Faulkner's Light in August - Point of View

Faulkner's Light in August - Point of View

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Light in August - Point of View

 

Most of Light in August's story is told by a third-person narrator. In some third-person novels the narrator is omniscient (all-knowing) and objective. In others he takes the point of view of the central character. In Light in August the narrator is often objective, as, for example, when reporting dialogue. But what is unusual about this novel is the way in which the narrator's point of view shifts frequently from one character to another. And even when reporting from the point of view of one character alone, the narrator sometimes stays on the surface of that character's speech and thoughts, while at other times he has access to memories so deep the character himself may not be consciously aware of them.

 

The difference between this shifting point of view and the point of view of an omniscient narrator is important. For example, you first hear of Joe Christmas from Byron's point of view. Byron seems a sympathetic character, so you tend to accept what he says. Later you see Joe Christmas from his own point of view but without access to his deepest thoughts and feelings. When (in Chapter 6) the narrator finally dives into Joe's buried memories, you get a completely different picture of him. But in Chapter 19 you see his final escape and murder from the point of view of Percy Grimm. One of Faulkner's purposes in this approach is to contrast public images with private realities. The Joe Christmas that the town of Jefferson knows is different from the Joe Christmas seen from within, and Faulkner's shifting point of view keeps you aware of that and other such contrasts.

 

Occasionally one of Light in August's characters tells his story in the first person, for example, the furniture dealer in Chapter 21.

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But in this novel first-person narration is always addressed to one of the other characters and never directly to the reader. In evaluating whatever material a character presents this way, you must consider not only the speaker but also his audience. For example, the furniture dealer's approach to Byron and Lena is colored by his telling about them in the midst of love play with his wife.
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