Summary: Light in August – Chapter Two

I’m sharing my thoughts, reflections, and a simple chapter summary as I reread the book chapter by chapter. As we look at chapter two we should be aware of the time of chapter two. Chapter two introduces Joe Christmas, the major character in the book.

Our first look at Joe Christmas is from Byron Bunch. He thinks that Christmas looks as though he belonged to no definite place in the world, no definite home or community. This description evokes the idea of the Christian symbolism connected with Joe Christmas. I am not going to go into depth on this them. There are many commentaries that will explore this in mind numbing detail. This is pretty deep stuff! I like to say we first see Christmas as he’s hired to shovel saw dust at the mill. He first dresses in a new straw hat and in a white shirt and khakis … and he doesn’t have a lunch. After his first pay check he shows up in overalls (the unofficial uniform of the mill) and brings his lunch.

Faulkner pleasures in playing or punning on names. Note that Lena thinks Bunch is actually Burch until she meets Byron. And the Bunch-Grove-Burch relationship is a rather lusty pun on that connection.

In chapter one, we saw that Lena gladly accepts food and willingly offers to share her own meager food with strangers; now we hear that when Byron Bunch once offered Joe Christmas something to eat, Christmas harshly rejected his benevolence telling him to keep his “muck.” This response offers another basic contrast between Joe and Lena. We also learn that in contrast to Lena, who seems to blend in with her natural surroundings, Christmas emphasizes the difference between himself and the world he lives in. However, we see a relationship between Lena and Joe in Joe Brown’s (Lucas Burch’s) connection with both.

Chapter two reveals all the main characters in the novel. And all of them seem to have an unusual relationship with the community. One of the motifs, or ideas developed is man’s relationship to his community. And in this chapter, we see that all the characters are in some way isolated from their community. For example, we hear that Christmas has nothing to do with his fellow workers. Brown is new to the town and does not seem to fit in. Even though Byron Bunch has lived in Jefferson for several years, no one knows anything about him except the old Reverend Hightower, who is also an outcast from the town. We hear of Miss Joanna Burden, whom the town has rejected because she is friendly with the Negroes. And Lena has just arrived pregnant and unmarried. Thus, Christmas, Brown, Bunch, Lena Grove, Hightower, and Joanna Burden are all mentioned in this chapter, and all are in some ways isolated figures, or at least outside the normal flow of the community.

Essential to novel’s development is the way Byron reveals that Lena’s lover is in the town. The fire which coincided with Lena’s arrival into Jefferson also prompted Byron to talk more verbosely than usual, and through his harmless gossip, he inadvertently reveals the whereabouts of Lucas Burch (alias Joe Brown). The fact that he does reveal this information aligns him with Lena and he then feels partly responsible for her welfare. In later chapters, his feelings of involvement ultimately cause him to try to involve Hightower.

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