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Free Barron's Booknotes-Light in August by William Faulkner-Free Notes
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Chapter 15 introduces Doc and Mrs. Hines. It tells about their startling reaction to Joe Christmas's arrest and ends as the couple is heading for Jefferson to try to influence Joe's fate.

An old couple named Hines has been living in the black section of Mottstown for thirty years. They have always been mysterious, and the town thinks them crazy. During their first five years in Mottstown, Hines was home only once a month, though since then he has lived there year round. People have heard that he holds revival services in black churches, and black women are sometimes seen delivering food to Hines's house. But for some reason, people have been willing to forgive what they regard as his crazy tolerance of blacks.

Hines's wife is rarely seen, but Uncle Doc, as Hines is called, hangs out in the town square much of the day. Eventually the townspeople discover the subject of Uncle Doc's sermons to the black congregations. He shows up uninvited and preaches the superiority of the white race.

Faulkner introduced one other character by describing her unusual relationship to blacks, a relationship that also included being visited by black women bearing food. But Joanna Burden seems quite different from the crazy Doc Hines. And yet this initial superficial similarity may be a clue to some deeper correspondences. Joanna Burden, in her own way, is haunted by race and believes blacks to be inferior. And at the end of her life, Joanna preaches to a man she takes to be black, Joe Christmas, that he should accept his proper station in life. Are there surprising links between Doc Hines and any other characters as well? Despite these links, Doc Hines is certainly the novel's most extreme racist and religious fanatic.


Faulkner uses a technique here that he also uses in many other portions of Light in August. He introduces a character by his reputation, then gradually shows us what the character is really like. In this particular instance, the initial opinion that Hines is "crazy on the subject of Negroes" is ironic, because he is indeed crazy on that subject but not in the way the townspeople meant. You have probably found that when you get to know people they sometimes turn out to be quite different from what their reputation had led you to suspect. In Light in August, Faulkner tells his story in a way that allows him to explore those discrepancies.

Doc Hines is in downtown Mottstown when he hears that a murderer named Christmas has been captured. Slobbering at the mouth, Hines beats his way through the crowd gathered around the captive. He seems insane. When he reaches Christmas, he strikes him and yells, "Kill the bastard!" Two men take Hines Home. When they tell his wife about the incident, she too seems extremely interested in Christmas.

When the two men leave, Mrs. Hines is trembling. She tells her husband that she wants an answer to a question that she has refrained from asking for thirty years. She wants to know what he did with "Milly's baby."

The story of Joe Christmas's capture spreads through town. Note how the town gives its own incorrect interpretation of the facts. The townspeople say that the man's "nigger blood" led him to let himself be captured so easily. They point to his foolishly burning the Burden house and say that he tried to pin both his bootleg liquor business and the murder on a white man named Brown. Of course, unlike the townspeople, you know Brown's true character. Are they right in accusing Christmas of setting the fire? The townspeople continue by describing how Christmas came into town and got a haircut and some new clothes. They claim he used money he stole from Joanna Burden. Is such a theft likely? Then, according to the townspeople, Christmas walked the main streets until someone recognized him, hit him in the face, and held him. They say that what made people angry was Christmas's refusal to act either black or white.

The townspeople tell how Doc Hines came back into town again and tried to get the crowd to lynch Christmas. And they comment on how surprised they were to see Hines's wife come after him and quiet him down.

Then they describe how the Mottstown sheriff tried to calm the crowd so that the Jefferson sheriff could take Christmas back. How serious do you think the possibility of lynching is here? Certainly the threat is present, but Faulkner also gives us reason to believe that some of that threat is mere bluster.

The townspeople also talk of Doc and Mrs. Hines going to the railroad station and waiting for the 2 A.M. train to Jefferson. After hours of being very quiet, Doc began to scream, "Abomination and bitchery!" By now Doc should remind you very closely of a character you met early in the novel.

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