Summary: Light in August – Chapter Seven

Chapter Seven opens with Mr. McEachern trying to teach and help Joe learn his catechism. He is so intense that he becomes an almost callous fiend. Mr. McEachern loses his sense of Christian values in his desire to compel the Joe to match his view of Christianity. The contradiction is brought about by McEachern’s righteous anger that Joe would lay the catechism on a stable floor because that is no place for the “the word of God.” Apparently, McEachern has forgotten that Jesus was born in a stable.

Important in this scene is Joe’s willpower to keep his own individualism and his refusal to accept McEachern’s faith. Later in the book when Joe kills Joanna because she wanted him to pray with her, we should remember how Joe was cruelly forced to kneel and pray with McEachern. This experience turns his mind against any form of prayer and makes him opposed toward any person suggesting prayer.

We see that even though Joe is hungry, he refuses to accept the food that Mrs. McEachern brings him. This is a demonstration of Joe’s refusal to accept anything from a woman. He cannot understand a woman’s motivation. But later he does eat the food hungrily. Here we see one of the central images connected with Joe is that of his regular search and need for food.

In the scene with the young Negro girl, Joe is fully aware of the strong smells of the barn. He is reminded of the sickness caused by the toothpaste which belonged to the dietitian. He begins to feel sick from the odors. He begins to feel sick from the idea of sex. We start to see that Joe’s complete approach to sex is affected by his past conflict with the dietitian.

Later when he thinks of the whipping he will receive, he knows when he disobeys McEachern’s regulations that he will be disciplined. But this penalty fits into Joe’s model of order. Joe knows that he can depend upon a man. He feels women are unpredictable. This is why he hates the interference of Mrs. McEachern. She, like the dietitian, represents a risk to his established order of life. Mrs. McEachern has always tried to be nice to Joe. Because of the dietitian, Joe distrusts all women.

If one wishes to develop the Christian symbolism, one should observe the foot-washing scene that is narrated in this chapter. This symbolism is throughout the book.

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