Chapters 1–5: Pages 3–118
Talking about Light in August in your book club, on our message boards or with one of your friends? These thought-provoking questions will get the discussion flowing!
1. How do people react to Lena Grove: a young, unmarried and very pregnant woman on the road to find Lucas Burch? Do they believe that she's looking for her husband? Do they find her state scandalous? Are they sympathetic to her anyway? Do they help her? What about Lena's own attitude: Does she feel guilty?
2. Do any of the characters in Light in August remind you of any characters in As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury? Do you see parallels between Lena Grove and Dewey Dell Bundren? Or between Joe Christmas and Darl Bundren or Quentin Compson?
3. All of the characters in Light in August—Lena Grove, Joe Christmas, Joe Brown, Byron Bunch, Rev. Hightower and Joanna Burden—are loners. What about their nature makes them so? What is Faulkner saying about them? What is Faulkner saying about the community?
4. What does the sad spiraling of Rev. Hightower's life story say about him? Faulkner titled one of his other novels set in Jefferson Sanctuary: Is Hightower seeking sanctuary? If so, sanctuary from what?
5. Why does Byron Bunch visit Rev. Hightower every week? Do these two men have anything in common? Is Byron also seeking sanctuary? How does Lena Grove impact on his longing? How does Faulkner use their conversations as a way of getting his story told?
6. What is the nature of the relationship between Joe Christmas and Joe Brown/Lucas Burch? Why does Brown turn Christmas in to the police? How do attitudes change when Brown announces that Christmas is black?
Chapters 6–11: Pages 119–255
1. Joe Christmas may or may not have some black ancestry. What does this ambiguity about his origins mean? Why would Faulkner describe Christmas's skin as "parchment-colored"? How important is it, in Faulkner's view, to "know who you are"?
2. Joe Christmas's life is told largely in flashbacks. Do you find this difficult to make sense of? Do we as readers learn things about Christmas that none of the townspeople can know? Does this matter? Do you see Christmas as a free agent or as someone whose life is determined by his past, or is his life run by other forces?
3. The "toothpaste scene" is considered to be one of the most important scenes in Light in August. What happens in this sequence? What themes appear? Why is the scene so important to your understanding of Joe Christmas?
4. How does the young Joe Christmas react to anything related to sexuality: i.e. learning about menstruation, or having sex with Bobbie Allen? Does Faulkner tell us how to interpret this behavior? Does it make a difference that we see this from Christmas's own perspective?
5. What are the circumstances that lead to the 17-year-old Joe Christmas going on the run? How would you characterize the young Christmas's relation to Mr. McEachern? To Mrs. McEachern?
Chapters 12–18: Pages 256–414
1. What is the nature of Joe Christmas's relationship with Joanna Burden? Is her New England background important? How does that background influence her feelings about race and religion? How does this fit with her sexual behavior?
2. When Lena's child is born, Mrs. Hines makes a number of claims about the baby's father, and even the baby's identity; Lena becomes confused. What is she confused about? What are the implications of her confusion? Why would Faulkner include a scene like this?
3. Faulkner seems to be cobbling together a new "family" of sorts, linking together many of the isolated, loner characters. How does the birth of the baby "unite" the characters of the novel?
4. How does Lena's giving birth mirror the biblical birth of Jesus? Is Faulkner implying anything by this, or just using it as a recognizable fable? How do Byron Bunch and Joe Christmas fit into this symbolism?
5. Becoming "light in August" is a Mississippian expression for the time of birth for a foal or calf. Why did Faulkner choose this expression for his title? Given the amount of violence in this novel, what significance do you attach to the birth of a child as alternative?
6. What do you make of Doc Hines and Mrs. Hines? Why did Doc attack Joe Christmas after he was captured in Mottstown? What is Mrs. Hines's attitude toward Christmas? Why would they follow Joe back to Jefferson?
7. Where does Byron Bunch intend to move Lena Grove? Why there? And why is Rev. Hightower so wary of Byron's plan?
Chapters 18–21: Pages 415–507
1. Joe Christmas is dismembered—castrated—at the novel's end. Why does Faulkner write this event as a moment of transcendence? Can you see anything redemptive in this death? Why did Faulkner name this strange figure "Joe Christmas," anyway? Is he, in any manner, a viable "version" of Jesus Christ?
2. How does Rev. Hightower develop as a character from the beginning of the novel to its end? With particular reference to his death scene and the wheel of faces, what does Hightower's re-emergence into the world say about Faulkner's idea of the relationship between the individual and the community?
3. What do you make of Percy Grimm? What does he represent about the culture of Mississippi? Faulkner later claimed that the figure Percy Grimm prefigured the Fascist mentality that was prominent in the late 1930s. Do you agree with this assessment?
4. Late in the novel, Gavin Stevens, the district attorney, interprets Joe Christmas's entire life in terms of the conflict between white blood and black blood. Do you agree? Is this Faulkner's belief as well? Will this interpretation take the measure of the novel?
5. In considering the overall design and meaning of the novel, compare and contrast the lives and fates of Joe Christmas and Lena Grove. In what ways do they represent the psychological and moral poles of Light in August?
6. Is Light in August hopeless or hopeful regarding the possibilities of its characters and setting? Why? From Faulkner's mix of death-stories and life-stories, what can we learn of his view of the South, and his view of the world?
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Printed from Oprah.com on Sunday, May 26, 2013
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