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Free Barron's Booknotes-Light in August by William Faulkner-Free Notes
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Chapter 3 presents Gail Hightower's background. It describes his arrival in Jefferson, the scandalous death of his wife, his own persecution by the townspeople, and his current isolation.

It is just before dusk. Gail Hightower is sitting by his study window and looking out at the street. He sits in the same spot every day at this time and waits for night.

When Byron Bunch first came to Jefferson, he asked people about this strange man. Here is the story he heard. Hightower came to Jefferson straight from the seminary. He bragged in an unseemly way about how he had pulled strings to get assigned to a church in Jefferson. And when he preached, he talked more about the Civil War and about his cavalryman grandfather's death in that war than about God. Neighbors often heard his young wife crying at night. People rarely saw her with her husband, arid they knew that she left town at times. Then one day the newspapers reported that she had been killed in a fall from a Memphis hotel window. She had been sharing the room with a man.

Hightower tried to preach that Sunday as usual, but reporters were milling outside the church. The congregation, outraged by the scandal, walked out. When Hightower himself left, he tried to hide his face behind a hymnal. But a photographer was able to snap his picture anyhow. He appeared to be smiling. The smile suggests that he may have been glad for the opportunity to retreat even further from the social obligations of a minister.

Remember that you are hearing Hightower's story from the viewpoint of the scandalized community, which gave this account to Byron. Because the relationship of the individual and the community is one of Faulkner's themes, you will have to evaluate the community's behavior along with Hightower's. The first mention of the scandal comes from an anonymous townsman who explains the incident by simply saying that Hightower's wife went bad. When you hear the story in more detail, does the community seem any more sympathetic to the wife than this first townsman was? They appear to blame Hightower for her fate and say that if he had been more dependable she would have been all right. But the only time the townswomen call on Mrs. Hightower is when she plays the role of a proper minister's wife, and then they only call on her to tell her how to run the parsonage. If Hightower has failed his wife by ignoring her, you might say that the community that condemns him committed the same offense.

If so, the town of Jefferson showed no such awareness or remorse. They tried to get Hightower to resign. He refused but they finally forced him out. They were upset when, instead of leaving town, he bought a house in Jefferson. Rumors about him spread. One was that he was having an affair with his black cook. She was forced to resign, and the Ku Klux Klan beat Hightower. But eventually the town learned to accept Hightower's continued presence, and now, about twenty-five years after the scandal, he lives in Jefferson peacefully.

You don't yet know enough about Hightower to form a firm opinion about him. But note that he is the second character in the novel who seems to avoid his responsibilities to a woman. (The other one is Lucas Burch.)

Byron remembers one more incident concerning Hightower. Four years ago, in an emergency, Hightower delivered a black woman's child, but the child was born dead. The town treated Hightower's actions as another scandal. Byron, who visits Hightower each weekday evening, remembers that Hightower didn't condemn the town. Instead he expressed as his highest hope the wish to "live quietly among his fellows."

What attracts Byron to Hightower? Are the men similar in any ways? Note that both Byron and Hightower remain aloof from the life of the town. You could argue that this trait is good given what you have already learned of the town's unforgiving gossip. But you may also wonder whether the two men pay a price for their lack of involvement.

It's dark now, and Hightower is still sitting at his study window. He looks out and is surprised to see Byron coming to visit him on a Sunday evening.


Hightower is obsessed with his cavalryman grandfather. As Byron approaches, Hightower has been thinking of "phantom hooves," and he compares Byron unfavorably to a horse. The latter, he thinks, is a symbol of warriors and kings. Faulkner uses references to horses at several points in Light in August. The meaning of this imagery develops more fully later. But you should question whether Faulkner supports Hightower here. Though Faulkner was himself an avid horseman, horses in Light in August are often associated with unnatural relationships, like Hightower's obsession with his grandfather.

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