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Free Barron's Booknotes-Light in August by William Faulkner-Free Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES

CHAPTER 4

In Chapter 4 Byron tells Hightower about Lena's arrival and about the murder of Joanna Burden. He explains that Burch has accused Christmas of the murder and has revealed that Christmas is part black.

Byron and Hightower are talking in Hightower's study. Byron tells about Lena's arrival and about the fire at the Burden house. Hightower doesn't understand why Byron is so upset. He doesn't see the connection between Byron's worry about Lena and the events at the Burden house plains about Brown and Christmas. Byron explains about Brown and Christmas living in the cabin there and about their running a bootlegging business together. He has heard that once, when Brown was talking too freely to the townspeople, Christmas came over and slapped him in the face. Byron explains that he accidentally told Lena that Brown, the bootlegger, is her Lucas Burch. Then Byron adds that he kept Lena from going to the cabin and took her to his rooming house instead. All the while he tried to shield her from some bad news that the whole town was talking about. Byron is being evasive, and Hightower is aware of Byron's hesitation in getting to the point.

You could argue that Byron is a weak, almost pathetic figure. He seems excessively worried about hurting Hightower by bringing bad news about someone else, so worried that he can't even get to the point. And while he is devoting so much energy to protecting Lena, he still feels guilty about hurting Lena with news that is no fault of his own. But you may also find that this same behavior makes Byron quite sympathetic. The two interpretations are not necessarily contradictory.


Notice that Hightower seems as afraid of what Byron is about to say as Byron is afraid of saying it. But Byron continues.

NOTE: HIGHTOWER AS BUDDHA

Faulkner says that Hightower resembles an "eastern idol." This reference is only one of several that compares Hightower to a Buddha. Buddhism is one of the major Asian religions. Just as Western religious art frequently represents Christ on a cross, so Eastern sculpture often depicts the Buddha sitting in peaceful contemplation. The historical Buddha was a prince who attained a state of enlightenment in which he learned to detach himself from worldly goods and passions. Those of his followers who also attain such a saintly state are often referred to as Buddhas too. Compare Faulkner's comparisons of Hightower and Buddha with his more frequent comparisons of Joe Christmas and Christ. Once more, you will have to decide whether Faulkner is pointing to a fundamental similarity or whether he is using a superficial similarity to underline a fundamental difference.

According to Byron, a countryman passing by went to investigate the Burden fire. Brown tried to stop him from going upstairs, but he went anyhow and found Joanna Burden almost decapitated. Brown disappeared but then showed up at the sheriffs office when he heard about the thousand-dollar reward for capturing the killer. He accused Joe Christmas.

NOTE: STORYTELLING

As in many other places in Light in August, you are hearing a story second-hand or third-hand. In this case, Byron is telling about things that the countryman and Brown told the sheriff. The reader doesn't know whom Byron heard the story from or even whom the person who told the story to Byron heard it from. And much of what Brown is reported as saying is only what he in turn heard from Christmas. Why does Faulkner use this method? One possible reason is that this storytelling takes some of your attention away from the often gruesome events and makes you think more about the various characters who are speaking. This method also contrasts public perceptions of events with a truer picture that Faulkner may not reveal until later.

Byron continues to narrate Brown's conversation with the sheriff. Brown told the sheriff about having discovered that Christmas was sleeping with Joanna Burden. Brown also said that Christmas had hinted that he had killed Joanna. But the sheriff implied that Brown himself might be the culprit. Then Brown said that Christmas had admitted to being part black.

Even without any proof, this accusation seems to change everyone's attitude. People seem to regard having falsely passed for white as a more serious offense than murder. This example of Jefferson's attitude to blacks is at least the third you've read so far. The mill workers were glad to see Joanna Burden's house burning because they hated her for being friendly to blacks. And for hiring black servants Hightower aroused the wrath of the town and the K.K.K.

Byron relates that the sheriff locked Brown up anyhow. Hightower worries about what the people will do with Christmas when they catch him. And Byron, who still hasn't told Lena about any of these happenings, worries about having to tell her.

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