“Light in August” is a southern gothic novel written by William Faulkner. It was published on Mar. 12, 1931 by Smith and Haus.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not an English major, not American or even not a reader, you’ve probably heard of the name William Faulkner. He is widely considered today to be the greatest American writer and novelist of all time. Many of his novels are critically acclaimed classics that have had research paper after research paper written on them, and he is most known for being the first to tell the stories of the common people in the southern United States. He is also known for being extremely graphic and often grotesque with the realism he utilizes in his stories.
“Light in August” is a novel that follows the point of view of several characters who play witness to the events of the novel. The plot first focuses on Lena Grove, a pregnant white woman traveling to the Mississippi town of Jefferson to look for the father of her unborn child. The plot then shifts to Joe Christmas, a man who recently moved to Jefferson and is under the constant suspicion of the townspeople for possibly having “black blood” in him, although he can pass as white. While the present plot of the novel takes place entirely in one day and focuses on a house fire, the majority of the novel is actually about Joe’s twisted upbringing that has led him to the current day.
While “Light in August” is not considered Faulkner’s greatest or most complex work, it is still a very necessary piece about racial and gender equality and religion in the southern United States. It is written in a time period where neither race nor gender were viewed very positively, but both would receive significant progress due to the upcoming war efforts of World War II.
I found all of the characters to be very genuine and representative of their culture, a feat easily achieved by Faulkner since it was written in the present time of the world. Joe Christmas receives the most character development in the story by far. I found him to be a strikingly unique character out of most of the fiction that I’ve read. He is orphaned at birth and largely white, although everyone is able to recognize in a way that is unclear even to them that he has some sort of black ancestry in him. We spend the majority of the novel watching his upbringing where he is constantly abused by his devoutly religious adoptive father, Mr. McEachern.
The novel weaves in chapters of the present day throughout, where a house belonging to Mrs. Burden on the outskirts of town, the house that Joe had been rooming in, is burning down. I enjoyed the structure of the novel and the way that we are able to see the story through the perspective of other characters than just Joe and Lena.
Another big focus of the novel is religion. Christianity is deeply rooted into the town, to the point that it can easily trump any laws. Much of the novel gives us glimpses of these devout characters, some of whom doing all they can for the greater good, and others, such as McEachern, who uses violence and mental torture to conform those to the holy scripture.
My main issue with the novel ended up being relevance. While Joe Christmas’s story is a compelling one, there are many points in the novel that just feel like we’re beating around the bush. This is largely due to Faulkner’s writing style. Faulkner likes to take time to drill every bit of information he can into the reader’s head. Often, this also means redundantly repeating things over and over again. It can become overwhelming after a while, which is part of Faulkner is considered a difficult author to read. I also found other characters, such as Byron Bunch or Lena, to be just as interesting. I wish we could have spent more time with them, maybe going into their backstory, rather than focusing so purely on Joe.
Overall, I think the novel is worth reading. It’s definitely not an easy read and it spends too much time plodding, but it is an incredible representation of the period’s culture and beliefs, and it comes with a story that will leave you with a somber understanding of our country’s past.
You can buy “Light in August” from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and most other major booksellers.
3.75 / 5.00