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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 17

In this chapter Lena's baby is born. Byron forces Hightower to help deliver the baby, and this act revitalizes Hightower.

At dawn the next morning, Byron wakes Hightower to tell him that Lena is in labor. Byron asks him to go to Lena's cabin with the book Hightower had once used to guide him in delivering a baby many years before. Before Hightower can protest, Byron leaves for town to get a doctor.

As he entered Hightower's house, Byron noticed that he could find his way in the dark, as if he were being led. Byron finds his way with an uncanny certainty similar to that which guided both McEachern and Hines when they chased their "sinning" children. Faulkner seems to be drawing a parallel and making a contrast. Hines and McEachern were acting out of anger. Their mission was to punish, and they were sure they were instruments of God. But Byron is in love, and his mission is to help someone whom Hines and McEachern would regard as a sinner too. And unlike Hines and McEachern, Byron doesn't seem convinced that God is leading him. In fact, he says that God is watching him to see what he will do. Notice how Faulkner makes his points by comparisons and contrasts.

Byron and the doctor are late. When they arrive, the baby is on Lena's lap. Doc Hines is asleep on another cot, and Mrs. Hines is crouching over Lena and the baby.

NOTE: INCONGRUOUS AND CONTRADICTORY IMAGES

Faulkner describes Mrs. Hines as resembling both a "rock" and a "crouching beast." He sees in her face both "peace" and "terror." Later in this chapter he describes Lena's face as "neither innocent nor dissimulating" and Hightower's as "firm" and "gentle." This use of expressions that link two contradictory or incongruous terms is typical of Faulkner's style in Light in August. Some readers think that Faulkner uses this stylistic device to emphasize the unresolved tensions that he seems to find characteristic of human life.


Mrs. Hines calls the baby "Joey." She seems to think he is her grandson, Joe Christmas. Does this hint that Joe is somehow resurrected in Lena's baby to continue the novel's Christian symbolism? Or does it remind us that, whatever Joe's end, life and birth and love go on? Or is it a forced and unsuccessful comparison that doesn't accomplish anything? Which of these interpretations makes the most sense to you? Why?

Meanwhile, Byron hears the baby cry, and the cry reminds him of Lena's crying in labor. He suddenly realizes that until now he has not really believed that Lena is not a virgin. He remembers that he will have to tell Joe Brown (Lucas Burch) about Lena.

Hightower walks home. On the way he is fretful. But when he gets to his house, he gradually realizes that he is feeling good. Apparently, helping with a birth has revitalized him. Instead of going back to sleep, he reads Henry IV.

NOTE:

Henry IV, Parts I and II, are historical plays by Shakespeare. They portray Henry IV's attempts to suppress a rebellion by those loyal to the former king, whom Henry had deposed. The plays are largely about the ethical and practical consequences of political action. Apparently, Hightower's foray outside his study has given him a taste for this portrayal of action in the real, historical world. The Henry IV plays are also about the education of Prince Hal, the future Henry V. Hal mixes with common folk and learns how to be a fuller human being. So these plays are especially appropriate for Hightower at this moment.

Hightower hopes that Lena will name the baby after him but suspects that she will name it after Byron. Note that the baby now has three symbolic fathers, Hightower, Byron, and Christmas. Later, Hightower walks the two miles back to Lena's cabin and enjoys the sights, sounds, and smells of the natural world around him. He imagines the Burden plantation as it once was. Like Christmas he associates blacks, women, and nature, but, for Hightower, the association is now a positive and life-affirming one.

When Hightower arrives at Lena's cabin, she is initially disappointed. She was expecting someone else, probably Byron. Note the change from when she first met Byron and was disappointed because she had been expecting Lucas Burch. Is Lena as completely constant a character as she had seemed?

She tells Hightower that Mrs. Hines has her so mixed up that she almost thinks that Christmas is indeed the father of her baby. Hightower urges her to send Byron away. She will not be good for Byron, Hightower believes. Lena tells Hightower that she has already rejected Byron's offer of marriage. She will never see him again, she thinks, and she cries.

Then Hightower goes to the mill and learns that Byron has quit his job.

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