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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 21

Chapter 21 ends the novel by returning to Lena's and Byron's story, now told by a new character, a furniture dealer who gives them a ride. The furniture dealer tells how Lena rebuffs Byron's attempt to make love to her. But, ever-hopeful, Byron is sticking with Lena, who is continuing her travels.

A Mississippi furniture dealer has just returned from a business trip to Tennessee. He tells his wife an amusing anecdote about two people he met on the road. An improbably matched couple with a baby asked him for a ride. They didn't have any particular destination. The woman was young, pretty, strong, and hearty. The man was small, plain, and meek. The furniture dealer gave them a ride, and, when they hinted that they would like to sleep in his truck at night, he agreed. The woman said that she had been on the road for two months and that the baby had been born back in Jefferson. By now you probably realize that this couple is Byron Bunch and Lena Grove.


The furniture dealer gives you a new perspective on Byron and Lena. He emphasizes the physical discrepancy between them, and he makes Byron seem more pathetic than ever. The furniture dealer knows nothing of Byron's goodness nor of his moral courage. Why does Faulkner choose to end the story of Byron and Lena, and, for that matter, the novel as a whole, from the point of view of this completely new and anonymous character? Though the furniture dealer isn't from Jefferson, he still seems to be one of the chorus of community people who have commented on Light in August's action throughout the novel. Unlike most of this novel's major characters, he seems happy, neither frustrated nor obsessed. And he is telling this story to his wife in bed. Their flirtatious banter shows them to be perhaps the only happy couple in the novel, a contrast both to the sexually obsessed Joe and Joanna and to the sexually empty lives of most of the novel's other characters.

Lying awake at night, the furniture dealer saw that Byron was up to something. Lena was sleeping in the truck, and Byron was supposed to sleep outside. But Byron sneaked into the truck to try to make love to Lena, who had consistently refused his offers of marriage and who claimed to be still searching for Lucas Burch. Lena woke up and told Byron that he should be ashamed of himself. Then she picked him up and put him off the truck. Apparently mortified, Byron ran into the woods. The next morning he hadn't returned, and the furniture dealer and Lena set off without him. But farther up the road, there he was, waiting. Byron climbed back into the truck and told Lena that he had come too far to quit now.

Some readers think that this ending and especially its comic tone, doesn't fit with the tragic Joe Christmas story that makes up the largest part of the book. Others think that the ending is Faulkner's way of setting the Joe Christmas tragedy against a background of the happier lives of more ordinary people. If you accept this viewpoint, you could visualize a progression from the isolated and obsessed Joe Christmas, through the more socially integrated but still frustrated Byron Bunch, to the happy life of the still more ordinary furniture dealer and the many other anonymous people he may represent.

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