psychological insight into the source of Joe's fear and inner turmoil. Plato's descriptive language in The Republic contains a suggestive parallel with Joe's flight which provides an explanation for his behavior as well as the structural and metaphorical basis for the social criticism in the novel:

What do you think he would say if he was told that what he saw then was
foolishness, that he was now somewhat closer to reality and turned to
things that existed more fully, that he saw more correctly? If one then
pointed to each of the objects passing by, asked him what each was, and
forced him to answer, do you not think he would be at a loss and believe
that the things which he saw earlier were truer than the things now pointed
out to him? ... If one then compelled him to look at the fire itself, his
eyes would hurt, he would turn round and flee towards those things which he
could see, and think that they were in fact clearer than those now shown to
him.... When he came into the light with the sunlight filling his eyes, he
would not be able to see a single one of the things which are now said to
be true. (pp. 168-169)

Like the man in Plato's allegory emerging into the light of truth, Joe flees towards those things which he can see; he flees into the parallel, lighted streets and the orderly, "respectable" world of white society. Just as Plato later suggests in Book VII, this flight has everything to do with education: Joe believes that the things "which he saw earlier," that is to say, the ideological norms of the racially divided South, are "truer than the things" which his unconscious identifications "compel" him to see. The implicit teleological perspective which places black Southerners in the category of inferior animals in relation to whites is disrupted by a feeling of kinship which suggests a commonality of experience and a common humanity. Coming face to face with his own profound sense of vulnerability and unconscious identification with the oppressed, Joe is unable to acknowledge this feeling of kinship, projects his self-loathing onto the inhabitants of Freedman Town and represses his feeling of powerlessness. Significantly, before he flees, Joe can see nothing of what surrounds him and is led to associate the street itself with betrayal and falsehood.

At the same time, Joe's shitting back and forth between a white and black identity places him in a unique position through which we can glimpse both the dominant values of the society and their brutalizing effects. From Joe's vantage point on the hilltop, the darkness of Freedman Town not only provides an indication of his ideological associations, but also supplies the basis for a socio-economic critique of Southern racism. What Joe doesn't "see" is the basic underlying cause of the darkness. While Joe associates it with the fundamental nature of black people, the narrative provides an implicit but indirectly conveyed explanation of the "darkness" through the description from the; hilltop: the darkness emanates quite literally from the forces of social inequality which provide no electricity for the residents of Freedman Town. Thus, the "darkness," along with the evil, depravity, moral blindness and disorder associated with it, has its origin not in a natural and moral order of things which places black people in an inferior position, but rather in socially constructed forms of economic and social domination which are internal to the society as a whole and produce the disorder, violence and profound abjection which Joe conceals from himself. The lower position of Freedman Town suggests both social inequality and, through the example of Joe's fear of the feminine and obsession with racial purity, the role of racist and patriarchal ideology in suppressing the material causes of social disorder and violence. In this society, as Andre Bleikasten puts it, "only the white man can claim the privileges of full and sovereign humanity; he alone is entitled to lay down the Law. Women and blacks, on the other hand, the dangerous representatives of that which exceeds and negates all representation, are assigned to an inferior essence, and so are quite `naturally' destined to occupy subordinate positions in the social structure."(7)

The legacy of violence and ideological imprisonment which the text depicts as a direct consequence of racial inequality also extends to its treatment of gender. The damaging bifurcation in Joe's identity between a "whiteness," consisting of ideological notions of purity, order, rationality, law, light and moral supremacy, and a "blackness" associated with impurity, disorder, irrationality, lawlessness, darkness and moral inferiority also applies in an ambiguous passage that provides both a description of the underlying antagonism that informs the relationship between Joe and Joanna Burden and a psychological characterization of her self-divided identity:

Meanwhile the affair went on, submerging him more and more by the imperious
and overriding fury of those nights. Perhaps he realised that he could not
escape. Anyway, he stayed, watching the two creatures that struggled in the
one body like two moongleamed shapes struggling drowning in alternate
throes upon the surface of a black thick pool beneath the last moon. Now it
would be that still, cold, contained figure of the first phase who, even
though lost and damned, remained somehow impervious and impregnable; then
it would be the other, the second one, who in furious denial of that
impregnability strove to drown in the black abyss of its own creating that
physical purity which had been preserved too long now even to be lost. Now
and then they would come to the black surface, locked like sisters; the
black waters would drain away. Then the world would rush back: the room,
the walls, the peaceful myriad sound of insects from beyond the summer
windows where insects had whirred for forty years. (pp. 260-261)
This passage presents two mutually supporting readings which reinforce the text's ongoing social critique of racism and patriarchy. First, the two sisters locked in struggle represent contradictory aspects of Joanna's identity. On the one hand, the "still, cold, contained figure" represents those aspects of her personality which are completely identified with the dominant values of her society. The invulnerability of this figure suggests a psychological insight into the social mechanisms of repression which reproduce structures of inequality according to categories of race and gender. This sense of invulnerability is a social effect engendered by a subjective conviction of one's moral superiority, a conviction that goes hand in hand with a belief that one has absolute knowledge of the "truth." However, this conviction can only be maintained at an enormous social and psychological cost. As countless examples in the novel attest (Doc Hines and Percy Grimm to name a few), this conviction requires constant reinforcement by repetitive acts of collective violence, acts which always represent a futile attempt to suppress the fundamental human need for recognition and compassion. James Snead expresses much the same idea: "Society represses by violence the proofs of its own brokenness, yet cannot erase the double debris--both of its initial collapse and its violent repressions" (p. 82). The acts of violence themselves constitute forms of both psychological and social repression. Those at whom the violence is directed are kept in an inferior position and the knowledge of one's own vulnerability is effectively suppressed. The latter process is suggested through the second figure in the passage that denies the impregnability of the first. The second sister represents, on a psychological level, the brutalized and dominated figure who stands in abjection before the patriarchal values which have forced her to deny her own sexual and social needs. However, at the same time, the struggle between both figures illuminates the psychological foundations of the structures of inequality and brutality which govern the broader society: in order to maintain the illusion of invulnerability (and ideological purity) the hegemonic forces of society must continually demonstrate their superiority through repressive acts of psychological and physical violence.

Secondly, aside from dramatizing the conflict in Joanna's unconscious, the passage can also be read for its suggestion that Joe is one of the sisters described. Not only does the characterization of the first figure in terms of stillness, coldness and containment present a direct parallel with Joe's experience of the "cold, hard air of white people" in the Freedman Town episode, but the ambiguity of the passage is such that the representation of the two struggling sisters can also be read as a description of Joe and Joanna engaging in sexual intercourse. The "they" who "come to the black surface, locked like sisters" can refer to both the two contradictory forces in Joanna's psyche and to the underlying struggle for domination which informs Joe and Joanna's sexual relationship. As Doreen Fowler says, "The conflict between them mirrors the conflict within each of them. In other words, their own warring desires are externalized in their treatment of one another" (p. 85).(8) On this reading, Joe's identification as feminine is consistent with the position that he occupies in society. Both are sisters because both share a common abjection before the dominant patriarchal and racist values of their culture. In addition, both are psychologically split between an identity as a victim and a victimizer: as a white woman, Joanna is both a victim of the patriarchal values of her society and a recipient of the privileges derived from racial inequality just as Joe, alternately identified (both by himself and others) as a black male and a white male, is both a victim of racism and a source of patriarchal violence. In short, both have had their identity shaped by ideological values which enforce their powerlessness and social domination. Joe's inability to escape and seemingly passive participation in the passage suggests both the historical and psychological basis of his imprisonment and calls attention to the forms of social domination which have constructed it.

In the passage describing the events preceding Joanna Burden's murder, the metaphorical potential of Plato's parable is deployed once again through the imagery of shadow and light. Suggesting the manner in which the underlying struggle for power in their relationship has destroyed the possibility of any true intimacy between them, Joanna's intention to murder Joe suggests their mutual imprisonment in a monstrous self-hatred:

But the shadow of it and of her arm and hand on the wall did not waver at
all, the shadow of both monstrous, the cocked hammer monstrous, back-hooked
and viciously poised like the arched head of a snake; it did not waver at
all. And her eyes did not waver at all. They were as still as the round
black ring of the pistol muzzle. But there was no heat in them, no fury.
They were calm and still as all pity and all despair and all conviction.
But he was not watching them. He was watching the shadowed pistol on the
wall; he was watching when the cocked shadow of the hammer flicked away.
(pp. 282-283)
Immediately following Joanna's final attempt to get Joe to pray, the passage utilizes both the imagery of shadow and light and stillness and motion to present the struggle for dominance as a central feature of their relationship. The description of Joanna's arm and hand and the cocked hammer as monstrous along with the comparison of the hammer to a snake suggests the destructive and poisonous influences that inform her religious fanaticism. The stillness of her eyes, seemingly devoid of any emotion or capacity for compassion, presents an implicit critique of the rigid social convictions which provide no place for genuine sympathy or identification. At this moment, Joanna is incapable of recognizing Joe as a subject with his own needs, wants, and desires, but can only view him as an object to be dominated. Since she can't compel him to pray, she will assert her power by annihilating him. In similar fashion, Joe is unable to recognize Joanna: rather than look at her, he watches the shadow of the pistol on the wall as the hammer falls. At the end of the passage, the earlier imagery of the snake is carried forward to suggest Joe's suicidal fascination with his own death. Poisoned by an early education in violence, both Joanna and Joe realize that their condition is inescapable and choose death as a resolution to the psychic conflict that they share. Presented as the inevitable product of their antagonistic relationship, the suicide pact suggests the degree to which "racism in Jefferson is a chronic and endemic disease, to the contagion of which no one, whether white or black, is totally immune" (Bleikasten, p. 84). Furthermore, Joe's initial compliance in this pact explains the ease with which he is captured and the way he passively allows himself to be killed in Hightower's house.(9)

At the same time, the imagery in which the struggle between Joe and Joanna is presented ties their conflict to the larger conflicts of the entire society. The ancient pistol symbolically links both their psychic conflict and their struggle with one another to the brutal history of the South. The legacy of slavery, discrimination and patriarchal repression erupts into their relationship and destroys any possibility of their creating a positive, mutually beneficial relationship. Like the society as a whole, their education within an inflexible Christianity which justifies racially motivated violence and patriarchal repression has instilled in each of them a powerful, unconscious death wish that manifests itself through self-loathing and a destructive desire to dominate others. Imprisoned within these ideologies, the inhabitants of Jefferson are metaphorically, just as in Plato's parable, forced "to keep their heads still throughout life" and remain unable to "see anything of themselves and each other" except degraded and indistinct shadows of their true human form.

Immediately following this incident, the common imprisonment of all Southerners in a system of violence is emphasized when Joe waves down a car and takes hostages without being aware that he is holding the pistol: "But again Christmas did not notice. He saw only the two young, rigidly forwardlooking heads against the light glare, into which the ribbon of the road rushed swaying and fleeing" (p. 284). Here, the comparison to Plato's description of the cave is made even more explicit: the rigid "forwardlooking" heads area clear reference to those imprisoned in the cave in Plato's parable. Furthermore, the two hostages are described in terms which suggest that they have been immobilized by the threat of violence: the description suggests not that they are moving down the road but that the road is rushing into the headlights of the car. Not only does this passage emphasize their powerlessness, but it also suggests the degree to which Southern society is being driven by destructive forces beyond both its conscious awareness and ability to control. This unconscious desire for destruction is given further emphasis on the eve of Christmas's lynching when Hightower is listening to the sound of the organ beginning the evening church service:

The organ strains come rich and resonant through the summer night, blended,
sonorous, with that quality of abjectness and sublimation, as if the freed
voices themselves were assuming the shapes and attitudes of crucifixions,
ecstatic, solemn, and profound in gathering volume. Yet even then the music
has still a quality stern and implacable, deliberate and without passion so
much as immolation, pleading, asking, for not love, not life, forbidding it
to others, demanding in sonorous tones death as though death were the boon,
like all Protestant music. (p. 367)
As one of the tales which frame the story of Joe Christmas, Hightower's story provides a perceptive commentary on its meaning which, in almost obsessive fashion, repeatedly returns to the events surrounding Joanna's murder in an attempt to comprehend its underlying cause. For Fowler both the Hightower and the Lena Grove stories "appear to form concentric circles around a horrific center, the murder of Joanna Burden, as if the dark narrative at the novel's core needed somehow to be contained" (p. 64). However, more than simply the murder of Joanna Burden, the "dark narrative" at the novel's center consists of the destructive death drive continually (re) produced by the racist and patriarchal ideology of Southern society. In an interesting parallel with Joe's experience in Freedman Town, Hightower also hears voices detached from their point of origin which merge into one undifferentiated call for death. Through imagery identical to that used to describe Joe's experiences in Freedman Town, the horrific center of hell finds itself relocated to the Church and the white inhabitants of Jefferson. Presenting an implicit challenge to the ideological boundaries which reinforce divisions of race and gender, the description implies that the "dark narrative" that needs to be contained consists of the brutal character and self-destructive nature of the material conditions underlying the existence of the town's inhabitants.

Furthermore, Hightower himself becomes aware of the degree to which religious authority functions as an agency of repression which, in its incapacity to forgive or have genuine compassion for others, reproduces an unconscious desire for death that manifests itself in the victimization of African Americans, women and outsiders like himself who transgress social codes. As he begins to see the brutality which underwrites the religious impulses of the townspeople, the romantic heroism which informs his idealization of his grandfather also begins to crumble before the onslaught of the music:

Listening, he seems to hear within it the apotheosis of his own history,
his own land, his own environed blood: that people from which he sprang and
among whom he lives who can never take either pleasure or catastrophe or
escape from either, without brawling over it. Pleasure, ecstasy, they
cannot seem to bear: their escape from it is in violence, in drinking and
fighting and praying; catastrophe too, the violence identical and
apparently inescapable. And so why should not their religion drive them to
crucifixion of themselves and one another? he thinks. It seems to him mat
he can hear within the music the declaration and dedication of that which
they know that on the morrow they will have to do. (pp. 367368)
Hightower already knows what will happen the next day: he hears in the music the unconscious need of the townspeople to destroy Christmas. The very indeterminacy of Joe's racial origins makes necessary a finalizing act of violence to reassert the racial distinctions threatened by his very existence. As Eric Sundquist says, "The threat of physical amalgamation, of the disintegration of racial distinctions, erupts into the violent assertion of distinctions--one that radically denies the physical amalgamation that already exists and the psychological amalgamation that follows from it...."(10) Recognizing that both blacks and whites are imprisoned within the same social contradictions and, therefore, part of the same social totality, Hightower sees the degree to which their impending act of violence can only be a crucifixion of themselves. This very insight suggests how far Hightower has freed himself from the racist ideology of his society: to Hightower the music represents merely a glorified ideal that distorts the underlying exploitative social relations of Southern history. When he becomes aware of the continuity between that history and his own, he is no longer able to continue to live in an idealized, heroic past.

As the only character who seems to have been able to transcend at least the racist ideology of the society to embrace a more organic perception of the social whole, Hightower is able to present an interpretation of the events which is far more privileged than that of any other character. At a moment which can be interpreted as Hightower's final judgment upon himself and the history of the South, he has a vision of the entire society which appears to him as a wheel surrounded by a faint light. The faces of the townspeople surround the wheel and gradually give way to a single face comprised of two:

This face alone is not clear. It is confused more than any other, as though
in the now peaceful throes of a more recent, a more inextricable,
compositeness. Then he can see that it is two faces which seem to strive
(but not of themselves striving or desiring it: he knows that, but because
of the motion and desire of the wheel itself) in turn to free themselves
one from the other, then fade and blend again. But he has seen now, the
other face, the one that is not Christmas. (pp. 491-492)
The other face is the face of Percy Grimm, a fact that suggests Hightower's awareness of the fundamental struggle underwriting his society. The faces of the townspeople resolve themselves into a single face with two faces: that of victim and executioner. Significantly, neither is described as "willing" the struggle but is shown to be imprisoned within the "motion and desire of the wheel itself," a description that demonstrates the unconscious historical forces which underwrite the violence of individuals like Percy Grimm and Doc Hines. In Hightower's vision, Joe Christmas, despite being an atypical Southerner, "embodies," in Bleikasten's words, "its ambiguities and contradictions, acts out its conflicts, exemplifies in almost allegorical fashion the principle of division that both holds it together and threatens to tear it apart" (p. 85).

Significantly, the description which precedes Hightower's final vision is also presented in images of shadow and light. These images themselves are integral to the psychological process by which he comes to an awareness of his own moral blindness:

He sees himself a shadowy figure among shadows, paradoxical, with a kind of
false optimism and egoism believing that he would find in that part of the
Church which most blunders, dreamrecovering, among the blind passions and
the lifted hands and voices of men, that which he had failed to find in the
Church's cloistered apotheosis on earth.... He seems to see the churches of
the world like a rampart, like one of those barricades of the middleages
plante d with dead and sharpened stakes, against truth and against that
peace in which to sin and be forgiven which is the life of man. (p. 487)

Hightower's criticism of institutionalized religion represents perhaps the most powerful attack upon the forces of patriarchal repression and white supremacy in the novel. Not only presenting the Puritanism of the Church as a principle antagonistic to fundamental human needs, the passage also makes use of the dominant symbolism of the novel to suggest the false idealism and moral blindness of the society as a whole. The imagery comparing the Church to a barricade of "dead and sharpened stakes" emphasizes its ideological function in justifying social division. Bleikasten sums up this division: "Puritanism, in accordance with the converging traditions of Christianity and Platonic idealism, reasserts the old dualistic patterns of Western thinking--reality and ideality, matter and spirit, body and soul--and radicalizes them in terms of the Calvinistic division of humanity into elect and reprobate" (p. 96). In calling attention to the primary role of the Calvinism in (re)producing these fundamental ontological assumptions, Hightower's insight directly challenges racist and sexist ideology. Furthermore, in Hightower's narrative, the imagery of Plato's cave is used to deconstruct the very assumptions which underwrite idealism. In Hightower's earlier experience listening to the organ music, the Church service merges thematically and metaphorically with Joe's experiences in Freedman Town, a fact that suggests the dialectical process that binds both blacks and whites and men and women together in unrelenting antagonism and violence. In the undifferentiated darkness, the social body appears as one, and its contradictory and conflicted social character emerges to show itself' in the very process of its disintegration. Hightower's final insight is to recognize that the very forces that hold the social order together will inevitably be those which tear it apart.

If Hightower's narrative provides a vehicle for social criticism by framing Joe's story, the Lena Grove narrative, framing Hightower's, provides an imaginary solution to the unresolvable social contradictions(11) which lie at the core of the text. While Hightower's insights both preceding and following Joe's execution deconstruct the boundaries between black/white and masculine/feminine categories and challenge the idealist assumptions underlying the Puritanism which upholds these distinctions, the Lena Grove narrative, by serving as both a substitution and an atonement for the history represented by Joe's story, reasserts this idealism but transforms it into a means of challenging the racist and patriarchal ideology which it originally informed. The birth of Lena's child, both in the confused mind of Mrs. Hines and on a symbolic level, ties the three separate plots together by serving as a reenactment of Joe's birth. Significantly, in the description of Joe's birth the imagery of shadow and light reappears once again in connection with the brutalizing effects of patriarchal repression:

... and I went back to Milly and he stood outside the hall door where he
could see Milly until she died. And then he come in to the bed and looked
at the baby and he picked it up and held it up, higher than the lamp, like
he was waiting to see if the devil or the Lord would win. And I was that
tired, setting by the bed, looking at his shadow on the wall and the shadow
of his arms and the bundle high up on the wall. (p. 379)
Not only indicative of the cruelty and fanaticism of Doc Hines, the shadows on the wall are thematically and metaphorically tied to a symbolic structure that implicitly presents the events in the cabin as a microcosm of the society as a whole.(12) Milly's imprisonment within her home points towards the all-encompassing forms of social imprisonment (re)produced by Calvinist ideology. Helpless before the savagery of her father's Law, she is unable to defend herself or her child from its violence.

Not unlike Milly, Lena is also enticed from a repressive home by the promptings of her own sexual desire but manages to avoid the possibility of similar consequences by escaping. Described as a "hard man" from whom "softness and gentleness and youth ... and almost everything else except a kind of despairing fortitude and the bleak heritage of his bloodpride had been sweated out of him" (p. 6), Lena's brother responds to her pregnancy by calling her a whore. The description could easily pass for McEachern or Doc Hines: both are incapable of genuine compassion or sympathetic identification with others. In addition, the word "bloodpride" is a significant indicator of the same racial and patriarchal ideology which informs the religious fanaticism of both McEachern and Doc Hines. Perhaps sensing what lies ahead if she remains with her brother to await the return of Lucas Burch, Lena decides to strike out after him. The birth of Lena's child presents a direct parallel with Joe's birth in terms that suggest a triumph over the repressive forces represented by Doc Hines. When the child is born, both Doc Hines and Mrs. Hines are present once again:

Then he was quite busy; the old woman was at his elbow without his being
aware of it until she snatched the still unbreathing child and held it
aloft, glaring at the old sleeping man on the other cot with the face of a
tiger. Then the child breathed and cried, and the woman seemed to answer
it, also in no known tongue, savage and triumphant. Her face was almost
maniacal as he struggled with her and took the child from her before she
dropped it. "See," he said. "Look! He's quiet. He's not going to take it
away this time." Still she glared at him, dumb, beastlike, as though she
did not understand English. (pp. 402403)
In this passage, it is Mrs. Hines, not Doc Hines who is holding the baby aloft. Confusing the present and the past, Mrs. Hines even confuses the baby with Joe (and later Joe with the baby's father) until even Lena becomes confused. From this confusion, Sundquist aptly surmises that

The union of Christmas and Lena exists only in--one might rather say,
between--these two confusions about him as father and as son, a significant
coupling because throughout the novel it is exactly the ambiguity of the
filial relationship that determines the burden of his life. Moreover, and
more importantly, it is also the relationship that is made to represent the
trauma of the South in its acute sexual crisis--the threat that an
invisible menace will become all too visible. (p. 75)
Taking place at the moment of "augmenting dawn," the birth of Lena's child holds out the promise of a new age that transcends the social contradictions that Joe's violent tale bears witness to. While suggesting a kind of primal innocence that precedes the shadows of racist and patriarchal ideology, the "unknown tongue" with which Mrs. Hines seems to respond to the child, tied thematically to the growing light of dawn, presents the possibility of a language and a culture not imprisoned by distinctions of race and gender, a society where the shadows will be dispelled and the distortions of the cave left behind. With the exception of Doc Hines, whose threat is contained by the "savage" vigilance of his wife, each of the characters present at the birth subscribes to values of sympathy and compassion which set them apart from the puritanical, rigid moral codes of the majority of the townspeople. In this sense, Byron, Lena, and the child, travelling without any specific destination at the end of the novel, become symbols of the possibility of a new social order. On a symbolic level, Lena's very body, which, in the closing line of the novel she herself describes as "getting around," suggests an affirmation of all that Southern society expels as a sign of its own vulnerability. This affirmation has an important thematic connection to both Joe and the entire social world of the novel, as Joseph Urgo points out:

To Joe, the body is a racial and sexual trap, his social cage. The
grotesque image of the body, on the other hand, implies an understanding of
physicality which embraces ambiguity and imperfection... Christmas's
alienation from his body amounts to an alienation from its cultural
significance, an alienation from a system of meaning which damns him for
his racial ambiguity and considers his sexuality a threat to the
At the same time, Joe's alienation from his body is a characteristic he shares with the rest of the community. The racial and sexual cage in which he struggles ultimately applies to the entire social body: his chains are forged by the ideological forms which present race and gender as signifiers of a radical and menacing difference.

However, to the extent that the Lena Grove narrative presents no political or economic solutions to the brutality and exploitation engendered by patriarchy and racism, it can only reassert the very idealism which the novel attempts to transcend. Although the coincidence of dawn and the birth of Lena's child suggests the possibility of a society where the shadows of racist and patriarchal ideology have been dispelled, the final chapter narrated by the furniture dealer, through its idealization of Lena as an almost mythic figure and the condescending superiority of the dealer himself, reasserts both the idealism which underwrites the Puritan sensibility and the patriarchal ideology which has proven to be such a destructive force throughout the novel. Unmarried with a child, Lena remains outside the masculine/feminine categories engendered by patriarchy and represents a disruptive threat to the social order. Like Joe Christmas, her very existence challenges the distinctions which construct social identity exclusively on the basis of race and gender. Furthermore, in the relationship between Lena and Byron, traditional gender roles are reversed: Lena is the active, aggressive partner while Byron is passive, a fact emphasized by Byron's failed attempt to assert himself when he climbs into the truck with Lena. Significantly, in the entire narration of the events, this failed attempt to take the place of her rightful husband disturbs the furniture dealer the most: "Well, I was downright ashamed to look at him, to let him know that any human man had seen and heard what happened. I be dog if I didn't want to find the hole and crawl into it with him. I did for a fact. And him standing there where she had set him down" (pp. 503-504). What obviously disturbs the furniture dealer about this event is that Lena has the power to resist Byron's advances. The dealer is ashamed to let him know that any "man" had seen what happened. The implication, of course, is that Byron has some "right" to do what he wishes with Lena: her body ought to be an open field for him to inscribe his desires upon.

Of further significance is the fact that the furniture dealer's narrative frames this final episode. Lying :in bed in the darkness with his wife, the furniture dealer uses a comedic approach to distance the events described in order to contain their disruptive implications. His wife's protest, when the tale becomes too explicit, that she is a "lady" calls attention to the patriarchal codes which uphold marriage as the only acceptable vehicle for sexual relationships. Hence, despite the fact that Lena's story, by presenting the values of sympathetic identification and compassion, provides an ethical alternative to the Puritanism which underwrites the racist and patriarchal ideology of the society, this ethical alternative, representing a threat to the established social order, must be literally contained within the frame of the marital bed of the furniture dealer and his wife. Even here, the metaphorical implications of Plato's allegory are still being used: the furniture dealer and his wife are lying in the darkness as he tells her the story, a detail that ties in thematically with other images of darkness that suggest social imprisonment, moral blindness and social division. The distinction between body and mind or material and spiritual worlds implicit in Calvinist idealism expresses itself through an opposition in the dealer's narrative between the maternal body unsanctioned by patriarchal authority and the comedic, but unconsciously revealing, frame meant to contain it. The humorous tone with which the tale is told masks the hostility of the narrator towards Lena. As in Freud's description of the unconscious purpose of a joke, the humor makes possible the satisfaction of an hostile impulse that would otherwise be blocked.(14) In this case, the obstacle is Lena's uncircumscribed and seemingly uncontrollable sexuality itself. Although the humor seems to be at Byron's expense, its underlying motivation is to express hostility towards Lena. The furniture dealer's lighthearted, humorous approach conceals the all too serious anxiety and aggression which he experiences in response to the ambiguity of Lena's social position.

Although this ambiguity provides a vehicle for criticizing the forms of brutality and social imprisonment which characterize the society, the ideological codes which (re)produce this condition continue to insist upon its containment. In this regard, Plato's allegory of the cave is also instructive. Writing about the applicability of the idealism associated with Plato's philosophy to the Faulknerian universe, Joel Williamson identifies a basic continuum in both Faulkner's work and Southern thinking between perfect realism and perfect idealism.(15) Referring specifically to Plato's allegory, Williamson notes a dialectical relationship in Faulkner's work between conceptions of how the world ought to be (perfect idealism) and representations of how it really is (perfect realism). In Light in August, each of the characters moves along a continuum which reaches between these two extremes. At one extreme is an idealistic conception that views "true slavery, ideal slavery, the real slavery" as "paternalistic and marvelously good for its time" and the Confederacy as standing for the ideals of "freedom, honor, duty, courage, and loyalty" (p. 356). This paternalism is directly evident in the attitudes of Joanna Burden, Gavin Stevens, and, at least up until his final disillusionment, Hightower and provides an insight into Faulkner's complex relationship to the philosophical tradition of idealism. At the close of the novel, Plato's allegory plays a critical role in linking two different attitudes towards this tradition.

First, the realism of the text identifies the fundamental problem with Southern idealism in its most common manifestations: its tendency to mistake what ought to be for what actually exists. By pointing out the violence and brutality underlying the collective "ideals" of Southern society, the novel provides a critique of this form of idealism and indicates both the limitations of paternalism and its ideological role in (re)producing racism and patriarchy. Secondly, in an attempt to suggest solutions to the social problems which it identifies, the novel expresses another kind of idealism through the Hightower and Lena Grove narratives. Hightower's disillusionment with an idealized, heroic past and his discovery of a profound knowledge of self and society followed by the representation of Lena Grove's simple but indomitable spirit points to the triumph of an ethic of compassion and sympathetic identification over the social codes that enforce rigid and destructive distinctions based on gender and race. Through the depiction of Lena and those characters who help her, another form of idealism emerges which is entirely unlike the paternalistic ideal of the patriarchal and racist South. Unlike the paternalistic ideal, which, despite its claim to be grounded in compassion, remains hierarchical and reinforces social distinctions that have destructive and divisive practical consequences, the ideal of sympathetic identification collapses social distinctions and recognizes only the authority of human needs. In the final analysis, Light in August provides both a realistic critique of society as it exists that includes representations of the ideological role of Southern idealism in (re)producing social inequality and an idealistic perspective on how it ought to be by presenting an ethic of compassion and sympathy which is able to transcend its limitations. The Lena Grove narrative seeks to resolve the contradictions engendered by racial discrimination and patriarchal repression by presenting both an ,ethical perspective and a symbolism which challenges its assumptions. A large portion of that symbolism finds its source in Plato's allegory just as one of the basic impulses of the novel finds its source in the search for a world liberated from the distorted, grotesque shadows on the wall of Plato's cave.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:25 pm

Power Struggle

A Very American Power Struggle: The Color of Rape in Light in August.

The Mississippi Quarterly 51.3 (Summer 1998): p484(1). (7976 words)
Author(s): LAURA L. BUSH.
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1998 Mississippi State University
ONE OF THE MOST HORRIFIC SEXUAL SCENES OF VIOLENCE against women from William Faulkner's Light in August (1932) occurs when Joe Christmas, after having "despoiled" the "spinster" Joanna Burden for over a year, comes again to her bedroom and brutally rapes her. Recounted through Joe's perspective, the narrative frankly depicts this episode using the discourse of rape. Joe "boldly" enters the house, "mounts the stairs," walks through Joanna's bedroom door without knocking, and extinguishes the light. He intends to terrify his victim: "`Now she'll run,'" Joe thinks, "so he sprang forward, toward the door to intercept her."(1) Joanna responds to Joe's aggression not by running, as he expects, but by standing still: "IShe did not flee," the narrative reads. In fact, "She did not resist at all. It was almost as though she were helping him, with small changes of position of limbs when the ultimate need for help arose" (p. 236). Joanna's seeming assistance momentarily throws this rapist off guard, yet it does not prevent him from continuing the violence. In fact, his victim's passivity appears to fuel Joe's rage because he needs to terrify Joanna, a white woman, to feel power. Joe has been coming through the back door of Joanna's house over a year for food and for sex. This imbalance of power, added to Joe's troubled past with women, compels him to exert masculinist force: "He began to tear at her clothes. He was talking to her, in a tense, hard, low voice: `I'll show you! I'll show the bitch!'" (p. 236).

Limited to Joe's viewpoint, this rape narrative set in the Jim Crow South (circa 1920) prevents readers from knowing much of Joanna's feelings during the episode. Instead, Faulkner's novel requires readers to view, like voyeurs, Joe's brutality from a one-sided, abuser's perspective that disregards Joanna's probable fear, manifested in her prostrate position: "Beneath his hands the body might have been the body of a dead woman not yet stiffened. But he did not desist; though his hands were hard and urgent it was with rage alone" (p. 236). Joe's violence ends abruptly when he insists to himself that by forcing Joanna to submit, he has "`made a woman of her at last'" (p. 236).

Unfortunately, this rape scene, which occurs midway in the novel, also comes as no surprise to readers who have followed Joe's escalating equation of sex with violence: as a boy, Joe beats the defenseless "womanshenegro" in the barn where he and four boys gang raped her (p. 156). Then "without warning," as a teenager, he hits his waitress girlfriend Bobbie and begins "calling her his whore" (p. 199). And finally, as a young man, Joe beats an actual prostitute so badly that a policeman thinks she is dead (p. 225). Such repeated incidences of brutality show that Joe's past, added to his ferocity upon Joanna, is an accumulated desire to rape any woman who confuses, frustrates, or insults him (p. 236).

The ferocity directed at Joanna is significant, however, because Joe's rage originates from a power struggle that is both sexual and racial, and that takes place in the already-embattled Jim Crow South. Joe is dark-skinned and could pass as Mexican but identifies himself to Joanna as "black." She is identified as a white woman who feeds Joe at the kitchen table but does not invite him inside the main house. In addition, Joe senses that, as a man, he comes "like a thief" to Joanna's bedroom at night, but during the day, she only talks to him "like a stranger" on the back porch (p. 233). The clandestine nature of their culturally taboo relationship exacerbates this couple's potential for gender/race struggle in the South. Furthermore, since the two have been having a sexual relationship before Joe's attack, Faulkner's text invites readers to view Joanna's passive response to Joe's assault as willing complicity in her own victimization rather than as real paralysis at the hands of a rapist.

What Light in August ultimately illustrates, however, is that Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden are socialized to act out dysfunctional gender and race conflicts. Their dysfunction is played out through genuine rape, and later, through imitative rape, which Joanna stages herself, attempting to regain power over Joe. The novel locates one origin of Joe and Joanna's antagonistic gender/race relations in patriarchal, pro-slavery Southerners' enactment of Old Testament myth, which (at least since the time of the early Church Fathers) had been interpreted as positioning males over females and whites over blacks. Light in August also explores how Joe and Joanna's struggle for personal and cultural power literalizes the pervasive "myth of the Black rapist,"(2) which grew out of white Southerners' need to maintain white men's dominance by insisting on male/female, white/black binaries.(3)

Faulkner establishes the pervasive nature of Bible myth in Joe and Joanna's behavior by showing how the two characters are products of their male ancestors' religious fanaticism. Doc Hines, Joe's grandfather, is a man who reads the Bible to his wife out loud, "hollering ... like he believed she didn't believe what it said" (p. 381). When his unmarried daughter Milly gets pregnant with Joe by a traveling dark-skinned circus performer, Hines is furious, calling Milly a "whore" and her baby the "`devil's laid by crop'" (p. 377). Doc Hines believes further that Joe is "`God's abomination of woman flesh'" (p. 373) and that he himself is destined to be "the instrument of God's will" (p. 380). In other words, Hines feels justified by God to kill Joe's "black" father, allow Milly's death during childbirth, and place Joe in an orphanage where other children "mark" him "nigger." Hines is convinced that the children's name-calling and Joe's subsequent ostracism is merely "the vengeful will of the Lord" (p. 383).

Like Doc Hines, Mr. McEachern, Joe's adoptive father, is a violently religious man who claims "`the two virtues are work and the fear of God'" (p. 144). McEachern literally tries to beat the fear of God into his adopted son when Joe is only five years old (p. 144). At eight, Joe "became a man" by defiantly absorbing three whippings from this religious fanatic who also tries to force Joe to learn the Presbyterian catechism (p. 146). With his pants around his knees while McEachern sadistically beats him ten strokes per whipping, Joe "did not flinch." The boy stares outward "with a rapt, calm expression like a monk" (p. 149). The scene demonstrates how a young child is taught, through brutal religious fanaticism, to associate manliness with sexualized violence and then to believe that because he is a stubborn, disobedient child, he is nothing more than an animal: "Joe rose from the bed and went and knelt in the corner ... above the outraged food kneeling, with his hands he ate, like a savage, like a dog" (p. 155).

Joanna Burden's male heritage is similarly brutal. Calvin Burden, Joanna's grandfather, insists that he'll "beat the loving God" into his four children "as long as he can raise his arm" (p. 243). The narrator observes that Burden had "a hand more apt for a rope or a gunbutt or a knife than a pen" (p. 242). Similar to Joe Christmas's Southern male progenitors, Joanna's Yankee grandfather reads the Bible out loud to his children with the "immediate hellfire and tangible brimstone of which any country Methodist circuit rider would have been proud" (p. 242). Unlike Hines and McEachern, however, Burden is a Northerner who has a "Nordic" appearance and is adamantly against slavery. Yet despite his abolitionist tirades, Joanna's grandfather is still a racist who believes that black people's skin color is "the weight of the wrath of God, black because of the sin of human bondage staining their blood and flesh" (p. 247). This weight of God's wrath becomes, according to his interpretation of the Bible, white men's "burden" to carry and also to "lighten," hence the name "Calvin Burden." He observes, "But we done freed them now, both black and white alike. They'll bleach out now. In a hundred years they will be white folks again. Then maybe we'll let them come back into America" (p. 248).

Burden regards his own mixed-race, Spanish/Mexican/Caucasian son, Nathan, and namesake grandson, Calvin, with begrudging contempt and duty: "`Another damn black Burden,' he said. `Folks will think I bred to a damn slaver. And now Nathan's got to breed to one, too'" (p. 247). The grandfather feels relief that even though his grandson is "black," at least he's manly. In his white experience, masculinity has the power to redeem and protect, regardless of a man's race: "`He's got a man's build, anyway, for all his black look. By God, he's going to be as big a man as his grandpappy; not a runt like his pa. For all his black dam and his black look, he will'" (p. 248). Ultimately, however, both this white grandfather and his "black burden" grandson are not safe from Southern violence, no matter how manly they act.

Faulkner's characterization of Joe and Joanna's forefathers shows how their interpretation of Genesis sets a precedent for privileging white males.(4) The tensions of domination and submission are always at work in these characters' minds. The binaries that cause such tensions are complicated and further exacerbated by Joe's ambiguous race--which he and the culture make "black" in relation to Joanna--and by Joanna's fluid gender, which Joe tries to make "woman" by using sexual brutality. Ambiguity about characters' race or gender reflects Southern experience more accurately than the absolute boundaries that literalists of the Bible such as Doc Hines, McEachern, and Calvin Burden want to enforce.

Besides depicting their violent religious parentage, another way that Faulkner emphasizes the influence of Genesis myth on Joe and Joanna's cultural training is by re-enacting the Garden of Eden story when Joe first appears at Joanna's house. Joe does not, however, play "Adam" (white male) to Joanna's "Eve" (white female). Instead, from the beginning, Faulkner purposely characterizes Joe as a cunning black serpent threatening Eve's Paradise. The novel thus depicts precisely how Southern white culture would view a man who eventually tells Joanna that he is "part nigger" (p. 254).(5)

Before meeting the unmarried woman who lives on the outskirts of Southern white society, Joe is figured as a menacing "black" snake. He stakes out Joanna, a white virgin, behind the bushes near her house. Lying "in the copse, on his belly on the dark earth," Joe watches the light in Joanna's window until she extinguishes it. Then, after dark, Christmas makes his move: "He could feel the neversunned earth strike, slow and receptive, against him through his clothes: groin, hip, belly, breast, forearms. His arms were crossed, his forehead rested upon them, in his nostrils the damp rich odor of the dark and fecund earth" (pp. 228-229). The narrative's focus on the dark earth's fertility foreshadows Joe's animalistic intentions toward an unsuspecting woman who sleeps with her doors unlocked and her windows "propped open with a stick" (p. 229). Joe interprets the open windows as a frank invitation to enter: "`Well. Well. Well. What do you think about that,' he thought" (p. 229). This will not be the first time Joe believes Joanna is "welcoming" his advances.

Transforming from a phallic snake to a night-prowling tomcat--which his bootlegging partner, Joe Brown, will eventually call him (p. 274)--Christmas slinks into Joanna's house through the window. Exiting and entering through open windows in this novel becomes a recurring trope for sexual recklessness and promiscuity, behaviors often assigned by white Southerners to "black" men. Unsuspecting, Joanna enters her kitchen holding a candle. Then, with a fearless voice that is "calm, a little deep, quite cold," she tells him, "`If it is just food you want, you will find that'" (p. 231). However, readers are not meant to feel as trusting as Joanna appears. She may view Joe as just another colored transient in need of help, but the narrative indicates Joe is after this woman for more than food.

Depicting Joe as the dark serpent from Bible myth initiates "the citation of the law which is the very mechanism of its production and articulation."(6) In other words, Faulkner's story re-inscribes and thereby utilizes the power of Genesis on Southern American consciousness and culture to foreshadow Joe's nearly inescapable identity as a potential rapist. According to white Southerners' socialized codes of behavior, any sexual relation between a "black" man and a white woman is rape: "The white woman represented the one absolute possession of the white man no black could approach with impunity" (Roberts, p. 155). Furthermore, the novel shows how religious white Southerners often attached this negativity to black/white relationships, believing that scripture first asserted the Law of the Father, establishing Satan and then Cain as "black" snake-like sinners who deserved punishment and subordination: "And the Lord God said unto the serpent, because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3:14).

As a product of Southern culture, Joe knows this Old Testament myth well. Doc Hines begins the process of teaching Joe as a child that "God had marked his face" (p. 383). Then McEachern beats his adopted son into further abjection so that, as Doreen Fowler puts it, "Childhood experiences confirm Joe in his conviction that others want to destroy him," and he comes to believe he is a "nigger." This is "not only literally in the sense of having black blood, but also figuratively in the sense of having been labeled `inferior.'" In effect, Joe comes to accept the "role of outcast."(7) As an adult, he takes up this abject position even more by assuming the social position of black male rapist. He senses the enormity of this myth in Jim Crow culture and early on begins to literalize its power in his personal relations. Raping, Joe learns, enables him to dominate women and threaten white men.

Enduring long after emancipation, the myth of the black rapist aimed to maintain white male power. In part, Faulkner's text demonstrates how Joe's abusive behavior grows out of the idea that black men lusted after white men's women and that white women fantasized about being "taken" by black males. According to Winthrop D. Jordan, very little, if any, proof exists for "the danger of sexual violence by Negroes."(8) Still, territorial white men frequently justified their violence upon black men by claiming to be protecting white women from dark-skinned menaces, though "this chivalry turned out to be more for the men's satisfaction than the women's comfort."(9) Angela Davis points out that the myth was "methodically conjured up" (p. 173)and was a "distinctly political invention" (p. 184), appearing only after the Civil War, when, contends Davis, a rape charge could justify lynching black men (p. 185).

In the American South, bell hooks adds, the "overlapping discourses" of race and sex started with slavery--the ultimate colonization of people of color by whites. Originally the discourse figured rape as a "right" and a "rite" of white males upon black women's bodies. In effect, white men reinforced their domination over black men through rape, "a gesture of symbolic castration."(10) After slavery was abolished, however, white men invented a new story that figured black men as rapists who wanted freedom so that they "would have access to the bodies of white women"(p. 57). This invented "black male rapist" did not want white women for pleasure but to get revenge and to "regain power over white men" (p. 58).(11)

Joanna Burden herself recounts the cultural fear of black male perpetrators. She tells Joe, for example, that Southerners hated Yankee carpetbaggers like her own Burden family, who, white Southerners assumed, came "stirring up the negroes to murder and rape.... threatening white supremacy" (p. 249). According to Joanna, such violent incidences did not occur. In fact, her "foreign," New Hampshire-born Burden family could continue living in the South because "all the men who had fought in the Civil War were getting old and the negroes hadn't raped or murdered anybody to speak of" (p. 250).

Besides supporting a bankrupt chivalric code intent on protecting white women who needed no protection, white male Southerners also felt "anxious over their own sexual inadequacy." This led to "a racking fear and jealousy" about their sexual prowess, which made them further anxious about white women's real desires: "Perhaps the Negro better performed his nocturnal offices than the white man. Perhaps, indeed, the white man's woman really wanted the Negro more than she wanted him" (Jordan, p. 80). White masculinity also depended on the "purity of white womanhood." Hence, the "revolt and rape by dehumanized black hordes was the classic white male nightmare."(12)

Both Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden know all too well this Southern script of the black male rapist who ravishes a "willing" white woman. Faulkner's narrative, in fact, continually draws attention to the idea that Joanna and Joe "act" or resist "acting" according to pervasive social scripts like the one about black on white rape. According to Judith Butler, "performances" of gender roles, such as the genuine and imitative acts of rape performed between Joe and Joanna, occur because gender and, by extension, race, are not innate. Instead, they are socially established norms within a particular time and place. Such relations, explains Butler, are normalized through reiterated acts which actors may or may not consciously choose (pp. 140-141).

In Joe and Joanna's case, Faulkner has imagined two identities that are both complex and permeable in their race and gender performances. They do not neatly fall into Southern male/female, black/white scripts: Joe is neither white nor black and Joanna seems both male and female.(13) Nevertheless, the novel finally demonstrates that this man and woman's gender and race "acts" inevitably do literalize potent cultural myths that place them in a deadly struggle for the kind of power which fulfills the social expectations of the Jim Crow South, a struggle that leads inexorably to their violent deaths. Specifically, Joanna's final role in the novel is as a white Southern woman, raped and later decapitated by Joe, a "black" man who ends up castrated and murdered by an angry white mob.(14)

Besides the influence of Genesis, Faulkner's novel purposely traces Christmas's abused and abusive childhood, his teen, and young adult years, exploring social influences that might produce a rapist. What results from Joe's being abused is a character who relies on his community to teach him who he is: "Christmas is at the complete mercy of his culture to provide an identity for him," claims Joseph Urgo.(15) One American identity he readily adopts is that of the violent sex abuser. In fact, Joe knows that this role, this male identity, gives him power over women in a patriarchal culture. During the first phase of his relationship with Joanna, for instance, Joe garners male power by repeatedly "despoiling" her virginity and then by brutally raping her. Joe's assault on Joanna is real. Graphic details from the text confirm that Joe does not pretend to rape Joanna as perverse sexual play. He genuinely means to brutalize her into submission because he derives a fleeting sense of masculine strength, and, thus, an equally fleeting degree of social affirmation within the patriarchal South when he compels Joanna to yield up her virginity or forces her to behave like a "woman" by submitting to his will.

What has been socially established for Joe is the law of male dominance and female submission. Although he is subordinated to Joanna by her whiteness, Joe attempts to dominate her through masculinity, avoiding weakness or "womanly" vulnerability. Besides his patriarchal conditioning, Christmas's internal struggle against "womanliness" creates fertile conditions for committing rape. Such a desire for cultural power becomes especially great in relation to Joanna because her often man-like strength threatens his own masculinity and repeatedly disrupts his gender expectations. As a man, he needs to dominate their interactions. Joanna's fluid personality, however, prevents him from gaining control because her behavior subverts rigid male/female roles in the South.

What Joe encounters is Joanna's "dual personality." The first, her female persona, offers him (as a mother) "a horizon of physical security" or (as a mistress) "adultery if not pleasure" (pp. 234-235). The second, Joanna's male personality, displays "mantrained muscles and the mantrained habit of thinking born of heritage and environment with which he had to fight up to the final instant" (p. 235).Joe recognizes Joanna's social conditioning, but he also fears that Joanna's "training" has gone wrong since she often acts like a man. When Joe approaches Joanna for sex, for example, she does not behave properly: "There was no feminine vacillation, no coyness of obvious desire and intention to succumb at last. It was as if he struggled physically with another man for an object of no actual value to either, and for which they struggled on principle alone" (p. 235). The object of "no actual value" is Joanna's well-kept virginity. Joe assumes her Southern training has taught her to protect virginity fiercely. Eventually, however, a woman should yield with feigned feminine resistance to a man. Instead, Joanna angers Joe by giving up her long-held purity with masculine stoicism. She disrupts his sexual script: "It was not woman resistance." Rather, Joanna had "resisted fair" like a man, by "the rules of physical combat ... that decreed that upon a certain crisis one was defeated, whether the end of resistance had come or not" (p. 235). By doing so, early on in their relationship, Joanna robs Joe of his masculine power. "`My God,' he thought, `it was like I was the woman and she was the man'" (p. 235).

For a year, Joe obsessively repeats this "despoiling" cycle, feeling like a failed criminal who instigates surreptitious sex: "Even after a year it was as though he entered by stealth to despoil her virginity each time anew. It was as though each turn of dark saw him faced again with the necessity to despoil again that which he had already despoiled--or never had and never would" (p. 234). Joe's failure to achieve dignified, manly control intensifies his frustration during each sexual encounter. His fear and hatred intensify because when it comes to power, Joe must rely on his primary advantage, masculinity, to attain any cultural authority over a white female. Her manlike stoicism thwarts this. Furthermore, as a land owner and white woman, Joanna always enjoys a measure of privilege over Joe. She has endured the label "spinster" (unsexed, undesired, and unclaimed), and when she finally has sex with Joe, she behaves matter-of-factly, disregarding its importance. To force Joanna into her culturally subordinate place, Joe must demonstrate who the man and who the woman is in their relationship: "`I'll show her,' he said aloud." After the rape, Joe concludes, "`At least I have made a woman of her at last.'" Sexual brutality, he thinks, has forced Joanna to act as she is supposed to act and to hate him for it besides. "`I have taught her that, at least,'" believes Joe (p. 236).

Even after enduring brute force, Joanna never really submits. Instead of despising Joe, for example, Joanna locks the usually opened back-porch door, and then continues to leave the kitchen door open for him, a "colored" man, so that he can come in and eat. The purposely demeaning gesture insults Joe: "It was as though some enemy upon whom he had wreaked his utmost of violence and contumely stood, unscathed and unscarred, and contemplated him with a musing and insufferable contempt" (p. 237). He surveys the food she sets out for him and thinks, "Set out for the nigger. For the nigger" (p. 238). In this case, Joanna's momentary mastery over Joe is a victory of race and class. She is a financially secure white woman; he is a laboring "black" man. Continuing to leave food out for him signifies his subordinate position to her as a "nigger." For all his attempts to gain the upper hand, to achieve power, Joanna outwits him again. Through the small but significant gestures of a locked door and a food dish, she exercises her own race/class position in the American South by putting him in his subordinate place as a "black" man.

Joe seeks power through brutal masculinity, but also through the fear he can evoke by identifying himself as "black" rather than as "Mexican." Ironically, however, to identify himself as black leads not to greater power but merely to a violent, emasculating death by white Southerners. In contrast, Joanna achieves a measure of control over Joe through her race and class position; however, this couple's gender, race, and class differences heighten their relationship's power struggle, and thus the danger, for them both.

Six months after Joe rapes Joanna, she devises a plan for regaining charge of the relationship by making the most startling power move of all: Joanna requires Joe to play out the myth of the black rapist. During their relationship's "second phase," she temporarily abandons her own "masculinity," revealing her hair and staging the eroticized script of black male perpetrator and white female victim. This domination/submission script excites Joanna. It also creates the illusion of utter control for herself. Unlike the first phase of their sexual relationship when Joe rapes Joanna to exercise his control over her, during their relationship's second phase, Joe feels increasingly threatened by the now-feminized, sexualized Joanna's ability to control him.

Since Joanna directs her own rape fantasies, Joe perceives himself as becoming merely an actor in her play. He watches this spinster, who has been celibate for years, go from "New England glacier" to the "fire of the New England biblical hell" (p. 258). Joanna manipulates their sexual encounters into secret trysts. She requires Joe to "climb into a window to come to her" or share a wild night outside her house where, "with her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her, in the wild throes of nymphomania," she would call out for rape by this "black" man: "`Negro! Negro! Negro!'" (p. 260). From the perspective of Joe's narrative, "It was as if she had invented the whole thing deliberately, for the purpose of playing it out like a play" (p. 259). Also during this phase, Joanna displayed "an avidity for the forbidden wordsymbols" and the "impersonal curiosity of a child about forbidden subjects and objects" (p. 258). What Southern culture most forbids, of course, is a relationship between a black man and a white woman. Enacting the forbidden provides Joanna, a supposedly anti-racist Yankee, a transgressive, erotic, and rebellious freedom. Her performance of these rape fantasies "shocked," "astonished," and "bewildered" Joe into believing his lover was "mad" (p. 259).(16)

When Joanna stages these sexual "intrigues," Joe becomes fearful. In fact, performing rape appears to frighten Joe as much as he wanted to frighten her with a "real" rape: "... it was as though with the corruption which she seemed to gather from the air itself, she began to corrupt him. He began to be afraid" (p. 260). Faulkner's text seems to argue that the origins and motivations behind Joanna's behavior derive from Southern "air" itself. Individuals, it appears, can actually breathe racism and misogyny out of the South's atmosphere. This ubiquitous corruption is bigger than Joe can comprehend. It horrifies him. He even believes that Joanna's orchestrated rapes are more reprehensible than what he describes as his own "healthy," "normal" acts of "anonymous promiscuity" (p. 260). Joanna's black/white rape fantasy represents the corruption of the Southern culture which created such a perversion. Joe thinks to himself, "I better move. I better get away from here" but, of course, "he realised that he could not escape" (p. 260). Losing his genuine rapist power eventually infuriates Joe enough to kill Joanna and thereby fulfill the cultural myth. He and Joanna, it seems, are trapped into participating like unwilling actors in a tragic cultural play. In one of several disembodied moments in the novel when Joe watches himself and Joanna as though they are actors, the narrative describes how "Joe stayed, watching the two creatures that struggled in the one body like two moon-gleamed shapes struggling drowning in alternate throes upon the surface of a black thick pool beneath the last moon" (p. 260).

Similar to the exploration of the development of Joe's abusive character, Faulkner's novel demonstrates how Joanna, too, is a complicated product of her family and cultural heritage. The novel examines Joanna's childhood training through her own narrative about the Burden family's mixed-race, Mexican heritage. She concludes her family's genealogy by remarking that they were shaped by their environment, that "`a man would have to act as the land where he was born had trained him to act'" (p. 255). In effect, Joanna's observation gives explicit evidence to show that "Faulkner is examining the nature of civilized societies and socialized human beings" (Fowler, p. 307).

Joanna is named after "Juana," her father's first wife who was Mexican and of Spanish descent. Joanna's only memory of her father is that, when she was four, he took her into the cedars to point out her dark-skinned, half-brother Calvin's and Grandfather Calvin's hidden graves. As an innocent four-year-old, she did not want to go, fearing some foreboding event in the forest. Just as the novel portends, Nathan Burden encodes upon the mind of the child, Joanna, dreaded lessons about the subordinate black race which she carries into her adult relationship with Joe. The novel demonstrates how these cultural myths, which permeated the South and maintained patriarchal order, were sustained by word of mouth from father to son, or, as in Joanna's case, from father to daughter. Describing the racially motivated deaths of the two Calvins, Nathan warns his impressionable child,

"`Your grandfather and brother are lying there, murdered not by one white
man but by the curse which God put on a whole race before your grandfather
or your brother or me or you were even thought of. A race doomed and cursed
to be forever and ever a part of the white race's doom and curse for its
sins. Remember that. His doom and his curse. Forever and ever. Mine. Your
mother's. Yours, even though you are a child.'" (p. 252)
Joanna carries this dark "curse" with her like a "cross," believing, as her father says, that it is an inescapable "shadow," and that the white man's heavy obligation is to "`raise the shadow with you'" (p. 253).(17) Despite this white burden, however, Joanna's father re-inscribes white superiority by observing that "you can never lift it the shadow to your level. ... The curse of the black race is God's curse. But the curse of the white race is the black man who will be forever God's chosen own because He once cursed him" (p. 253).Joanna tells this story to Joe, and in the telling, she shows Joe his racially subordinated position in her white mind. "`There was something I was going to ask you,'" says Joe. "`But I guess I know the answer myself, now'" (p. 253). The story Joanna tells Joe about her mixed-race genealogy is evidence of her indoctrination in racist belief and practices through her religious father and grandfather. Like Joe, she, too, is the product of a mixed-race past that includes people of Mexican origin. Having a relationship with Joe, a man who looks "Mexican," gives Joanna a venue for playing out her own family's ancestral mythology and perpetuating the burdensome past.

During the relationship's third phase, Joanna abandons her sexually charged rape fantasies to embrace a pseudo-marriage, complete with her own imagined pregnancy (p. 263). In effect, Joanna tries on various roles available to women in the South--virgin, whore, and mother. During this final stage, Joanna seems to know by "instinct alone" that she has reached the "autumn" of her life, that she must act quickly: "She began to talk about a child, as though instinct had warned her that now was the time when she must either justify or expiate" (p. 263). She intends to re-enact and redeem her own family history of

Mexican/black/white blood by having a baby with Joe, a man who could be Mexican or black, a negligible distinction in white Southerners' minds. This pregnancy will also fulfill her conditioned role--the white (wo) man's burden--to uplift the black man and whiten his blood by giving birth to a mixed-race child.

Joe now expects Joanna to seek marriage. He thinks he will foil her desire, resisting marriage's confinement by leaving before she can trap him: "`Here it comes. She will say it now: marry. But I can at least get out of the house first'" (p. 265). Again, however, Joanna disrupts gender expectations. This woman does not say "marry." All she wants is to use Joe for the baby he can give her. "`A full measure'" she tells Joe. "`Even to a bastard negro child. I would like to see father's and Calvin's faces. This will be a good time for you to run, if that's what you want to do'" (p. 266). Thus, despite Joe's planned escape, Joanna deploys a strategic, pre-emptive strike by telling him what she wants, a baby, and then by allowing him to leave.

Joe cannot bear to lose this final battle. He decides to hang around longer for as much "jack" as he "can get" (p. 267). Lying in his "draughty cabin" thinking of Joanna's bedroom "with its fire, its ample, quilted, lintpadded covers," Joe "was nearer to selfpity than he had ever been" (p. 267). After months of stubborn waiting, Joanna leaves Joe a note: "It was brief; it was an order almost, directing him to come to the house that night" (p. 267). Without reading her message, Joe thinks its appearance proves he has finally gotten the upper hand: "`I have just been waiting to be vindicated,'" says Joe. Then, according to some unconscious script, Joe prepares "like a bridegroom, unaware of it" to visit Joanna's bedroom (p. 267). He believes she is about to surrender, that she wants sex with him, that she has "come around" and that "s he sees now that what she wants, needs, is a man." Finally, he would have the "whiphand" (p. 272). As in the rape that characterizes the first phase of their relationship, Joe "mounts" the stairs to Joanna's bedroom (p. 275); however, this time she is the one about to terrorize him.

Instead of showing womanly submission, when Joe enters her bedroom, Joanna begins to lecture her lover with "the calm firmness of a man" (p. 268). She has an entire plan, in fact, for making him into a man equal to herself. Ironically, then, to masculinize Joe, she will emasculate him. Suggesting that she will turn over her duties helping Negro schools to Joe, she then indicates that she will perform the traditional female role of his secretary. With her influence, she explains, he will be able to study law at what Joe refers to as a "nigger school." Emphasizing her influential power, Joanna assures Joe that "`they will take you. Any of them will. On my account'" (p. 276). Joanna believes that like her, Joe should assume the "burden" of "`helping Negroes up out of darkness'" (p. 276). Once again Joanna utilizes her race privilege in America to subordinate and demean Joe--to make him a "nigger." Joe will not endure this final degradation. Attempting to degrade her with an insult equal to her own, Joe scorns Joanna's appearance: "`You're old. ... You've got gray in your hair'" (p. 277). Then he seals the gender insult with an attack on her barrenness: "`You haven't got any baby. ... There is not anything the matter with you except being old'" (p. 277). The battle between them intensifies: "Yet neither surrendered; worse: they would not let one another alone; he would not even go away" (p. 279).

Like the rape fantasies that she stages, Joe thinks this final planned professional career and marriage performance is "mad" as well (p. 268). In fact, the narrative illustrates that as long as Joanna lives she will always control Joe: "He should have seen that he was bound ... as though it were a lock and chain" (p. 272). Joe will have none of it. Joanna's fantasy to install him as her lawyer husband propels him into action. What he cannot tolerate is people discovering the control that Joanna, a white woman, maintains between them: "He would have died or murdered rather than have anyone, another man, learn what their relations had now become" (p. 271).

In the end, Faulkner returns his characters to a fallen American Eden full of original sin: "And so as Joe sat in the shadows of the ruined garden ... he believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe" (p. 280). Predicting that he will kill Joanna, Joe feels compelled to perform an execution to end this futile play: "He was saying to himself I had to do it" (p. 280). As the drama climaxes, Joe's performance as black male rapist-murderer becomes surreal and deterministic. Before cutting Joanna's throat, Joe disassociates his mind from his body: "He held the razor in his hand. But it was not open yet. But she did not speak again and then his body seemed to walk away from him. It went to the table and his hands laid the razor on the table and found the lamp and struck the match" (p. 282).

As soon as the mob discovers Joanna's mutilated corpse, with relish, they, too, perform their role as avengers in the seamy cultural myth. This group of "casual Yankees," "poor whites," and "even the southerners who had lived for a while in the north" seem compelled by social conditioning to believe "aloud that it was an anonymous negro crime committed not by a negro but by Negro and who knew, believed, and hoped that she had been ravished too: at least once before her throat was cut and at least once afterward" (p. 288). The frenzied crowd must hunt Joe down and kill him: "some of them with pistols already in their pockets began to canvass about for someone to crucify" (p. 289). They need, even "hope for," a dark body to scapegoat, an individual who they can believe is not one of their own.(18) The bloody mutilation Percy Grimm carries out is necessary to absolve the community and fulfill a distinctly American story: "It was as if all their individual five senses had become one organ of looking, like an apotheosis, the words that flew among them wind- or airengendered. ... By God, if that's him, what are we doing, standing around here? Murdering a white woman the black son of a" (p. 291).

What the hunters find, of course, is Joe, a "white nigger" (p. 344). A mobber remarks, "`He don't look any more like a nigger than I do.'" Yet when this white Southern townsman detects that Joe "`had set out to get himself caught like a man might set out to get married,'" he attributes Joe's ill-fated resignation to "`the nigger blood in him'" (p. 349). Faulkner's community narrator also observes, however, that Joe himself never "`acted like either a nigger or a white man,'" which "`made the folks so mad'" (p. 350). Resignation to his bloody fate allows Joe a perverse freedom. In essence, during his life's final performance, Joe rejects black submission. He embraces the freedom that white Southern men enjoy, casually surveying the town as though the role of arrogant white man fit him just as well as the role of guilty black rapist: "`For him to be a murderer and all dressed up and walking the town like he dared them to touch him, when he ought to have been skulking and hiding in the woods, muddy and dirty and running. It was like he never even knew he was a murderer, let alone a nigger too'" (p. 350). For such an audacious performance, Joe deserves, in the community's judgment, castration and death.(19)

Ultimately, Faulkner's novel illustrates the danger of genuine and imitative rapes as performed in the post-Civil War South. Joe and Joanna literalize and manipulate this invented rape myth to garner individual and cultural might within a deeply troubled relationship that results directly from an invented American myth. Joe's choice to become a black male rapist and Joanna's subsequent decision to stage such a perverse cultural rape fantasy mean they are both victims and victimizers--a couple in mortal danger. The novel demonstrates how two characters with parallel names make conditioned choices, performing gender, race, and class roles in a futile effort to gain power over one another within a society where both white women and black men are subjugated. Ironically, those attempts to obtain power are the very choices that lead inexorably to their very violent, and thus very American deaths.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:28 pm

Hightower's Apotheosis

Hightower's Apotheosis in Light in August.

The Mississippi Quarterly 49.3 (Summer 1996): p425.
Author(s): HARVEY L. JR. GABLE.
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1996 Mississippi State University

THE FINAL PAGES OF LIGHT IN AUGUST ARE DOMINATED BY Hightower's experience, and that experience culminates in a scene of visionary revelation that has never really been adequately accounted for in the larger context of the novel.(1) Sitting in his window-seat at dusk, as he has every evening throughout the novel, Hightower undergoes a kind of apotheosis. On the one hand, this scene seems to be merely a more explicit recounting of the same experience of his grandfather's spirit to which he succumbs every evening. The clear consensus among critics is that Hightower's final vision is identical to his earlier ones, and that they all show the moral and spiritual failure that characterizes his life. For Carole Ann Taylor, for example, "the thundering phantoms arrive in time to turn back self-revelation." Carolyn Porter and Andre Bleikasten both agree in regarding Hightower's "ritually repeated identification ... with the cavalry grandfather" as a sentence of "absurd life in death." Donald M. Kartiganer, too, believes that in his final scene Hightower "has only summoned new energies to serve the illusion that is still paramount."(2) I will argue, however, that Faulkner gives us a number of clues to suggest that Hightower's final apotheosis, while superficially the same as his other experiences, actually represents a culmination of his life--a culmination, I claim, in triumph. This reading will attempt to recast our understanding of Hightower's cavalry visions by showing that they are not his "paramount illusion" but instead a real, recurring force of renewal that he has successfully resisted until his final scene when, weakened by injury and educated by compassion, he finally succumbs to its life-giving power. To show this we must clarify the special elements of this final crisis, and also show their connection to Hightower's encounter with Christmas (another issue that no critic has satisfactorily addressed) since it is that encounter that has brought Hightower to this crucial moment: if his crisis is physical--if he is dying--the blow that Christmas gave him is the cause; and if the crisis is also spiritual, it is Christmas's face that swims at the heart of his vision.

Hightower's culminating moment of vision is clearly of paramount importance for interpreting the book, not only because of the location that Faulkner gives it as one of three parallel scenes that close the three plot lines of the novel, but also because of its many resonances with the final scenes in those other plot-lines.(3) The incident takes on additional importance because it is a moment when the underlying cosmology of the romance seems to be revealed--when the sky opens, as it were, for Hightower, and potentially, for us as well. Those readers determined to regard Hightower's every insight as an illusion will obviously resist the idea that this final apotheosis is a true revelation. Many will resist the idea that such revelations of ontological bedrock exist at all in Faulkner's work. As Andre Bleikasten has noted, there is a "conspicuous absence, in Faulkner criticism, of any sustained and serious consideration of the ideological aspects of his fiction,"(4) including the epistemological structures underlying his work. Nonetheless, Hightower's final revelation has a credibility different in kind from his other visions, for two reasons: first, because it involves serious physical injury and the approach toward real death (and so can be classed with such deadly-earnest events as Christmas's final moment of peace); and secondly, because Faulkner's detailed description of the event is cast in terms of the same bedrock metaphors that support the text as a whole. If meaning collapses in this vision, it collapses in the text as well.

In beginning to analyze Hightower's apotheosis, one must first notice that, Christmas notwithstanding, Hightower's crisis seems to be largely self-induced. His moment of revelation is part of an extended recollection, the culmination of a review of his entire life which he undertakes while sitting in his window. Does Hightower go through this process of self-analysis every evening? Is that what brings on the fits of vision, and the communion with his grandfather's spirit? It would seem so--although we cannot yet say whether the rush of vision is, as the critics suggest, a cutting-off of that process, or its culmination. We can say, however, that this evening's vision is manifestly the first in which Hightower has been able to see his life-pathway clearly in its entirety. His life is explicitly compared to a road (one of many important road and corridor images); his thinking about his life to a car on that road. This evening for the first time the road is clear, Hightower is able to see everything that he has not seen before. As a result the vehicle of his thought gathers speed, he loses control, and propelled by its own momentum it crashes off the road--off the beaten track of normal thought, we might say, and into a special area of consciousness where time and space are slowed and contracted:

Thinking is running too heavily now; he should know it, sense it. Still
the vehicle is unaware of what it is approaching.... He is aware of the
sand now.... Progress now is still progress, yet it is now
indistinguishable from the recent past like the already traversed inches of
sand which cling to the turning wheel, raining back with a dry hiss that
before this should have warned him.... Out of the instant the sandclutched
wheel of thinking turns on with the slow implacability of a medieval
torture instrument...."(5)
In a real sense this crash completes Hightower's life-journey. We see now that the road has inevitably led to this moment when the car is wrecked, "the wheel" is "released," and the driving force of Hightower's being flies free from its vehicle (p. 491). "`I am dying,'" Hightower thinks, and the "final flood" is released. The imagery here suggests that Hightower is experiencing death--the release of the "wheel," the driving force of the body. This is a valid reading but one that needs refinement, since we soon discover that Hightower is not, in fact, literally dead; the crash of his car of consciousness is followed by the familiar swirl of his grandfather's regiment as it descends upon him--suggesting, although we now begin to know better, that this evening is no different from any other. They come and depart, and to our surprise Hightower is still alive afterward: "Leaning forward in the window, his bandaged head huge and without depth above the twin blobs of his hands upon the ledge, it seems to him that he still hears them: the wild bugles and the clashing sabres and the dying thunder of hooves" (p. 493).

The incident, then, invites us to try to reconcile these untenable opposites: Hightower's death which is not a death, his everyday experience which is also the culmination of his life's road. We can begin that process of reconciliation by remembering that Faulkner uses two parallel and interpenetrating metaphors to describe Hightower's apotheosis, the released wheel of a vehicle and the "final flow" from a cracked vessel or urn. The urn imagery, subtly drawn in this passage, is part of a long series of well-documented urn images in the novel that begins with Faulkner's mention of Lena as a figure "like something moving forever and without progress across an urn" (p. 7), and culminates in this passage.(6) In Hightower's case, the urn has been used to suggest his protected life in the seminary:

He believed with a calm joy that if ever there was a shelter, it would be
the Church; that if ever truth could walk naked and without shame or fear,
it would be in the seminary. When he believed that he had heard the call it
seemed to him that he could see his future, his life, intact and on all
sides complete and inviolable, like a classic and serene vase, where the
spirit could be born anew sheltered from the harsh gale of living and die
so, peacefully, with only the far sound of the circumvented wind, with
scarce even a handful of rotting dust to be disposed of. That was what the
word seminary meant: quiet and safe walls within which the hampered and
garmentworried spirit could learn anew serenity to contemplate without
horror or alarm its own nakedness. (p. 478)
Here Faulkner draws a series of evocative parallels between the walls of the seminary that contain the student, the walls of the body that contain the spirit; clothing that contains the fallen man (who is or hopes to be free and unfallen and unclothed again once he reenters the Eden of the seminary); the walls of an urn that contains fluid, or spirit; and a funeral urn containing ashes. Hightower desires a life in which the pure spirit is isolated from outside reality of life in the world, the "harsh gale" which is the life of Gall Hightower as the world knows it now; a life in which the wind of the soul would be separated from the general wind. The narrator suggests, by drawing connections that Hightower himself does not see, that this kind of life is really a death, in which the living fluid becomes dead ashes inside the urn.

What Hightower desires (and what the narrator implicitly rejects) is the classic ascetic Christian experience of a soul filled to the brim with spiritual fluid. This metaphor, as institutionalized by Augustine's Confessions, casts the human soul as an urn, and God as the "channel, through which being and life flow into us," a precious fluid that we should cherish. But instead we turn from Him and our once-sound urns lie in "shattered pieces"; we are "tossed about and spilt out in our fornications," squandering the fluid by pouring ourselves into the "torrent of men's ways" that "sweeps the sons of Eve down into a mighty and hideous ocean" of fleshly darkness and chaos and a "whirlpool of shameful deeds," until we are "left a desert" wherein no life remains.(7) Hightower is attempting to live according to Augustine's metaphor, by preserving his inner resources unused and inviolate. This hoarding up of life-fluid of course has a sexual component, and the fact that Hightower is committed to it explains, among other things, the frustration that drove Mrs. Hightower to Memphis. That Lena has not pent up that sexual/spiritual energy but let it flow also explains her journey, which emphasizes escape from containment and the drive of primal natural forces. Her perpetual homelessness is the opposite of Hightower's containment. The fact that this imagery of vase and flow is central to Hightower's experience, and to Lena's, and to the Christian constructs that are implicitly under assault by Faulkner in this novel, gives it a central place in the construction of the book.

Hightower's personality, and its culminating moment in his final scene, is comprehensible only if we understand him as a worshipper of this vital fluid. The twist that gives coherence to his character and makes him intelligible to us (if not himself) is that while he worships the vital force consciously in the traditional Christian method of monastic practice, he also worships it, apparently without realizing it, in the pagan spirit as well, by celebrating its wild pouring-out in the deeds of great heroes and heroes not so great, like his grandfather: "Because this. This is beautiful. Listen. Try to see it. Here is that fine shape of eternal youth and virginal desire which makes heroes" (p. 483). The actions of heroes are like vases also but not virginal vases of the monastery. Theirs is not the eventless eternity of stored-up power but the eternity-in-an-instant of power released: "their doings must emerge now and then like gunflashes in the smoke" (p. 484)--a revelation of the Extraordinary erupting from the everyday, a rending of the physical crust to reveal a glimpse into another world. The pagan urn is celebrated in its breaking and its unbrokenness simultaneously: its eternal quality does not lie in its inviolability but in the unending renewal of the force contained within it through a succession of actions and actors in history.

This is the experience that Hightower celebrates in his grandfather's sudden, glorious demise. In that incident the vase of the world is shattered violently, and his grandfather is taken from the world with a sudden burst of light, like an explosion:

You can see it, hear it: the shouts, the shots, the shouting of triumph
and terror, the drumming hooves, the trees uprearing against that red glare
as though fixed too in terror, the sharp gables of houses like the jagged
edge of the exploding and ultimate earth. Now it is a close place: you can
feel, hear in the darkness horses pulled short up, plunging.... That you
must hear, feel: then you see. You see before the crash, in the abrupt red
glare the horses with wide eyes and nostrils in tossing heads,
sweatstained; the gleam of metal, the white gaunt faces of living
scarecrows who have not eaten all they wanted at one time since they could
remember.... All this you see before the crash of the shotgun comes: then
blackness again. (pp. 484-485)
In the parallels between this image and that of Hightower's own apotheosis, his grandfather's real death and his own metaphorical one, we see that the point of Hightower's car going off the road is not death per se, but that, like his grandfather, Hightower has left the beaten path of the everyday world and entered a different space of heroic exhilaration completely outside the conventional. Within these controlling metaphors it is of primary importance that Hightower's grandfather was killed not in battle but in a para-military raid on a chicken coop; not by "a weapon approved by the arbiters and rulemakers" but by a woman with a fowling piece, not while on foot but elevated on a snorting steed. These details flag his experience as a flight outside the sphere of normal life. The same idea of extraordinary experience, of the elevation, of the hero, is also latent in the image of the grandfather as a bird of prey swooping down on the henhouse. (Hence the appropriateness of his death by fowling piece--and hence Faulkner's use of the archaic "fowling piece" in many passages, instead of "shotgun.") The grandfather is carried, in a frenzy of hunger, on a wave of sheer animal desire and exhilaration in which the known world of orderly cognition explodes into ecstatic vision. For a moment, before the "blackness comes again," he can "hear, feel ... see" into a world that is normally not accessible to those senses. Seconds later his world explodes all too literally, in the muzzle-flash of a shotgun; but epistemologically his death-experience is only a crude reiteration of the experience he has already undergone: here, as with Hightower's final apotheosis (or Christmas's), the proximity of death gives us an unmistakable clue that this ecstacy is serious, and real. The experience of vital life is on the edge of ordinary life, in the nexus between life and death: to break open the urn so that life flows out in its full sweetness is, perhaps, to destroy the earthly vessel of life. But death itself is not the issue. The telling phrase "blackness again" serves to equate the blackness he experiences in death with the colorless life he lived before his ecstacy, in much the same way that Hightower's seminary urn imagery does. At all levels these images celebrate the wild "torrent of men's ways" as an outpouring of the vital fluid that transports us into a deified state of almost pure spirit, a state which, for Faulkner, is a kind of apotheosis in which we make contact with the Life-force as a supernatural power.

The elevation of the hero, of course, is the religion that Hightower preaches in church (again, apparently without knowing it): he is a "charlatan preaching worse than heresy, in utter disregard of that whose very stage he preempted, offering instead of the crucified shape of pity and love, a swaggering and unchastened bravo killed with a shotgun in a peaceful henhouse ..." (p. 488). This is what he preaches, and this also is what he seeks, apparently without knowing it, in his own life. Only late in the novel does Hightower see that the Church--not the true Church but the bureaucratic church--is set in opposition to this kind of ecstatic revelation beyond the pale:

It seems to him that he has seen it all the while: that that which is
destroying the Church is not the outward groping of those within it nor the
inward groping of those without, but the professionals who control it and
who have removed the bells from its steeples. He seems to see them,
endless, without order, empty, symbolic, bleak, sky-pointed not with
ecstacy or passion but in adjuration, threat, and doom. He seems to see the
churches of the world like a rampart, like one of those barricades of the
middleages planted with (lead and sharpened stakes, against truth and
against the peace in which to sin and be forgiven which is the life of man.
(p. 487)
Hightower imagines the Church as an encircling set of buildings "like a rampart," or like the wall around the seminary, or the walls of an urn: its function is to enclose and protect an area of everyday life, to enfold the community in a stiff facade that guards against any explosive intrusion of the Life-force.

In his frenzied preaching, Hightower expresses his unconscious desire to smash the very walls that, consciously, he works to defend, to break them open and experience the genuine power of the Life-force directly. And of course he experiences this kind of symbolic death every evening beside his window, overwhelmed by an uncontrollable recurring vision which is nothing more than the repressed but irrepressible Life-force in him bubbling over from its containing urn, in a flight of heroic ecstasy. Horses (elevation upon the animal) are one of Faulkner's shorthand symbols for this elevated state (thus Hightower's contempt for Bunch's "puny, unhorsed figure," p. 76), and the descending rush of horses in Hightower's vision suggests an infusion of divine power. The opposite kind of "rush," a heightened enjoyment of the ordinary, is symbolized by the automobile. Motor cars are one of the "extraneous objects which man has himself invented." Faulkner has contempt for them because they have no mystical component: their nature is fully known, and they stay on the beaten path of man-constructed order. Horses, on the other hand, are powered by the same unfathomable mystery of soul that drives man, and they tend to leave the conventional path, to seek the undiscovered country. Hightower experiences the heroic elevation of horses for the first time in reality (as opposed to his fantasies) when he rides out to deliver Lena's baby. That moment is one of rising above mundane concerns about public opinion in order to act in passion and heroism. It is not accidental that this scene of heroic horsemanship immediately precedes Hightower's explosion in the scene in question. His horsemanship prepares the way for his final run off the beaten track. This, too, gives us an indication that the car-wreck during his apotheosis is a new and different experience. Hightower has been off the road before, in fantasy and in reality; but only in his final apotheosis does he smash and abandon the vehicle of his conventional understanding.

We are prepared for Hightower's apotheosis in the final scene not only by his own preparatory experiences but also by similar culminating experiences in the other threads of the story. Christmas's escape into the undefined, ungridded world off the road and outside time and space is clearly described: "When he thinks about time, it seems to him now that for thirty years he has lived inside an orderly parade of named and numbered days like fence pickets, and that one night he went to sleep and when he waked up he was outside of them" (pp. 331-332). His journey of course ends in a released flood, like Hightower's, the "black blast" of blood "like the rush of sparks from a rising rocket" (p. 465). Byron Bunch also has a similar experience. Like Hightower he is brought, in this case through love, to a moment of heroism when he rises above conventional opinion to help Lena Grove.(8) This is for him also a moment of escape outside the circle of convention, in this case the circle of Jefferson. The heroic urge grows like dynamite inside him:

`And now I can go away,' he thought. He began to breathe deep. He could
feel himself breathing deep, as if each time his insides were afraid that
next breath they would not be able to give far enough and that something
terrible would happen, and that all the time he could look down at himself
breathing, at his chest, and see no movement at all, like when dynamite
first begins, gathers itself for the now Now NOW.... (p. 417)
After the urn of his consciousness finally explodes, Byron finds himself riding outside the rim of his former world, now looking back on it and his former self (as Hightower does also) as an other:

The hill rises, cresting. He has never seen the sea, and so he thinks,
`It is like the edge of nothing. Like once I passed it I would just ride
off into nothing. Where trees would look like and be called by something
else except trees, and men would look like and be called by something else
except folks. And Byron Bunch he wouldn't even have to be or not be Byron
Bunch. Byron Bunch and his mule not anything with falling fast, until they
would take fire like the Reverend Hightower says about them rocks running
so fast in space that they take fire and burn up and there ain't even a
cinder to have to hit the ground.'...

He did not realize that he has come so far and that the crest is so
high. Like a shallow bowl the once broad domain of what was ... lies
beneath him.... (p. 424)
Byron's ride off the edge of the known world is a slower version of the exploding world of Hightower's grandfather, but one that liberates him with equal effectiveness.

Byron's apotheosis is especially important to the structure of the book because it shows us definitively that the prison of everyday understanding can be broken by other than violent death, by gun (as with Hightower's grandfather) or knife (as with Christmas). Sometimes it explodes quietly, in a more or less bloodless apotheosis (although some flow of blood is required to satisfy Faulkner's cracked-urn imagery.) In Byron's case it is the everyday miracle of childbirth that destroys his facade of normal existence. Childbirth is here portrayed as a multiple bursting of the urn: in a physical sense (the broken seal of the virgin); in a spiritual sense (the woman as a cracked earthen vase through which a new Spirit flows into the world) and in the psychological sense experienced by Byron (the rupture of one's conventional ontology by a miraculous event). Birth, or the realization of it, is described as "something which was about to spring full clawed upon him" (p. 395), a winged apotheosis from above, like the eagle-grandfather-hero that swoops down on Hightower. "The blow fell and the clawed thing overtook him from behind" at a moment of literal and figurative dawn (p. 401), a kind of slow-motion explosion-flash in Byron's psyche. These dawning lights, like the more sudden light of the grandfather's gunflash or Christmas's sky-rocket, indicate a moment when the urn splits and the luminous stuff of life spurts forth. The title Light in August is a pun (as has been noted) on the farm slang for birth, "going light," but the title's focus is not only on Lena's apotheosis in birth but also and perhaps primarily on this rebirth of the three main figures, Bunch, Hightower, and Christmas, each experiencing a moment of light and power in the Mississippi August.

In this way the cracked urn comes to be a symbol of everything that is of value in Faulkner's cosmos: life, flow, change, revelation. Likewise its opposite, the intact urn, represents all negative value: within the inviolable urn the unfertilized spirit is trapped and dies, its light unknown to the mind. The urn imagery surrounding menstruation is such a negative form, in which death and not life flows from the cracked urn. This point is made explicitly in Christmas's vision, after he discovers Bobbie's "sickness." He reacts by running into the woods, where he "seemed to see a diminishing row of suavely shaped urns in moonlight, blanched. And not one was perfect. Each one was cracked and from each crack there issued something liquid, deathcolored, and foul" (p. 189). This imagery criticizes the same absence of life that is criticized in Hightower's urn: the unused potential for life becomes death, each menstruation a failed opportunity for new life. Ultimately, then, life is the only real source of value for Faulkner: not as lived by the masses, who are in reality dead to life ("this world is peopled principally by the dead," p. 485) but life as a force in and above nature, only occasionally experienced by individuals in birth, in death, or in ecstasy It is the unconscious desire to experience such a moment of Life Itself that drives every character in Light in August.

In the context of this imagery we can see Hightower's nightly Epiphanies as a kind of menstruation: the impulse to life overflowing fruitlessly from within him. Likewise his final apotheosis is a kind of birth in which the urn of the body is rent, and the power of new life comes forth. As Hightower approaches his crisis we find that the pregnant-seeming paunch that he has carried all through the book begins now to take on a dangerous life: "Hightower turns and goes out, lowering himself carefully down the broken step, to the earth like an old man, as if there were something in his flabby paunch fatal and highly keyed, like dynamite. It is now more than dawn.... "(p. 403)--that is, more than time for Hightower to "go light," to crack the urn and release the explosive flash of new life into the world, as Byron has already done. Hightower's visionary experience, prompted (in part) by Lena's literal birth and Bunch's sympathetic psychological rebirth, is most emphatically not an illusion that turns back self-revelation, as critics have argued, but rather a new birth that relieves him of the burden he has dragged throughout the work, and gives him new life through the birth of a new identity.

What complicates the picture in Hightower's case is that his birth/explosion is not only brought on by his sympathy with Lena and Byron and his subsequent introspection, but also by his contact with Christmas. Even before the two men meet, Hightower has strongly felt the attraction of the heroic in Christmas. When they finally meet, as Christmas flees to Hightower's house in search of asylum, the moment is appropriately intense: a flash of violent light in which Hightower experiences Christmas as a type of his grandfather, the winged predator descending. Here Christmas :is the reality of the spirit that Hightower had worshipped in fantasy. He comes to Hightower as a God, radiating light: "... Christmas, running up the hall, his raised and armed and manacled hands full of glare and glitter like lightening bolts, so that he resembled a vengeful and furious god pronouncing a doom ..." (p. 463). Hightower immediately becomes an anointed devotee of Christmas. There are three major indications of this new bond between them. First is the fact that Hightower very uncharacteristically volunteers himself as a substitute for Christmas's sins. In that sense he becomes heir to the legacy of selflessness, of going outside of oneself, that is invoked in Christmas's name (and in a sense in his life as well, although Christmas suffers unwillingly, or unconsciously, for the sins of others.) Second is the literal fact that Hightower's head is split open by Christmas in a visual parody of the spiritual reality of the splitting urn. It is this wound inflicted by Christmas that is responsible for the special intensity of Hightower's final vision; this wound is Christmas's gift to Hightower, a kind of anointment or knighting in which Hightower finally receives the power to fully experience the winged spirit that he had before only glimpsed. The third link is more obscure but I think equally important: the fact than in Roman tradition (and invoking this tradition is not strained but perfectly natural here, in light of the many surrounding classical references) slaves were freed by the symbolic gesture of a blow to the head. In all three of these senses Christmas really does come to Hightower as a kind of Messiah, not so much of the established Christian church but of the life-worshipping heroic ideal that Hightower preaches and Faulkner seems to endorse. He is a perverse Messiah to be sure, but Christmas is nonetheless one in whom we see the teachings of the historical Christ reflected, albeit obliquely: he shows us that the kingdom of God is already spread upon the earth, but we do not see it.(9)

With these ideas in mind the shape and significance of Hightower's final apotheosis comes quite clearly into focus. It begins with a self-conscious view of himself, typical of the trapped consciousness: "He seems to watch himself among faces, always among, enclosed, and surrounded by, faces, as though he watched himself in his own pulpit, from the rear of the church, or as though he were a fish in a bowl" (p. 488). This is the enclosing urn of self, like the rim of Byron's bowl or the medieval barricade of the church, from which Hightower has tried throughout his life to escape. This passage outlines the problem that Faulkner sees with the human sense of identity, and our way of seeing. The problem, however, is not a problem with Jefferson, Mississippi, or the South, or with American life, but with human consciousness in general: we cannot see ourselves except as reflected in the way others see us ("the faces seem to be mirrors in which he watches himself," p. 488). Our perceptions of our self, and hence our sense of human nature and reality in general, are always distorted by the conventions of those around us. This of course is the sociological message of Christmas and the deformation of his identity.

It is an important step in Hightower's new birth that he recognizes this truth, understands that the self that he knows is a cultural construction, and that the God he thought he knew is also a construction. In the second phase of his vision Hightower "sees the faces which surround him mirror astonishment, puzzlement, then outrage, then fear, as if they looked beyond his wild antics and saw behind him and looking down upon him, in his turn unaware, the final and supreme Face Itself, cold, terrible because of Its omniscient detachment" (p. 488). This difficult passage describes the illusion under which Hightower had lived, but also shows him emerging from its power as he becomes aware of the dynamics of his own constructions: viewing his self now from a higher and more objective point Hightower can see that the God whose judgment he had feared was only an image constructed to account for what he saw mirrored in the faces around him. This gives us real insight into how the convention is maintained. Presumably all individuals, from their own perspective, see the same thing Hightower does: a ring of faces that appears to reflect God, and so silently enforces conformity. It is this God, a sociological construct assembled in one's own mind from the expectations of society, who is the infamous "Player" that moves men like chess pieces.

Hightower's release from the circle, the funeral urn of his own death-in-life, occurs during this revelation. His liberation is partly a result of the revelation itself, but revelation and liberation are both manifestly a result of the fact that he has now achieved a kind of yogic power of self-examination, presumably as a result of the near-fatal head-wound. This power allows him to rise out of his self and look down at it from a point of view (let us call it the Witness) not only above his old locus of consciousness and above the containing wall of social convention, but even above the entity which he had once regarded as God but now recognizes as a deeper self. He is now able to see that deeper self clearly and hear its voice. It tells him what his conscious mind never suspected but the Witness already knows: that he chose his wile "as a means toward your own selfishness. As an instrument to be called to Jefferson; not for My ends, but for your own" (p. 489). He realizes that he also had ulterior motives for resigning his pulpit: he had "offered as a sop fortitude and forbearance and dignity ... making it appear that he was driven, uncomplaining.... And still casting his sops as though he were flinging rotten fruit before a drove of hogs ..." (p. 489). All levels of his own consciousness are now lucidly clear to him: the old self, the blind drove of hogs; the deeper once-hidden self, the directing mind that secretly controlled the drove; and the Witness, who sees both.

The mere fact that Hightower can now see these things tells us that he has transcended the wall of his containment, which existed to hide these truths from him. It is of course when Hightower begins to experience these higher levels of awareness, which are outside the conventional, that his thought is compared to a car running in sand. The conventional vehicle, the vehicle of the unhorsed man, is no longer operative in this new environment. To continue, he needs to be horsed, or rather, to take wing--to become a winged creature like his heroic models. Only by doing so can he complete the process of his liberation. He has now transcended his old reality but is not free from it; he is bogged down and tormented by his memory. This liberation begins as he hears secret words from within the self that he does not want to hear, words destructive of his old identity. At this point he begins to sweat, as he always does when threatened with the prospect of moving outside himself: the sweating is a visible symbol of the Self's fluid beginning to force its way out of its containment. Likewise, in the parallel metaphor of the automobile, the wheel of the car, preparing now to tear free of its vehicle, becomes critical of its old constraints, as its implacable movement begins to tear apart the now static old identity: "Out of the instant the sandclutched wheel of thinking turns on with the slow implacability of a mediaeval torture instrument, beneath the wrenched and broken sockets of his spirit, his life" (p. 490). This in turn leads to the revelation that he never has really been alive in the world: with the first crack in the urn of his body, the first flow of his fluid outward, he can see reality for the first time. He is not just leaving a body but an identity and a state of awareness.

Only after he has freed the wheel from its constraining vehicle, the flood from its urn, is he freed also from the torment of his own identity. Now he can contemplate his old self from an objective distance, without pain:

The wheel, released, seems to rush on with a long sighing sound, tie sits
motionless in its aftermath, in his cooling sweat, while the sweat pours
and pours. The wheel whirls on. It is going fast and smooth now, because it
is free now of burden, of vehicle, axle, all. In the lambent suspension of
August into which night is about to fitly come, it seems to engender and
surround itself with a faint glow like a halo. The halo is full of faces.
The faces are not shaped with suffering, not shaped with anything: not
horror, pain, nor even reproach. They are peaceful, as though they have
escaped into an apotheosis; his own is among them. In fact, they all look a
little alike, composite of all the faces which he has ever seen. (p. 491)
Standing now outside the circle of conventional identity that he was once within, in the "lambent suspension" of his spiritual outflow, he contemplates his own (old) identity with a detachment so complete that it is not really distinct from those of the surrounding people; nor does he feel any longer driven by their force of approval or shame--the faces are at peace, without force.

This moment of transcendent peace is followed by the climax, when "it seems to him that some ultimate damned flood within him breaks and rushes away. He seems to watch it, feeling himself losing contact with earth, lighter and lighter, emptying, floating" (p. 492). It is at this moment that the full significance of Hightower's revelation begins to become clear, as we realize that his consciousness does not collapse with the now-evacuated vessel of his body, nor is it spilled out with the departing fluid; instead it slowly rises, remaining lodged in the transcendent Witness, which watches in contentment as the old circle of his identity fades and then disappears: "The wheel turns on. It spins now, fading, without progress, as though turned by that final flood which had rushed out of him, leaving his body empty and lighter than a forgotten leaf and even more trivial than flotsam lying spent and still upon the window ledge which has no solidity beneath hands that have no weight ..." (p. 492). Hightower the monastic had thought that releasing the fluid would mean death. His mistake was to suppose that there was a limited supply. Now, not only has he experienced a kind of psycho-sexual release that gives him ultimate peace and a new awareness of his true self, but he also learns that such release does not leave one weakened but renewed, and better able to accept the descending spirit again. Immediately after Hightower empties himself in this way, the power of his grandfather's spirit descends to fill the empty vessel with a fresh wave of power, an absolute experience of the Spirit's fullness that was not possible before, when the vessel was already filled with stale fluid:

Like a long sighing of wind in trees it begins, then they sweep into sight,
borne now upon a cloud of phantom dust. They rush past, forwardleaning in
the saddles, with brandished arms, beneath whipping ribbons from slanted
and eager lances; with tumult and soundless yelling they sweep past like a
title whose crest is jagged with the world heads of horses and the
brandished arms of men like the crater of the world in explosion. They rush
past, are gone; the dust swirls skyward sucking, fades away into the night
which has fully come. (p. 493)
Before, Hightower's religion had been "a sort of cyclone that did not even need to touch the actual earth" (p. 62); now that funnel-cloud has touched the earth with a vengeance and left Hightower's world "in explosion." We understand now that only through such "explosion" can a human soul make contact with any truth or peace; and only by emptying the self can one be prepared for such explosion. We know, too, that this spiritual power can come again and again, each time more powerfully. The only restraint is that it cannot fill an already full urn: flow engenders new flow. The passage concludes: "Yet, leaning forward in the window, his bandaged head huge and without depth above the twin blobs of his hands above the ledge, it seems to him that he still hears them: the wild bugles and the clashing sabres and the dying thunder of hooves" (p. 493). Hightower is now left alone, as he is every evening. This time, however, the power of the experience lingers on: he "still hears them." The experience leaves him outwardly the same man, but inwardly we know that he has been transformed.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 2:31 pm

Structure of Unconscious Categories

"It was like I was the woman and she was the man:" boundaries, portals, and pollution in Light in August.(Critical Essay).

The Southern Literary Journal 26.2 (Spring 1994): p11(14).
Author(s): Ralph Watkins.

Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1994 University of North Carolina Press
Light in August represents William Faulkner's intuitive rumination on the power of what Claude Levi-Strauss called the "structure of unconscious categories" (Turner 207). Levi-Strauss theorized that beneath the apparent relations of society and community there exists a "structure of unconscious categories," which exercises powerful influence over human behavior. Faulkner's demonstration of these "deeper" levels of human perception is remarkable considering what appears to be his ignorance of the field of symbolic anthropology. There is an unmistakable affinity between Faulkner's perceptions about liminality, rites of passage, pollution taboos and anomaly, and the observations of symbolic anthropologists. In the characters of Lena Grove, Reverend Gail Hightower, Joe Christmas, Joanna Burden, Doc Hines, Percy Grimm and Lucas Burch, Faulkner has brought into being a group of fictional archetypes who, through their actions and circumstances, reveal the many facets and convoluted nature of liminality.

The central theme of Light in August is not the individualized condition of alienated persons or outsiders but the placelessness of persons who have, either through their own efforts or because of some twist of fate, become located in the margins of society. What Faulkner excavates is the number of possibilities attached to a person who is simultaneously a part of, yet outside, of society.

The impetus for this analysis of Light in August developed out of an examination of the theoretical work of Arnold van Gennep, Mary Douglas, Edmund Leach, and Victor Turner. As major contributors to the field of symbolic anthropology, they explain the various ways in which a person or persons, places, and things become "liminal"--that is, at or on the threshold or boundary of a given social structure--occupying a status or place that is outside the normal patterning of society and, therefore, appearing to be placeless or perpetually out of place. Once joined, the theories of van Gennep, Douglas, Turner, and Leach form the liminal matrix that reveals the underlying nature of Light in August.

Attached to the bundle of relationships that constitute the liminal matrix is the notion of Southern honor. Bertram Wyatt-Brown argues that "honor may be seen as a people's theology, a set of prescriptions endowed with an almost sacred symbolism," whose "chief aim was to protect the individual, family, group, or race from the greatest dread that its adherents could imagine. That fear was not death, for dying with honor could bring glory ... Rather, the fear was public humiliation" (vii-viii). Honor is both internal and external to the individual. It is a mixture of a person's behavior and the treatment he receives. Honor felt becomes honor claimed, and honor claimed becomes honor paid (Pitt-Rivers 503-510).

The liminal matrix also provides the means to challenge the assessment that Light in August lacks a central unifying theme. All its major characters share the condition of being on the margins and in the "hem" of society. As such they are people who are somehow left out of the normal patterning of society, constituting "matter out of place." In some instances they may linger at the apertures of the social structure, near its points of entry and exit, or be in the middle of some rite of passage, crossing thresholds and boundaries to a new status, or they may simply be anomalous. The point of this essay is to explore the ways in which Faulkner's "desire to work out every conceivable variation, on every level he could imagine, within the limits of one sustained narrative" (Sundquist 68) is realized in Light in August, where he attempts to lay bare that which is anomalous.

Joe Christmas is the embodiment of being simultaneously both white and black and yet neither. Although his "condition" does not adhere exclusively to him, he is the most spectacular expression of Faulkner's subliminal meditation on liminality. Neither black nor white, he is in fact out of place in the bipolar racial world of the American South, and he is not alone.

Confusion over the place of mulattoes in the South, and America in general, increased throughout the nineteenth century. Committed to a bipolar racial order that insisted upon the strict separation of black and white, mulattoes, or "the white children of slavery," posed a continuing threat to the social order (Williamson 69). By Faulkner's time, white Southerners were well on their way toward the completion of the construction of the fiction that insisted that a near inviolable barrier existed between the races, and that any action that breached that boundary implied a threat to the continued existence of the Southern way of life. It is out of this long history of Southern ambivalence and anxiety over the mulatto that Faulkner fashioned Joe Christmas. Never all of what he could be, but much more than what he is, Christmas is the mulatto of Faulkner's own imagination and intuition, "a walking pollution in God's own face" (Light 119).

Orlando Patterson has written that "The polluting person is always someone who has crossed some line that should never have been crossed, or who brings together what should have remained wholly separate" (322). In being able to pass from one racial designation to another, the mulatto who "passes" is himself in danger and at the same time emanates danger to others by exposing their vulnerability to "contamination." Naturally, a society that is infused with the precepts of white supremacist ideology would be especially vigilant over maintaining the impermeability of the boundary between black and white. The South's dread about race was not caused solely by blacks, who were generally viewed as an inferior and distinct species (as Caliban was to Prospero), but by the presence of ever increasing numbers of mulattoes.

Mary Douglas identifies four sources of danger that can cause social pollution: 1) pressing against external boundaries as in the fashion of the creative artist; 2) transgressing the internal lines of the system in the way that is done when persons move from childhood to adolescence; 3) existing in the margins or "hem" of a social structure; and 4) releasing the danger of internal contradictions, when some of the basic postulates of a system are denied by other basic postulates, so that at certain points the system seems to be at war with itself (122). Symbolically then, Christmas is Douglas's "matter out of place." As such, this "matter" is associated with notions of disorder, untidiness, dirt, and pollution. Douglas argues that dirt (with all its connotations) is matter out of place.

The danger posed by Christmas is twofold: he crosses the threshold between white and black, and his existence brings together what should, in a racist society, be wholly separate. The important point is not whether Christmas is white or black, but that he is both, and that by being both he exposes the fiction of Southern racial ideology. As a threat to the extant racial order, Christmas must either be contained within a racial category, thus restoring balance to the social system, or he must be destroyed. It is Christmas's ambiguity, placelessness, and situation that emanates danger. That is why Faulkner gave a collective voice to the observation about Christmas that "He never acted like either a nigger or a white man. That was it. That was what made the folks so mad" (331).

Christmas's "offense" against the community lies in his refusal to relieve its apprehension about what he is. By locating Christmas in a living arrangement that provokes speculation about his gender preference, as he engages in his affair with the menopausal and sexually aggressive Joanna Burden, Faulkner also intensifies his liminal condition. Neither white nor black, and perceived as a seducer of both men and women, Christmas exists as matter out of place, passing through and straddling the thresholds and barriers, both racial and sexual, that form the boundaries of the community's "unconscious structure." Just before his final assault on Christmas, Percy Grimm, "his young voice clear and outraged like that of a young priest," wonders, "Has every preacher and old maid in Jefferson taken their pants down to the yellowbellied son of a bitch?" (439)

The twoness and doubling that cause so much difficulty for Joe Christmas also mark the fate of Lena Grove. Faulkner said that Light in August is mainly the story of Lena Grove (Fadiman 67). This assertion is sustainable within the context of her condition and place because her "situation" or location in relation to Southern society is similar to that of the other main characters in the novel. She too exists on the edge and margin of the social structure. However, the primary source of her liminal status is different from Christmas's because she is unambiguously white.

Readers first encounter Lena Grove while she walks along a road that is part of a journey that begins in Doane's Mill, Alabama, and pauses for a while in Jefferson, Mississippi. Searching for Lucas Burch, the father of her unborn child, Lena Grove is twice polluted, first as an orphaned child and second as an unwed mother. In addition, her unborn child radiates its own danger in the form of unknown claims on other persons who are connected by blood. Emitting both pollution and danger, Lena Grove is threatening to those she encounters. Faulkner shows his instinctive understanding of this through the ruminations of Armstid, the farmer who offers her a ride in his wagon:

Yes, sir. You just let one of them get married or get into trouble without
being married, and right then and there is where she secedes from the woman
race and species and spends the balance of her life trying to get joined up
with the man race. (12)
Both marriage and pregnancy incorporate the symbols and rituals of separation. Marriage is the threshold crossed in order to unite oneself with a new world. Pregnancy is an anomalous state where two beings occupy the same body and share the same blood, but have two separate minds and wills. Within the liminal matrix, the pregnant woman's physiology transports her to the threshold of the social structure. Practically, this means that her abnormal appearance and the danger emanating from the unborn child can cause the mother to be placed in near or complete isolation.

The truly arresting aspect of Faulkner's insight into the "structure of unconscious categories" is that he has Lena Grove enter and leave the lean-to through "a window which she learned to open and close again in the dark without making a sound" (3). Symbolically, windows are the points of exit and entry for persons of low esteem. The unguarded window of the lean-to has no brother, twenty years her senior, stubborn, bleak and bloodproud, past whom she must slip in order to cross the threshold of the domestic world of children and house chores to the outside world of unknown dangers. Finally, when the time comes for her to depart, she does so in the manner of a dishonored person (she is pregnant at the time) through the window rather than the front door.

Two weeks later she climbed again through the window. It was a little
difficult, this time.... She could have departed by the door, by daylight.
Nobody would have stopped her. Perhaps she knew that. But she chose to go
by night, and through the window. (4)
Later in the novel, Faulkner will rework this bundle of associations when he reunites the contemptible Lucas Burch with Lena Grove. By this time, however, Burch calls himself Brown and is Christmas's roommate and partner. Thus doubled and degraded, Burch-Brown's anomalous state is confirmed by the sheriff's declaration that he "ain't interested in the wives he Burch-Brown left in Alabama or anywhere else. What I am interested in is the husband he seems to have had since he come to Jefferson" (304). Confronted by Lena in the cabin, Burch-Brown flees through the window: "Then he was gone, through the window without a sound, in a single motion almost like a long snake" (409). Faulkner's repeated use of windows and backdoors as either the preferred or ordained points of entrance and egress for liminal persons is a demonstration of the degree to which he is profoundly Southern, a reflection of both the legal and de facto segregation that was so much a part of "his own background, his own heritage, his own tradition" (Meriwether and Millgate 186).

In the realm of the symbolic anthropologist, openings such as windows and doors represent places through which passage can be made from one world to the next. As such, these openings are vulnerable and therefore pose a danger to those who are inside the social structure. Thus, van Gennep consciously recognizes what Faulkner instinctively grasps: that the vulnerability of portals requires that they be guarded by frightening creatures. Within this context both Doc Hines and Percy Grimm are instruments through which the orderliness of the South's fiction about race purity is protected from the threat and contagion of Joe Christmas's anomalous condition. According to Doc Hines, God gave him the duty, "to watch and guard My will" (351). Hines, as guardian and monstrous figure, murders Christmas's father and forces his own daughter to return home, where she is kept until Christmas's birth and her death. The extent of Hines's grotesquerie is revealed in his wife's account of his actions:

And so the time come and one night Milly waked me and told me it had
started and I dressed and told Eupheus to go for the doctor and he dressed
and went out. And I got everything ready and we waited and the time when
Eupheus and the doctor should have got back come and passed.... I went out
to the front porch to look and I saw Eupheus setting on the top step with a
shotgun across his lap.... And I tried to get out the back way and he heard
me and run around the house with the gun and he hit me with the barrel of
it and I went back to Milly and he stood outside the hall door where he
could see Milly until she died. (358)
As a demonic figure, Hines, with the single-minded purpose of a Gorgon, places himself so that he can keep watch over the child, "the Lord's abomination."

It was cold that night, and old Doc Hines standing in the dark just behind
the corner where he could see the doorstep and the accomplishment of the
Lord's will, and he saw that young doctor coming in lechery and fornication
stop and stoop down and raise the Lord's abomination and tote it into the
house. (363)
The decision of the doctor and the young women, both "with the reek of pollution on them" for "desecrating the Lord's sacred anniversary with eggnog and whiskey," to bring Christmas past the portal and into the house demonstrates Faulkner's understanding of the threat such a seemingly humane act signifies. Van Gennep argues that there is a boundary (one of Levi-Strauss's unconscious structures) between the foreign (unknown) and domestic (known) (20). In order to move from one side of the boundary to the other, a person has to pass through a door or some other opening. Edmund Leach contends that although in principle a boundary has no dimension, demarcation of it will take up space. For example, a fence, ditch, or strip of "no man's land" simultaneously occupies an area and delineates the difference between zones (Leach 34). Boundaries, then, are ambiguous because they contain elements of the zones they separate. If the zones represent what is normal, the boundary is abnormal and ambiguous. Likewise, persons like Joe Christmas who cross a frontier or threshold are also anomalous since they are out of context and therefore placeless. To someone like Doc Hines,Joe Christmas is threatening, "a pollution and a abomination" (365). This is why Hines takes a job as custodian in the place where he leaves Christmas. Hines, small and dirty, "sitting in a splint chair in a sootgrimed doorway, ... a figure, almost a fixture" (118), watches the contagion to make sure it does not spread.

Van Gennep perceives society as a house divided into rooms and corridors, with the main or front door as the primary site of exit and entrance. The other openings--windows, chimneys and back and side doors--lack the prestige of the main entrance and seem better suited for thieves, slaves, abandoned children and other dishonored and anomalous persons. Faulkner demonstrates his comprehension of this in the various ways he has his characters enter and leave a dwelling. Lena Grove and Burch-Brown both leave through the window. In addition, any casual observer of Southern life prior to the 1960s would have noticed that law and convention required that blacks in the South pass through an entrance that was set aside for them. The location and quality of the opening for African Americans ran parallel to their "place" in the Southern society at large.

Faulkner's internalization of Southern notions of place and precedence is so thorough that they manifest themselves simply as an effort to tell a story. Thus, when Joe Christmas leaves McEachern's house to rendezvous with the waitress, he does so in the manner of a dishonored person, by way of the window rather than the front door. Faulkner recognizes that Christmas's anomalous state and degraded condition (abandoned child) adhere to him in such a way that he emanates pollution and contagion. In addition, Christmas is a traveller, a state which places him, in a manner similar to Lena Grove, outside the normal patterning of society and in what Victor Turner calls "symbolic antistructure." In Turner's scheme, the traveller or wayfarer exists as a liminal person, detached from any fixed point in the social structure (232).

Christmas's physical journey into liminality begins at the house where he expects to join up with Bobbie, the woman with whom he is having an affair and the cause of his final violent confrontation with McEachern. Those in the house, however, recoil from Christmas and abandon him. Separated from friends, family and institutions, Christmas, "like a blind man or a sleepwalker," staggered from the house, "into the moonlight, and with his bloody head and his empty stomach hot, savage, and courageous with whiskey, he entered the street which was to run for fifteen years" (210). From that night, Christmas enters a labyrinth whose course takes him down a thousand streets that are indistinguishable from one another, "with imperceptible corners and changes of scene, broken by intervals of begged and stolen rides, on trains and trucks, and on country wagons." He enlists in the army and then deserts, thereby compounding his degradation and pollution. Eventually the street of his journey becomes a Mississippi road which leads to a house he enters by climbing through a back window. It is the home of Joanna Burden.

Joanna Burden's family had arrived from the North during Reconstruction. Supporters of the Freedmen's right to vote, the family and its history involve violence and death. Joanna Burden's position in the community is actually and figuratively liminal. Faulkner spatially reinforces her social and ideological distance from the local community by locating her in a house just beyond the edge of town. As the descendant of Yankee carpetbaggers who came South to help elevate the Negro above slavery, she is a permanent outsider to the white residents of Jefferson even though she was born and raised locally. Southern by birth, Joanna Burden is simultaneously familiar and foreign: easily recognizable by her appearance and residence yet alien in her support of education and equal justice for the Negro.

Faulkner states in Light in August that the natural character of women is that of recipient and receptacle of man's body and spirit (441-42). Since Joanna Burden is dual, at once woman and manlike, she is "unnatural." John Boswell in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality has located several Biblical caveats against confusing mankind with womankind (376). The Book of Leviticus asserts "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death; Their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13). Boswell demonstrates that the association of femaleness with passivity is ancient in origin by identifying the strong bias against passive sexual behavior by adult male citizens of Rome. "Those who most commonly played the passive role in intercourse were boys, women, and slaves" (Boswell 74).

The multiple facets of doubling and ambiguity adhering to Joanna Burden and Christmas structure the nature of their relationship to one another and the immediate environs. As Christmas's lover, she crosses and recrosses the gender line between passive and aggressive sexual behavior. Simultaneously male and female, she is "hard, untearful and unselfpitying and almost manlike," with "mantrained muscles and the mantrained habit of thinking born of heritage" (221). Yet, "She began to talk about a child as though instinct had warned her that now was the time when she must either justify or expiate" (248).

As ambiguous and anomalous entities, Burden and Christmas, the house, and the space around it lie outside the normal patterning of society. For Christmas, "It was as though he had fallen into a sewer" (242). At the Burden place the conventional rules of society and the roles that separate men from women are suspended. The house with paths, which radiate out from it like wheelspokes, is similar to a pilgrimage center. The Burden house is another example of the congruency between Faulkner's intuition and the excavations of symbolic anthropologists. The dwelling is a shrine to which people of faith travel and for a while live outside the conventions and routine of their daily lives. For blacks, this meant temporary release from the strictures of Southern racism.

The association of the suspension of convention with the house, its occupant, and the land surrounding it is perceived by Christmas as falling into a sewer. Faulkner's use of the sewer manifests his "deeper" understanding that the place Christmas has come to at the end of his long journey is a catchment area, and that contact with the house, its occupant and environs can "stain" and pollute a person. Already dishonored and anomalous, Christmas descends into a black abyss in which Joanna Burden, her clothing half torn to ribbons upon her, forces him to climb into a window to come to her, seek her about the dark house in closets and empty rooms, and beneath certain shrubs about the grounds. Sewers are fluid, emit a stench, and are conduits for bodily wastes. In addition, they are capable of absorbing objects and people without changing their own appearance and character (Theweleit 408-409). Thus, Christmas's perception of his involvement with Burden acknowledges his powerlessness to alter his situation.

The corruption and pollution of his liaison with her is so overpowering that it causes Christmas to become afraid. Unable to articulate the source of his fear, "he began to see himself as from a distance, like a man being sucked down into a bottomless morass" (246). In a fashion similar to Sappho's followers, "Now and then they would come to the black surface, locked like sisters" (246). Eventually, Christmas comes to realize that his years of anonymous and conventional promiscuity, his very manliness is being corrupted in some way by his affair with Burden. Christmas muses, "it was like I was the woman and she was the man" (222). The liaison of Christmas and Burden is an attempt to join anomaly to ambiguity, Burden's androgyny to Christmas's mixed blood. Their attempt to merge is doomed to failure because they are hybrids. Each is concurrently a self and its opposite. As such they are both liminal and dangerous to society and one another. Their violent confrontation is inevitable.

Percy Grimm comes to life within the maelstrom of enervated authority and power that characterized the existence of so many in the South. Unconscious of what Alan Trachtenberg calls the "new hierarchies of control" (3) that were increasingly dominating national life in America, Grimm is only aware of his duty to preserve order and to ensure that "the law take its course" (427). Also, the South of Faulkner and Grimm has suffered the stain of defeat in battle. Losing the Civil War has dishonored the region and its white people. The shame of defeat is intensified by the high regard Southerners have for honor. Honorific or timocratic societies are often identified by the presence of slavery. Orlando Patterson points out that the slave regime of the Old South developed a slaveholder's ideology that centrally placed the notion of honor, with the attendant virtues of manliness and chivalry (94). Patterson argues that Southern slaveholders should not be viewed as hypocritical or anomalous because of their love of freedom Patterson reasons: "Those who most dishonor and constrain others are in the best position to appreciate what joy it is to possess what they deny" (95). Clearly then, the notion of honor, rather than romanticism, is the central, articulating principle of Southern life and culture.

The notion of honor contains several facets: it can be earned through military prowess; it is intimately personal, linked to the physical person and the symbolic functions attached to the body, blood, heart, head and genitalia (Patterson 95). Private parts, because they are associated with both the excretory functions and procreation, are ambiguous and emanate danger. Simultaneously a source of pollution and procreation, genitalia are potential sources of shame and vulnerability. Wyatt-Brown asserts that "The most psychologically powerful expression of Southern honor is the sexual dread of black blood in a white womb. In the patriarchal imagination, no humiliation was greater" (ix).

When Percy Grimm chases Joe Christmas into Reverend Hightower's home, he has no conscious understanding of his role as the instrument by which Southern honor is to be cleansed of the stain and shame wrought by Christmas's presence. Grimm has to act because if he does not, removal of the affront is left to others, primarily functionaries in the criminal justice system. This is too great a risk to take for the preservation of the honor of the white people of Jefferson, given the insouciance of the sheriff, and the usual delays, expense and uncertainty of the legal process. Why should responsibility for expunging the shame of Jefferson be left to strangers? The notion of honor requires the man of honor to preserve the social order because he is a law unto himself (Pitt-Rivers 510).

The transformation of Grimm from someone of little consequence into the instrument by which the community's order is preserved reveals Faulkner's understanding of the importance of honor in Southern society. Cleanth Brooks comments that "in Faulkner's world, an honorable man will not allow himself to be treated in a fashion that he regards as undermining due respect for himself" (20). Grimm, the unexpected guardian of the portal,

now assumed and carried as bright and weightless and martial as his
insignatory brass: a sublime and implicit faith in physical courage and
blind obedience, and a belief that the white race is superior to any and
all other races and that the American is superior to all other white races
and that the American uniform is superior to all men, and that all that
could ever be required of him in payment for this belief, this privilege
would be his own life. (426-27)
Faulkner's decision to place the climax of the novel in the home of Hightower seems only natural given that character's symbolic castration. When Byron Bunch arrives in Jefferson and sees the sign: "Gail Hightower D.D. Art Lessons Christmas Cards Photographs Developed," he wonders what "D.D" represents. He is informed that "D.D." stands for "Done Damned." "Gail Hightower Done Damned in Jefferson" (55).

Hightower's fall from respectability is initiated by his wife going "bad" on him. The town's residents believe that she occasionally slips off to Memphis, where she engages in a number of extramarital affairs of which her husband is fully aware. It is during one of these illicit liaisons that she either jumps or falls to her death from a hotel window in Memphis. Once again, the window is the point of egress for the polluted and generally dishonored person. The portal, in this instance, marks the division between life and death. Mrs. Hightower crosses the threshold of the house of ill repute and travels to where her soul enters a chthonian world of unknown dangers. The circumstances surrounding her death cause a scandal that results in Hightower's subsequent humiliation and resignation from the ministry of the local Presbyterian church. Disgraced and dishonored, Hightower becomes something apart from the community he helped lead. In time, his neighbors begin to fear and despise him, and to believe that he is neither a natural husband or a natural man.

Hightower's immersion into a liminal state is signified by the community's conjecture about his manliness. Implicit in the speculation is the need for local residents to address the breach that has occurred in the regular, norm-governed relations between husband and wife, and pastor and congregation. The public disclosure of Hightower's cuckolding proves his impotency; to be cuckold is to suffer symbolic castration. Thus, Hightower is "doubly damned" in that he is both dishonored and deformed. In this condition he most resembles a eunuch.

Historically, eunuchs have been viewed as social outcasts and scapegoats for unpopular acts (Patterson 318). Generally held in low esteem, they are associated with obscenity and dirt. Patterson states: "It is an established medical fact that eunuchs undergo many physical changes, which do indeed make them appear abnormal. They tend to grow fat, and their skin has an effeminate quality under which thin lines appear as they grow older" (320). Eunuchs exist as an anomalous kind of third sex; they perspire excessively and reek of urine. Hightower sits in his home "in the attitude of the eastern idol, between his parallel arms on the armrests of the chair" (298), seemingly "oblivious of the odor in which he lives" (300), his liminal condition accentuated by the reek of "plump unwashed flesh and unfresh clothing--the odor of unfastidious sedentation, of static overflesh not often enough bathed" (282). When Byron Bunch enters Hightower's home, he can feel "the corners of his nostrils whiten and tauten with the thick smell of the stale, mankept house" (282). Following Bunch's departure, Faulkner describes Hightower's reading from Tennyson as "like listening in a cathedral to a eunuch chanting in a language which he does not even need to not understand" (301).

At the moment when Percy Grimm crosses the threshold of Hightower's bungalow and enters it through the front door, his status in the community is radically altered. He ceases being merely a youth and becomes the guardian of the portal through which the pollution and contamination of Christmas and Hightower can pass. As with other guardians of gates and openings, Grimm's grotesqueness is manifested in his castration of the still living, Joe Christmas.

Moreover, at the instant just before the castration and murder, Grimm and Christmas share, for a brief instant, the same liminal territory. Faulkner's understanding of the shared placelessness of both men is contained in Hightower's reflections on the events in his kitchen at the time of Christmas's death:

This face alone is not clear. It is confused more than any other, as though
in the now peaceful throes of a more recent, a more inextricable,
compositeness. Then he can see that it is two faces which seem to strive
... in turn to free themselves one from the other, then fade and blend
again. But he has seen now, the other face, the one that is not Christmas
... Why, it's that ... boy. With the black pistol, automatic they call
them. The one who ... into the kitchen where ... killed, who fired the....
The affinity of Faulkner's intuitive understanding of liminality, anomaly, and pollution taboo to the theoretical work of symbolic anthropologists is striking. Both the author and the social scientists recognize that beneath the apparent relations of society there exists a structure of unconscious categories that exercises powerful influence over human behavior. Faulkner's novel explores the forbidden territory of Southern racial and sexual anxieties by examining the "space" occupied by liminal persons. Never the logical result of any great design, Joe Christmas, Joanna Burden, Lena Grove, Lucas Burch, Gail Hightower, Percy Grimm, and Doc Hines all embody and live on the margins of Southern society, where, paradoxically, they reveal its most intimate fears. Hardly the consequence of any rational meditation, the action in Light in August is carried forward by "matters" and "things" that are neither seen nor thought.

tammikuu 12, 2010, 5:40 pm


Do you think you could maybe be a little more thorough next time with the criticism?


Great stuff! A big thank you to you for all that work!

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 12, 2010, 8:40 pm

Agreed, but I find I really don't want to read it. I want to figure my own way through the book and not have criticism, excellent though it clearly is, implant suggestions in my mind about what to think about the book. This is because I am weak minded and can't read criticism without losing my own way. I will however look forward to reverting here when I'm done :)

tammikuu 12, 2010, 9:01 pm

#9 kokipy

I agree with you totally. I also will only read it after rereading the book myself and thinking about it on my own. But we know that the secondary stuff is here for us if/when we want it.