Light in Aaugust

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Light in August is probably Faulkner's most complex and difficult novel. Here he combined numerous themes on a large canvas where many aspects of life are vividly portrayed. The publication of this novel marked the end of Faulkner's greatest creative period — in four years he had published five substantial novels and numerous short stories. Light in August is the culmination of this creative period and is the novel in which Faulkner combines many of his previous themes with newer insights into human nature. In Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury, and As I Lay Dying, Faulkner had examined the relationship of the individual to his family. In his next major novel, Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner returned to the family as the point of departure for his story. In Light in August, the family as a unit is replaced by the community, which although not examined as the family is in other novels, serves as the point of departure. The novel may be interpreted on many levels. It suggests such themes as man's isolation in the modern world, man's responsibility to the community, the sacrifice of Christ, the search-for-a-father, man's inhumanity to man, and the theme of denial and flight as opposed to passive acceptance and resignation. Each of these can be adequately supported, but none seems to present the whole intent of the novel. Perhaps this is because the complexity of the novel yields to no single interpretation but seems to require a multiple approach. The complex theme of man's need to live within himself while he recognizes his responsibility both to himself and to his fellow man will support such a multiple approach to Light in August. The reaction of the various characters to the community offers another basic approach to the novel. Phyllis Hirshleifer emphasizes the isolation of man in the novel, while Cleanth Brooks sees in it man's relationship in the community. These two views do not exclude each other. The isolation of each character only reinforces his struggle for status both with the community and with himself. Light in August follows in the logical pattern set by Faulkner's two earlier novels, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. The preceding novels dealt with man trying to find a meaningful relationship with the immediate family, and this one deals with man in relationship to the community and as an isolated being unable to communicate with his fellow man. Cleanth Brooks writes that the community serves as "the field for man's actions and the norm by which his action is judged and regulated." But the difficulty here is that we do not have a sufficient picture of the norm. It would be accurate to regard the community as a force which man tries to assail or avoid. And as Miss Hirshleifer writes: "The society through which Lena moves, the people who give her food, lodging, money and transportation because of her patient understanding modesty are, after all, the same people who crucify the Christmases whose evil arouses their own." It is, therefore, the responses of the community to the individual that become significant. While Lena evokes responses for good, Joe Christmas seems to arouse their evil instincts, and Hightower arouses their suspicion. But these responses are not seen, as Brooks suggests, from the view of the community, but through the effects they produce on the individual character. Thus the community reacts in varying ways, but none of these reactions could accurately be considered as the norm of behavior. And even though Lena is able to evoke responses for good from various people, she remains outside the community. Each character in the novel is seen as a lonely individual pitted against some force either within or outside himself. Lena, Byron Bunch, Hightower, Christmas, Joanna Burden, Joe Brown, Uncle Doc Hines, and even people like Percy Grimm and McEachern stand outside the community. This is further emphasized by the fact that both Lena and Christmas are orphans who have no family whom they can...
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