Summary: Light in August – Chapters Seventeen and Eighteen

This is a “two-for” as I have included two chapters, seventeen and eighteen. Earlier in his life, Hightower thought that he had won for himself the freedom of remaining uninvolved in life. But gradually, since the appearance of Lena, he has slowly been drifting back into the stream of life. His re-entry into life is seen through the activity of Byron. Even though in chapter sixteen he rejected Mrs. Hines’ pleas to help Joe Christmas, he does allow himself to go out to help Lena with the birth of her child.

The act of giving life to Lena’s child becomes symbolic of Hightower’s return to life. Immediately after this act, he walks back to town thinking that he will be unable to sleep. This is still an unconscious bitterness of being drawn back into the stream of life, even though the aid that he gave to Lena was voluntary. Thus, when Hightower does sleep peacefully, we can view this as being symbolic of Hightower’s regeneration as a human being. This is also seen in the fact that he notices for the first time the peaceful serenity of the August morning. He even realizes his own reawakening when he recognizes that life and involvement are still possible. He views the birth as a good sign and as an omen of goodwill. Therefore, this act of involvement and responsibility has restored Hightower to the human race. Another connection between Lena and Joe is presented when Joe’s grandmother aids Lena during childbirth. Lena even becomes confused as to the paternity of the child and begins to think that Joe Christmas is the child’s father.

Chapter Eighteen acts as a type of comic interlude with Byron arranging for Lena to meet Brown. In the midst of a novel dealing with Joe Christmas’ tragic plight, this chapter reminds us of the basic incongruity of humankind. It shows Byron’s dedication and love for Lena and prepares us for his last action of following Lena. Yet the action is detached and comic partly because of Lena’s dogged determination to follow Brown when he leaves, and because of Byron’s absurd behavior. In juxtaposition to the comic are the tragic implications at the end of the chapter when Byron hears that Christmas has been killed.

Only three chapters are left.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Sixteen presents Joe’s birth and the death of his mother. But whether he actually has Negro blood is left undecided. It was thought that his father had Mexican blood, but old Doc Hines and the circus owner both assert that the father actually had Negro blood.

We also find out that it was the dietitian who found and gave Christmas his name. This is ironic, since later his episode with the dietitian formulated his actions throughout the rest of his life.

Again those looking for the religious symbolism could view old Doc Hines as the Godhead. If so, then his rejection of Christmas makes man the complete victim of a hostile force. This analogy carries through with God demanding, requiring, or allowing the death or sacrifice of Christ.

We must remember that part of Joe’s conflict came from his wish to escape the emasculating influence of the woman. He had always felt that the woman had tried to destroy his individuality. Here then we see another woman, Mrs. Hines, attempting in some way to change Joe’s decision to face the responsibility of his own actions. Mrs. Hines’ interference will become a motivating force in Joe’s attempt to escape in a later chapter.

Hightower’s refusal to help Mrs. Hines is not merely a refusal to utter the lie she requests, but more important, it is a refusal to become an active participant in the community and thus become involved in responsibility again. Thus, his impassioned refusal is his last futile but passionate effort to retain his isolation.

Review: War in the Pacific Skies

“War in the Pacific Skies” is an excellent work on the war in the Pacific during World War II. The book is a wonderful intermingling of story, photography, and art.

The authors tell the story in words and pictures. The pictures and paintings take a part of the story bringing it to life. This is a well-written and beautifully illustrated book. It provides a matchless look into the Pacific Air War during World War II. You cover all the major battles/campaigns. The reader gets an excellent overview of the air war in World War II in the Pacific Theater.

Charlie Cooper (Author), Ann Cooper (Author), and Jack Fellows (Illustrator) have created a masterpiece. The book would make an excellent addition to any aviation buff or military historian’s library. It would make a wonderful addition to school or community libraries.

Poem: War is Not Far

War is Not Fair

Do not mourn, soldier, for war is not fair.
A large IED is planted by the roadside.
It waits patiently for a Humvee or a Bradley.
Caring not who is inside or whose life will be destroyed.
It cares not that you are there as a volunteer trying to give them a better life.

Do not mourn, family, for war is not fair.
The IED by the roadside blows up the Humvee or Bradley.
Bits of metal, flesh, smoke, and stench fill the air.
The destruction rains not caring who is destroyed.
It cares not that it kills, cripples, breaks hearts, and destroys families.

Do not mourn, parents, for war is not fair.
The IED destroys the dreams you had for your children.
George W. Bush took us there and Barack H. Obama keeps us there.
Caring not who is serving or whose life is being destroyed.
The politics of war is most unkind.

© Jimmie A. Kepler 2009
Originally published in:

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Fifteen

Chapter fifteen gives us an excellent presentation of a religious fanatic. By presenting him as the town sees him, Faulkner gives “Uncle Doc” Hines  character qualities of a freak, a fanatic, a vile type of segregationist, and a pathetic weakling.

Even though old Doc Hines is not identified in this chapter as Joe’s grandfather, the reader should at least recognize him as the same man who worked in the orphanage for five years between twenty-five and thirty years ago. He was the one who stole Joe from the orphanage and who called the dietitian’s actions “bitchery and abomination”–the same thing he mutters at the end of Chapter fifteen.

On a realistic level, old Doc Hines’ hatred of Joe is a result of his general hatred of the Negro race. Thus this chapter goes into a long presentation of his unreasonable dislike for the Negro race and his absurd interference with the Negro church services. Therefore, old Doc Hines’ want for his grandson’s death can be taken on one level as the desire of a typical fanatic for white supremacy. But his fanaticism also functions on another level. It becomes significant when applied to his own grandson because this emphasizes Christmas’ isolation from society; he can never be accepted when his own grandfather rejects him.

When Hightower hears the news of Joe Christmas’ arrest, he becomes terribly agitated and begins to cry. Hightower has remained alone and isolated so long, has lived without human contact and knowledge of his fellow-man for so long that now, as he hears of the suffering of another person, his compassion is intense. He feels even by hearing the story that he drawn back into the difficulty and strain of everyday life.

He reminds Byron that he is an isolated figure and no longer a man of God because the town forced him. Thus, Hightower seems to be suggesting that he is not responsible for his present situation and that he is not therefore capable of helping another person. But in actuality, Hightower does not want to assume the responsibility connected with living a normal life again–he prefers his own isolation without responsibility.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Fourteen

Since Joe Christmas felt the need to kill Joanna out of a need to keep his individuality and since he could no longer run from his own self, it is now significant that after the murder, he makes no attempt to escape. He never leaves the surrounding countryside through which he wanders trying to come to terms with his conflict, and since his is an inner conflict, there is no need for Joe to leave the immediate neighborhood of his crime.

The murder occurred on Saturday, and on a Tuesday, Joe is seen in a Negro church cursing God. After this dramatic episode, Joe begins to come to terms with himself. Some critics have viewed this as the day of the Holy Week when Christ cleansed the temple. But in terms of Joe’s conflict with his two bloods, this episode suggests that the black blood can no longer stay pacified and must express itself in violence. This is his last futile attempt to deny his black blood.

His acceptance of his black blood comes when he exchanges his shoes for the Negro’s shoes. Basically, this is done so that the bloodhounds cannot trail him, but in accepting the shoes, he also seems to struggle no longer with himself. It is as though he spent all of his energy cursing God in the Negro church and now is ready to accept his heritage.

As soon as Joe accepts his black blood, he finds a sense of peace and contentment for the first time in his life. Joe realized that to have peace, he must accept full responsibility for his own heritage and his own actions. It is now that he realizes he must return to society and face the consequences of his earlier acts. With this decision and with his acceptance of his responsibility, he then finds that long-sought-after peace and contentment. This is represented by his becoming unified with nature and his surroundings: He breathes deep and slow, becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair.

Note that as soon as he comes to this recognition and this acceptance of self, he performs a symbolic cleansing ritual by shaving in the soft, cold, spring water. He even uses the Negro’s shoes to sharpen his razor and prepares himself for his return to town to assume responsibility for his actions.

It is only when Joe comes to the realization that he can never escape from himself and therefore accepts his Negro heritage that he breathes quietly for the first time in his life. He also realizes that he is no longer hungry. It will be remembered that Joe has always been in search of food and his sudden recognition that he is no longer hungry becomes significant in terms of his earlier struggles against hunger. Symbolically, when he accepts his destiny, he becomes at peace with his tormenting hunger, and sleeps peacefully for the first time.

Notice the difference in Joe’s actions before and after his acceptance of himself. In the scenes which immediately precede and follow Joe’s self-realization, there are different responses to Joe. In the first scene, Joe approaches a Negro to ask him the day of the week. The Negro is terrified by Joe’s appearance and flees in utter horror. Then comes the scene after Joe has accepted his responsibility, and he approaches another Negro who quite naturally and nonchalantly offers Joe a ride into Mottstown. During the ride, Joe feels that he has accepted himself, and he realizes that he is no longer exhausted or hungry.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Thirteen

Chapter thirteen handles the town’s reaction to the crime before we see, in the next chapter, Joe’s own actions following his crime.

Hightower’s reactions in this chapter are central to understanding his character. Notice that when Byron Bunch discusses Lena’s fate with him, Hightower refuses to offer his house as a refuge for her. He feels that he has suffered too much in the past and does not want to become involved in life again. Then after Hightower hears about the sheriff’s finding Joe’s trail, he feels some identity with Joe and is afraid that he is being drawn back into the stream of life. Even the fact that he feels something other than indifference to the fate of another person indicates that he is becoming involved with life again.

But he doesn’t want to become involved, and even though he resists, Hightower is slowly being drawn back into life. At the end of the chapter, he reminds Byron to engage a doctor for Lena and casually offers to help if there is anything he can do. Thus through Byron Bunch, himself a person isolated from the community, Hightower is being drawn back into the stream of life even though he resists it at every turn.

In this chapter, it becomes apparent that Byron is falling in love with Lena Grove. Hightower still has the perception and sensitivity to recognize this fact and knows that it will only bring sorrow to Byron. So he tells Byron to leave this town, which he calls “this terrible, terrible place.” Hightower has firsthand information as to how cruel and terrible the town of Jefferson is, and he fears for both Byron and himself. He prefers his life alone and has seen Byron live a life isolated from other people. He therefore fears that Byron is opening himself to terrible anguish and pain by becoming involved with a woman who is not accepted by the town.

Poem: Ice Cream

Ice Cream

I like ice cream
In a cone or in a bowl
I like vanilla
And I like it cold

I’m going to eat a bowl of ice cream
I’ll get you an ice cream cone
Do you want some chocolate sauce
On your ice cream cone?

It is real ice cream
With calories galore
It is homemade
Not bought at a store

I like my ice cream
In a cone or in a bowl
I like vanilla
I eat it all before it gets too old.

© Jimmie A. Kepler 2009
Originally published in:


Summary: Light in August – Chapter Twelve

Chapter twelve is the central chapter of the novel. It relates events which were only hinted at in the first chapter when Lena Grove arrived in town and saw the column of smoke. Remember that earlier we learned that Joe Christmas had killed Joanna Burden. The next several chapters had provided the impetus and settings to the crime.

As chapter twelve begins it deals with the absolute dishonesty of Joanna Burden. Her and Joe’s relationship went through three distinctive phases. The first was the seduction which we heard about in the last chapter. The second came during the wild “throws of nymphomania.” The last phase was Joanna’s effort to change Joe.

During phase two, Joanna, in the thrill of her sexual relationship with Joe would often cry “Negro! Negro!” That pointed out that she on the whole enjoys being dishonored by someone with Negro blood. Despite her heritage, which should have trained her to accept the Negro as equal, this howl suggests that again Joe is not being acknowledged as a person of equality. This in itself changes his relationship with Joanna.

The crucial change comes during the third phase. The reader should remember that Joe always thought of women as being destructive to his sense of order. The dietitian, Bobbie Allen, and unknown prostitutes have forced him to be suspicious of the influence of women who seem to infringe his sense of an ordered life. For about two years, Joanna and Joe’s relationship obey the rules of an ordered (though nontraditional) pattern, but when Joanna broke this pattern with her demands that Joe Christmas take over her finances, go to a Negro school, and finally that he pray with her in order to be saved, he again reacted violently to this infringement of his concept of an ordered existence. Prayer is particularly offensive to Joe. This was because of his earlier childhood experience with Mr. McEachern when the elder man beat him unmercifully because of his refusal to recite the catechism.

Joe also views women as being capable of tearing down his own individuality. He thinks in this chapter that it would be easy to give in to Joanna and live a life of security and ease. But then he thinks that if he did give in, he would be denying everything that he has stood for during his life. As a result, when Joanna tries to compel him to change, he must kill her or else his own sense of security and isolation is violated. On the simple plot level, Joe kills Joanna in self-defense because she did attempt to kill him. She would have succeeded if the gun had not failed to fire. In the purest legal sense, Joe kills Joanna out of self-defense.
While he could have run, remember he has spent his life running. He now feels that he must take his stand. He must assert his own values. He does this even if it means killing the person who is trying to go against his order and serene way of life.

Summary: Light in August – Chapter Eleven

Joe’s fundamental need to reject everything from women is exposed in his association with Joanna. We find out that even though Joanna leaves him food, he still prefers to steal it. While he has already seduced her, he prefers to abuse her anew each time. With these violent acts, Joe is asserting his maleness. He is turning down and not allowing the woman to have any influence on his life. And each time he has sexual relations with Joanna, it is “as if he struggled physically with another man.”

Joanna Burden’s story of her relatives places her in a position to help Joe. She has inherited the burden of the Negro race. Her readiness to understand a person at his own value should have equipped Joanna to acknowledge Joe, and throughout this chapter, it seems that Joanna is accepting Joe for what he is.

At the end of the chapter, Joe reveals he doesn’t know his parents. He knows that one was part Negro. When Joanna questions how Joe knows that he is part Negro, he tells her that he doesn’t positively know, but he has always assumed that he has Negro blood. The point is that Joe Christmas senses or feels himself to be a Negro. He has lived his life with this conjecture. His problem involves his belief that he is biracial with two bloods. His attempts to resolve these two bloods or to find approval for both are decisive to his life.