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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 10

Chapter 10 recounts Joe's fifteen years of wandering. The fifteen years begin when Bobbie leaves him and end when he arrives at Joanna Burden's house in Jefferson. The chapter shows that Joe's major preoccupation during this entire period is his uncertain racial identity.

Bobbie and her friends leave Joe semiconscious on the floor. He finds and drinks some whiskey, then steps out into the street.

For the next fifteen years, Joe wanders streets that seem to blend into one long, never-ending highway. He goes as far south as Mexico, then as far north as Chicago and Detroit, then back south again. He works at a variety of jobs. Sometimes, after he has had sexual relations with a prostitute, he tells her that he is black, and, apparently because the prostitute thinks that accepting a black customer is beneath her, she kicks him out without making him pay. Sometimes he tells white men that he is black, just to provoke them into a fight.


But when a Northern prostitute doesn't react to his statement that he is black, Christmas is enraged that a white woman would accept a black, and he beats her. Later he lives with a black woman in the North. At night he tries to breathe her darkness into himself, but at the same time he feels his body repelled by this effort.

You are finally seeing Joe Christmas as a fully formed adult. Bobbie's betrayal of his love is the final event that seems to set the course he takes thenceforth. Faulkner emphasizes Joe's transiency by associating him with the street. But Joe's wandering seems quite different from Lena Grove's journey along country roads. For one, Joe keeps returning to cities, whereas Lena travels through the small towns and hamlets she knows best. And unlike Lena, who tells her story to all who will listen, Joe remains close-mouthed.

Note also that the one constant in Joe's life is his preoccupation with his uncertain racial identity. His isolation seems to stem from his refusal to accept either of the two racial categories to which he could belong. While Lena's travels seem connected to her certainty about her life and destiny, Joe's seem to emerge from his internal conflict about what he really is. Is Joe always running away? But even if he is, might his refusal to belong to either of the racial categories make him a hero? Or does his obsession with these categories mean that he is still their victim?

Joe finds himself in a small Mississippi town, Jefferson. He notices a large house on the town's outskirts. Someone tells him that Mrs. Burden lives there alone. At night, Joe sneaks in through the window and goes to the kitchen where he eats. Then Joanna Burden appears behind him.

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