Light in August: The Question of Race

KeskusteluWilliam Faulkner and his Literary Kin

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Light in August: The Question of Race

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tammikuu 26, 2010, 1:35 pm

Joe Christmas believes he bears the "taint" of Negro blood. That belief seems to be what propels him through life and out of it, even though it is based on next-to-nothing in the way of evidence. Nothing prevented him from assuming a white identity, and had he done so, he might have lived a very different life. Or not?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 28, 2010, 7:12 am

He would have needed a different grandfather and adopted father for that. They shaped him as much as if not more than his presumed race, I think. But the race element was of course essential for the plot. (That puts me in mind of Sanctuary, though - Popeye was an abused child, if I remember, with no racial elements- sort of a compare and contrast).
However, Linda, I think you are exactly right. His sense of his race was very subjective.
But he did assume a white identity, didn't he? he was passing as white in Jefferson all the way until the end.

helmikuu 1, 2010, 12:49 pm

Joanna Burden knew he had Negro blood.

helmikuu 1, 2010, 10:02 pm

#3 Yes, she "knew" it because he told her it was so.

helmikuu 1, 2010, 11:28 pm

And Joanna Burden, ostensibly offered him help, a hand out, but only if he claimed the identity of a "negro."

helmikuu 2, 2010, 8:46 am

That's a great point, Theresa. At times in his life, he seemed to embrace a black identity--remember that for a time before he came to Jefferson he had shunned white people, living among Negroes, fighting them if they dared call him white, and living "as man and wife with a woman who resembled an ebony carving."--while at other times he fiercely rejected other people's attempts to "make" him be black. The issue, I think, is his inability to find a true identity that wasn't defined as either one or the other.

helmikuu 2, 2010, 10:18 am

There are all sorts of issues with "purity" in LIA, particularly regarding race and sexuality. I get the feeling that Christmas could never fully inhabit either world because he (and society) had such a strict definition of purity.

helmikuu 2, 2010, 12:12 pm

>7 wrmjr66: Purity, huh? I've been thinking of the characters more in terms of their quest for identity, but purity is an interesting concept with which to play around. I see it working with both Christmas and Lena Grove. Will think more on this.

helmikuu 7, 2010, 2:08 pm

I have not been able to read all the threads yet, so this may have come up elsewhere, but somehow I really don't think this book is about race as much as about fathers and sons, about parentage, about genetic and historical inheritance.

So many of the characters are shaped -- almost predestined -- by their fathers (including the heavenly father, the missing father, the black father, the brutal father, along with the grandfathers, etc.). Race seems to be only one of the inescapable family curses that weigh the characters down.

Sex seems tied up with that -- procreation, and thus the passing on of the sins of the fathers (which include race). The women, the mothers, seem to do more damage by NOT doing -- that is, through their helplessness -- with the exception of Lena. She conveys whatever hope the novel seems to end up with. But procreation comes out as some sort of terrifying evil in the relationship between Joe and Joanna.

Just blathering.

helmikuu 7, 2010, 5:56 pm

"blathering"....I rather think NOT. I knew you'd give the light a new slant, as it were, once you got in here.

helmikuu 8, 2010, 10:54 am

Haha. Thanks.

I also wanted to say that it is interesting how Faulkner uses the Southern Rape Complex (the fear that the black man would rape the white women, as a symbol for the dark forces of change destroying the purity of the Southern aristocratic myth) as a pivot in the tale. Since the black man (Joe) is not really black (physically), or may in fact not be black genetically, it kind of shows how the whole concept of the SRC is faulty. On the other hand, Joe considers himself black, and does in fact rape and murder the white woman -- but as a Yankee and an abolitionist, is she really a symbol for the south at all? As usual, Faulkner uses myths, but turns them on their heads.

helmikuu 8, 2010, 1:05 pm

Joanna's political beliefs were of no consequence to Percy Grimm, were they.

helmikuu 8, 2010, 6:31 pm

True, kokipy. And that's a whole other layer -- Percy Grimm -- which I have hardly considered. He seems simply a "good soldier" initially, a man who follows the rule of law above everything, good or bad. But then it turns out that he is nothing more than a racist. Is that right?

helmikuu 8, 2010, 8:35 pm

He is a fascist, isn't he? as well as a racist. He is a small man (metaphorically if not literally - can't remember his height) who feels big in the uniform, for whom the uniform makes up for many inadequacies, some of which may be sexual? do you think? given the castration.
He certainly didn't follow the rule of law by shooting Joe and then castrating him. It is as if he hoped unconsciously for the chance to engage in mayhem when he proposed his vigilante patrol in the first place.
So, is Percy Grimm a comment on Hightower's fascination with his soldier grandfather? Is he what the modern age has brought soldiering to? or is he just a compare and contrast?
One of the things that is so attractive about WF is that there are some untidinesses and loose ends. It doesn't all have to fit neatly together, because life doesn't fit all neatly together, does it. and he's writing about life in all its complexities.

helmikuu 10, 2010, 10:22 am

Woah, some good questions that I have no answers to. Grimm is certainly a confusing character. Yes, I think he intended violence all along, but we had every reason to think he wanted it to be respectable and disciplined. I just can't figure out how his behavior and last line connect with all the info we were given on him.

Maybe he's the "new south" -- violence, but not with a noble purpose. And yes, indeed, that resonates with Hightower's grandfather, whose story -- even though it comes from a past considered admirable -- was the same.

No, everything will not always tie up neat and tidy in Faulkner. I think it takes the heart/mind of the reader in concert with his words to come up with some of the answers. A writer doesn't always know why s/he wrote something, but that doesn't mean there is no meaning in it. (That's my own Jungian take on literary analysis!) He was drunk a lot, too ... :-)

helmikuu 24, 2010, 12:59 am

While Joe may have been black, there's nothing to suggest that he is black: His grandfather's suspicion? Maybe Joe chooses to be black to justify the hatred, abuse and lack of love he has endured; to justify his baseness and cruelty. Black is unforgiveable, it is inferior. There's no getting over it, no accepting it, especially in one’s family. If he's black, he deserves the treatment he receives and the world makes some sense to him. At least there’s a reason for his life experience. And as a black man, he embraces self hatred and self destructiveness. That’s why he beat the woman he had sex with who didn’t care that he was/might be black. (Sorry I read the book some time ago and don’t remember her name.) If he’d chosen to be white, he might have lived a long time and died an old man. I don’t think, his life being what it was, he could have endured a long life. He wouldn’t have been able to make friends, find love, be a good parent, or have any peace of mind. Life held no promise for Joe Christmas. Choosing to be black and give in to his baser nature was a way to end his misery sooner rather than later.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 25, 2010, 9:08 am

I think you and I view Joe in much the same way, Belle. A man who can't see any good in himself at all, and won't let anyone else see it either. (Glad to see you here, BTW!!)

helmikuu 25, 2010, 2:44 pm

So he had to kill Joanna because she saw good in him? There certainly is an echo of the beating of the white whore up north, isn't there.

helmikuu 26, 2010, 11:12 am

Well said, Belle! You really got it into a nutshell.