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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 13

Chapter 13 abruptly shifts from Joe Christmas's point of view to the collective point of view of the Jefferson townspeople, who have come to look at Joanna's burned-down house. Then it recounts a blundering posse's search for Christmas. It concludes by returning to the story of Byron Bunch and Lena Grove.

Within five minutes after a passing traveler stopped at Joanna Burden's burning house and found her body, crowds are gathering at the site to gawk. Some of them are sure that the murderer was black and that he had raped the victim too. Firemen arrive, but, with no water source for their fancy firefighting equipment, they join the gawkers. The people feel outraged by the crime but nonetheless seem to be enjoying their outrage.

NOTE:

In the early chapters of Light in August, you heard the town gossip about Hightower, Burden, and Christmas. Now after having given the reader a more intimate knowledge of these characters, Faulkner returns to their public image. Be aware of the discrepancy between the complex story you have already learned and the simple explanations the onlookers come up with.

The sheriff wants to interrogate a black man and asks that one be brought to him. He and his deputies bring a black man inside the cabin and ask him who lived there. When he says he doesn't know, they beat him. Finally he admits that two white men had lived there, and the sheriff realizes that the men were Brown and Christmas.

Note that the sheriff, unlike the gawkers, seems to be making a serious attempt to find the culprit. However, by beating a randomly chosen black man, all he gains is some information that was part of the town gossip already.


Back in town the sheriff notices a wagon arriving with a pregnant woman as passenger. The woman is of no concern to him, but the reader can recognize her as Lena Grove.

The sheriff notifies Joanna's New Hampshire nephew of her murder, and the nephew offers a thousand-dollar reward for the killer's capture. The reward brings out Brown and his story about Christmas. Now the chase is on. The sheriff's main resource is two bloodhounds he has brought from out of town. Their first time on the trail the bloodhounds dig up some cans of food; the second time they howl at the doorway of the cabin; the third time they find Joanna's revolver; and the fourth time they get lost.

NOTE: HUMOR

The story of the bloodhounds is one of the longer bits of humor in Light in August. Besides entertaining you, what does Faulkner accomplish by this sudden turn to comedy? One possible effect is to remind you that the tragedy of Joe Christmas is not Faulkner's final statement about life. In this sense the bloodhound story foreshadows the novel's comic ending. Perhaps the ineptness of the posse's chase tells you something about the town too. And the posse's blundering may make them more sympathetic figures.

Byron visits Hightower and tells him that Lena will move to the cabin that Brown and Christmas had lived in. He says that she insists on living there because she sees it as the home of her Lucas. Hightower recognizes Byron's love for Lena and advises him to leave Jefferson. He says that Byron is being guided by the devil.

Why is Hightower so upset? Perhaps his old religious training is coming to the fore. Or perhaps, like the other religious figures in the novel, Hightower is asserting a moral objection to the possibility of an improper sexual involvement. You could also argue that this morality is only a front. Hightower, whose own marriage was unhappy, may be afraid that Byron is heading for a similarly unhappy experience with a woman. But Hightower may also be afraid for himself. Does he sense that his friend's growing emotional entanglement will make his own aloofness harder to maintain?

When shopping, Hightower hears that the posse has picked up Christmas's trail. Note that, like the rest of the town, both Hightower and Byron accept without question Brown's contention that Christmas is black. But Hightower seems upset about Christmas's capture and worries that Christmas will somehow shatter Hightower's own dearly bought peace.

A proud and defiant-looking Byron Bunch comes to visit Hightower. He tells Hightower that he is living in a tent near Lena's cabin. Hightower advises him to leave; otherwise, he says, the result will be either sin or marriage. Hightower seems more upset at the possibility of marriage, which he calls a woman's invention. This exchange seems to suggest that religious morality is not Hightower's reason for objecting to Byron's behavior, though you may already have noticed that many of the novel's religious figures are hostile to women.

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