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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter 18 marks a turning point for Byron. In this chapter he plans to leave Jefferson but first arranges for Lucas Burch to see Lena. When Burch flees again, Byron fights him, then returns to Lena.
Byron is in town to see the sheriff. He thinks that the town probably regards him as a fool for protecting Joe Brown's woman and baby with no reward for himself. He stops by his old boarding house, where he learns that the landlady has rented out his room. The landlady seems to have a lively interest in Byron, Lena, Christmas, and Brown. Through Byron's worries and the landlady's gossip, Faulkner once more raises the question of the community's reaction to the major characters' stories.
Byron finally sees the sheriff. The sheriff thinks of Byron as a man whose behavior has outraged the town during the last week. Apparently Byron's attempts to help Lena have not only destroyed his old peaceful routine, but have also made him a scandal to the town. Always an outsider, is Byron Bunch now becoming another of Jefferson's outcasts? The sheriff agrees to Byron's request that he send Joe Brown to see Lena and mentions that he expects Christmas to plead guilty in order to save his life.
From a hiding place near Lena's cabin, Byron sees the deputy sheriff bring
Joe Brown, alias Lucas Burch, to Lena. Byron turns away and starts to
ride his mule up the hill and away from Jefferson. He is leaving town.
He thinks about how much suffering he has had to bear. Then he looks back
and sees Joe Brown fleeing from the rear window of Lena's cabin. Byron
feels as if a wind is blowing through him.
The wind that Byron feels is one of several metaphorical winds in Light in August. Christmas feels a wind on several occasions, most notably when Bobbie Allen turns against him. Hightower's first name suggests the gales he shelters himself against. Here the "cold" and "hard" wind seems quite unpleasant. Perhaps the wind is the harshness of life from which one can only shelter oneself at the cost of one's vitality. When Christmas feels the wind after Bobbie's betrayal, it's a sign that his life is changing. Is it a similar sign here for Byron? Does Byron cope with harsh disappointments better than Christmas?
Byron decides to intercept Brown and to fight him. He expects to lose but wants to make the effort.
Faulkner once said that the writers he admired most were those who had tried to accomplish so much that they inevitably had to fail. Some readers think that his great admiration for grand but doomed efforts shows in his novels too. However humble, Bunch's assault on Brown may be one of these doomed yet courageous actions that Faulkner so appreciated.
Faulkner tells you about Brown's encounter with Lena. The deputy sheriff takes Brown to Lena without telling him where he is going. Brown is upset and even desperate when he sees Lena. She asks him when they will be getting married. He is evasive, and when she gives him the opportunity to leave, he flees by the back window to avoid the deputy sheriff.
Brown cuts through the woods to where the railroad tracks mount a hill. He finds a black man to take a message to the sheriff. The message demands Brown's thousand-dollar reward for having informed on Joe Christmas. Brown feels as if everyone around him is a chess piece being moved by an unbeatable opponent. Compare Brown's fatalism to McEachern's or Hines's. They feel sure of victory, while Brown feels sure of defeat. How does Byron's attitude compare to both of these others? Byron seems to be more aware of having to make choices whose outcomes are uncertain.
Byron finds Brown and challenges him to fight. Brown beats Byron until he lies bleeding and in a semiconscious state that resembles Christmas's after Bobbie's friends had beaten him up. Remember that after Christmas returned to full consciousness he began his fifteen-year flight down the streets of America's cities. You'll soon find out whether this beating will mark a similarly drastic change in Byron's life.
The freight train approaches. After he sees Brown jump on it, Byron heads back to Lena. Unlike so many of the novel's other characters, he seems to have decided not to flee. On his way back, he hears that Christmas has been killed.