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Light in August ()

Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (54)

As a general rule, I'm not big on Faulkner, but this one is reasonably decent.  Faulkner was basically schizophrenic, attracted by Modernist techniques and attitudes, which necessitated condemning the South and lading his novels with themes of sex and violence, yet clinging to a conservative and romantic love of the region, it's people and it's history.  These conflicting impulses are on display here.  The story revolves around Lena--a single mother who trudges through the novel looking for the father of her baby like an unstoppable force of nature, Gail Hightower--a well intentioned white minister and Joe Christmas--a man whose ambiguous racial heritage fosters a self destructive sense of self-loathing.  Christmas is the most important character as he plays out a thinly veiled Christ allegory, from his initials and last name to his death, shot five times (stigmata) through a wooden table (his cross).

There is something fundamentally weird about the way these Southern gothic novelists (Faulkner, Erskine Caldwell, Carson McCullers, etc.) came to be so central to the American canon in the first half of the century.  After all, the winners usually write the history books, so why were the losers ceded the field in literature?  Whatever the reason, their product is unsurprisingly just the type of morose scab picking that you would expect from a defeated society.  In some basic sense, Southern literature of this period is so regional that it is hard to think of it as truly American.  But as race obsessed tales of dysfunctional inbred crackers go, this is one of the best of the lot.


Grade: (B-)


Book-related and General Links:
    -Yoknapatawpha County: William Faulkner on the Web
    -William Faulkner: Life and Works (includes synopsis of Light in August)
    -The William Faulkner Society
    -Southeast Missouri State University's Center for Faulkner Studies
    -Faulkner's Page: Tour of Oxford
    -William Faulkner: The Myth Of The South (from Let's Find Out)
    -Faulkner and Racism (ARTHUR F. KINNEY, Connotations)
    -ESSAY : Light In August (Elizabeth Ashley, Blue Lawn)
    -Frederick Crews: The Strange Fate of William Faulkner (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER: AMERICAN WRITER A Biography. By Frederick R. Karl (John W. Aldridge, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of William Faulkner: American Writer A Biography By Frederick R. Karl )(Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of WILLIAM FAULKNER The Man and the Artist. By Stephen B. Oates (Louis D. Rubin Jr, NY Times Book Review)
     -REVIEW: of William Faulkner and the Tangible Past The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha. By Thomas S. Hines (Henry Taylor, NY Times Book Review)
    -William H. Gass: Mr. Blotner, Mr. Feaster, and Mr. Faulkner Faulkner: A Biography by Joseph Blotner (NY Review of Books)
    -Marvin Mudrick: The Over-Wrought Urn REVIEW of William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country by Cleanth Brooks (NY Review of Books)
   -Terry Southern: Just Folks  REVIEW: of Faulkner's People: A Complete Guide and Index to the Characters in Faulkner by Robert W. Kirk and Marvin Klotz (NY Review of Books)


Add me to the growing list of readers who love this novel. Faulkner ties psychological depth to sociological depth when he depicts how broken people project their brokenness and build a broken society. Anybody out there think ours isn't broken today? Plus his language in the novel is breathtaking in places.

- TT

- Dec-10-2005, 15:48


Wow. I'm impressed with Kristofer's statement. I agree- Though Light In August is the first Faulkner novel I've ever read. He is great at weaving the past and present with very little ( if any ) confusion-- quite hard to do. He pulls the reader into the story, acquaints the reader with the character and evokes an emotion for them, and tells a story containing complex motifs and themes that connect the book to reality and the past/present day. Thank you, Kristofer, for defending and supporting one of the greatest American writers ( right up there with Charles Dickens and Mark Twain.)

- Kristin

- May-16-2005, 21:07


As a Yankee from Ohio and having lived in the South for my college years I am going to agree with the person who wrote the review. Faulkner had to have some sort of mental incapacity in order to create such characters like Joe Christmas who was schizophrenic. Knowing Faulkners background, we can assume that through this book he wanted everyone to know he's a liberal who is a racist and hates God for some reason...and the South too beacuse he really trashes it indirectly through his characters and townspeople.

- Chris

- Mar-01-2005, 22:44


This review doesn't even say anything. It just recites a bunch of unfounded stereotypes about the south and gives a jerkjob summary of the plot.

I am glad you thought this novel was "reasonably decent" though, it being one of the best novels by an American author and all.

- Joseph

- Oct-18-2004, 01:46


Thank you, Kristofer, for setting the record straight on William Faulkner. I live in New England, have never been to the deep South, and could not be more fascinated and moved by Faulkner's brilliant writing--especially his creation of vivid, complex characters whose psychological life is reflected in the intense, masterful prose. Only Shakespeare and a few other select authors have created such layered, rich works of fiction.

- Ben

- Sep-07-2004, 13:59


Faulkner was no schizo. Nor was he obsessed with modernism, although he was a fan of Joyce, Dos Passos, and Hemingway. He cited four major influences on his work: Melville, Dostoyevsky, Conrad, and the Old Testament. He was friends with Sherwood Anderson and Dashiell Hammett, but whatever, how many more misconceptions can hurt you? It took real balls to write the way Faulkner did. His own parents refused to read his books and he was basically looked down on by his home town.

Faulkner is beyond any doubt the greatest writer America has ever produced (in my humble opinion anyway). I live in a mid-Western blue state (Minnesota) and I'm in awe of his work. He can really speak to anyone who is open-minded enough to listen - which apparently doesn't include you.

- kristofer

- Aug-06-2004, 14:59