Burden: The Name Says it All in Faulkner's Light in August

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Burden: The Name Says it All in Light in August Expecting parents put so much thought, time, and energy into the choosing of a name for their baby. They turn to family trees and dictionaries of names to help in their important decision. In many ways, a child's name can determine who they will become and what kind of person they will be. Then there is the last name. It's automatic; no one has a choice in it. The last name perhaps has more of an impact on determining who a person will become, because the last name carries generations of ideals, memories, and pride. William Faulkner chose very significant last names for the characters in the novel Light in August (1932). Light in August is a story about Joe Christmas, a man shunned from society because of his possible black heritage. The novel describes parts of his youth with a very strict and religious adopted family, his struggle with himself, and his life in Jefferson, Mississippi. There he becomes involved with and eventually murders Joanna Burden, a so-called "nigger lover." Joanna is a very odd woman with a rather unusual past. Her last name represents generations of self-imposed struggle and despair. Faulkner gave her and her family the last name of Burden to further illustrate, explain, and characterize Joanna and her nature. Joanna is first mentioned in Chapter Two by a townsman-type narrator as, "a woman of middleage. She has lived in the house since she was born, yet she is still a stranger, a foreigner whose people moved in from the North during Reconstruction. A Yankee, a lover of negroes, about whom in the town there is still talk of queer relations with negroes in the town" (33). It is clearly evident that Joanna Burden has no sense of community with the townsmen, nor they with her. In fact, in regards to the fire at her home, one man says, "My pappy says he can remember how fifty years ago folks said it ought to be burned, and with a little human fat meat to start it good" (35). Furthermore, another character elaborates by saying, "They say she is still mixed up with niggers. Visits them when they are sick, like they was white. . . . Folks say she claims that niggers are the same as white folks. That's why folks dont never go out there" (38).
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