William Faulkner's Light in August

William Faulkner's Light in August

William Faulkner's Light in August

William Faulkner's Light in August


In Light in August (1932) William Faulkner creates the world of Jim Crow South and its twin obsessions, the mystery of the mulatto and fears of miscegenation. These obsessions are dramatized through Joe Christmas, a figure of passing who does not himself know his paternity. When Faulkner warned that Joe "himself didn't know who he was - didn't know whether he was part Negro or not and would never know," he reminds us how permanently Joe resists racial stereotypes. He is a "shadow" that eludes and baffles other characters and the town of Jefferson, Mississippi, so that he becomes a projection of their fears and assumptions. To them, he is variously a "foreigner", "white", "murderer", and "nigger." His shifting roles mean that identity is what happens to Joe, as external as the will that drives him towards murder and death: "Something is going to happen to me. I am going to do something."

This collection of critical essays on Light in August proves that the enigmatic figure of Joe Christmas and the culture of racism continue to elicit the most searching commentaries. Donald M. Kartiganer, Andre Bleikasten, Carolyn Porter, Eric J. Sundquist, James A. Snead, and John N. Duvall are the distinguished critics who address the novel in our present efforts to understand Faulkner and our history.

William Faulkner's Light in August is one of over 100 volumes in the "Modern Critical Interpretations" series, edited and introduced by Harold Bloom and published by Chelsea House. Taken together, these volumes represent a comprehensive collection of the best current criticism of the most widely read poems, novels, stories, and dramas of the Western World.


No critic need invent William Faulkner’s obsessions with what Nietzsche might have called the genealogy of the imagination. Recent critics of Faulkner, including David Minter, John T. Irwin, David M. Wyatt, and Richard H. King, have emphasized the novelist’s profound need to believe himself to have been his own father in order to escape not only the Freudian family romance and literary anxieties of influence, but also the cultural dilemmas of what King terms “the Southern family romance.” From The Sound and the Fury through the debacle of A Fable, Faulkner centers upon the sorrows of fathers and sons, to the disadvantage of mothers and daughters. No feminist critic ever will be happy with Faulkner. His brooding conviction that female sexuality is closely allied with death seems essential to all of his strongest fictions. It may even be that Faulkner’s rhetorical economy, his wounded need to get his cosmos into a single sentence, is related to his fear that origin and end might prove to be one. Nietzsche prophetically had warned that origin and end were separate entities, and for the sake of life had to be kept apart, but Faulkner (strangely like Freud) seems to have known that the only Western trope participating neither in origin nor end is the image of the father.

By universal consent of critics and common readers, Faulkner now is recognized as the strongest American novelist of this century, clearly surpassing Hemingway and Fitzgerald, and standing as an equal in the sequence that includes Hawthorne, Melville, Mark Twain, and Henry James. Some critics might add Dreiser to this group; Faulkner himself curiously would have insisted upon Thomas Wolfe, a generous though dubious judgment. The American precursor for Faulkner was Sherwood Anderson, but perhaps only as an impetus; the true Ameri-

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