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TESTS AND ANSWERS
TEST 2 - ANSWERS
11. To show that Byron Bunch is more admirable, point to his efforts to change his past behavior and to involve himself more in helping others. Byron dedicates himself to aiding Lena Grove and tries to persuade Hightower to help Joe Christmas. Byron also helps Hightower by forcing him to deliver Lena's baby and so end his isolation. Byron is persistent in his efforts to forge a relationship with Lena and is willing to endure failure and to try again. By comparison, Hightower avoids engaging himself with the real world or with other people. And he remains mired in his obsession with his dead grandfather.
But you can argue that Hightower is the more admirable. Point to the ways in which Byron's dedication to Lena simply makes him look ridiculous. (See the last chapter especially.) Argue that part of what makes a person admirable is the obstacles that he or she must struggle against. Byron can pursue Lena without much difficulty. But Hightower's struggle to overcome the enormous burden of his family history and of the scars inflicted by his wife's death makes him the more admirable character.
12. You can establish that Gail Hightower's grandfather was a robust lover of life and his father a helper of his fellow human beings (Chapter 20). By comparison to these two Civil War veterans, Hightower is a lifeless figure who fails both his wife and his congregation and spends most of his life cut off from the rest of the human race. Joanna Burden also compares badly to her ancestors. Both her father and her grandfather were rebellious wanderers and vigorous family men (Chapter 11). But Joanna spends most of her time alone in her house. These two family histories show that Faulkner saw the Southern past as a grander era, from which there has been a decline.
But you can use the same chapters to demonstrate that the past is a burden on the present. Hightower's inadequacies are a result of his obsession with his grandfather, and Joanna Burden is the victim of the stern religion and patronizing racism that her father taught her and that he learned from his father before him. And the freest character in the novel is Lena Grove, who seems to live entirely in the present.
Of course, the argument that the past is burdensome does not necessarily contradict the argument that it is glorious. But if you claim that the past is burdensome without being glorious, you can mention that Hightower's grandfather died stealing chickens, and you can argue that nothing is glorious about the way Calvin Burden forced his religious precepts upon his children.
13. If you intend to prove that Light in August is optimistic, emphasize Lena Grove. Lena gives birth to a baby, evokes kind acts from everyone she meets, and brings Hightower and Byron out of their isolation. Lena's story opens and closes the novel. You can further bolster your position by claiming that Hightower finally achieves some insight at the end of the novel and that Byron too has become a new and better man. You may want to go further by using Chapter 14 in support of the idea that Christmas has also learned something from his life and has attained mental peace. And you can certainly direct attention to the end of Chapter 19 to make the point that the town has learned something positive from Christmas's death.
But, on the other hand, most of Light in August is about Joe Christmas. And Christmas is a violent, resentful, tormented man, who dies tragically. He seems unable to overcome his past, and he repeats the racial and sexual obsessions and the violence of the people who influenced his childhood and adolescence. Furthermore, except for delivering Lena's baby, Hightower never learns to act in the real world, and he never overcomes his obsession with his grandfather. Joanna Burden dies without ever having fully lived. And even the relatively happy last chapter shows Byron Bunch unsuccessful in his wooing of Lena Grove. Even Lena fails in her search for Lucas Burch.
14. Reread "The Characters" section for its discussions of Lena Grove and Joanna Burden. Lena is at peace with others and with herself. She brings out the best in people. She is in harmony with nature. She is fertile and produces a child. She lives in the present. And she is a wanderer, with no fixed home. Joanna is quite the opposite. She is preoccupied both by her past and by her goal for the future (the uplifting of the black race). Joanna is sterile. She provokes the white townspeople's hostility and Joe's hostility as well. She rarely leaves her house. And she veers from an extreme obsession with sex to an equally extreme revulsion from it.
But you can also point to some characteristics these two women have in common. They are both catalysts for change in some of the male characters. And neither seems as self-aware as the major male characters. Because of these two facts and because both Lena and Joanna represent extremes, you can argue that Faulkner used his female characters only to help develop the stories of his male characters, who show a greater capacity for struggle and change than either Lena or Joanna. On the other hand, you can argue that Faulkner thought quite highly of women. For example, he makes Lena the most appealing character in the book, and he shows that Joanna was the victim of the men in her life.
15. Reread "The Characters" before you answer this question too. Both Lena and Joe are orphans who clash with sternly religious relatives. Both flee home and keep traveling thereafter. But Lena is at peace with others, with nature, and with herself. She brings forth the generous qualities of the people she encounters. Joe, on the other hand, is hostile to almost everyone he meets. His inner turmoil reflects itself in his rebellion against both his black and his white identity. He is violent and self-destructive, and runs away from human relationships.
Using these contrasts, your position can be that Lena has all the positive qualities that Joe lacks. But you can also claim that Lena's hopeless pursuit of Lucas and preference for Lucas over Byron show her foolishness. In addition, you can view Joe's struggle against society's racial categories as a noble one. Perhaps the struggle itself makes him a somewhat admirable character, even if the struggle takes destructive forms and even if it ultimately fails.