Most criticism concerning Faulkner's novel, Light in August, usually considers the character of Joe Christmas. Christmas certainly deserves the attention paid to him, but too often this attention obscures other noteworthy elements of the complex novel. Often lost in the shuffle is another character, the Reverend Gail Hightower, who deserves greater scrutiny. A closer examination of Hightower reveals Faulkner's deep concern for the South and the collective suffering of its people. Hightower, through his own personal epiphany, transcends the curse under which the South has suffered for so long.
Of course, the central character of Joe Christmas has dominated criticism of the novel, primarily because he represents the problematic and touchy issue of racism. Those who wish to prove that Faulkner either was or was not a racist often turn to Christmas--who is abandonded as a baby outside an orphanage and found on Christmas day (hence his name); called a "nigger bastard" (LIA 135) by the dietitian at the orphanage when he catches her with a young doctor; and ever after suspects that he might possess some Negro blood. All this prompts many readers to see in Christmas a symbol of racial tensions and conflict. For instance, in his italicized amendments to the excerpt from the novel he used for The Portable Faulkner, Malcolm Cowley refers to the character as "Joe Christmas, the mulatto" (51).
Unfortunately, such readings assume facts not in evidence. Cowley's additions do more than provide a necessary context; they resolve a question about which Faulkner was definitely non-committal. He said of Christmas' background, or lack of one:
I think that was his tragedy--he ...
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... Douglas Day. New York: Vintage, 1973.
------. Light in August. 1932. New York: Vintage, 1987.
------. The Unvanquished. 1938. New York: Vintage, 1959.
Gwynn, Frederick L., and Joseph Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1995.
King, Richard B. A Southern Renaissance: The Cultural Awakening of the American South, 1930-1955. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Longley, John L., Jr. "Joe Christmas: The Hero in the Modern World." Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Robert Penn Warren. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1966: 163-174.
Runyan, Harry. A Faulkner Glossary. New York: Citadel, 1964.
Snead, James. Figures of Division. New York: Methuen, 1986.
Taylor, Walter. Faulkner's Search for a South. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1983.
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