Light In August Essay, Research Paper
A Light In August tells the story of Joe Christmas, an outcast from a southern society marked by racism. Christmas’s role as the victim precipitated the murder of his lover Joanna Burden. Joanna Burden is an important element in enhancing Faulkner’s literary work, aimed at addressing the darkest sides of society. William Faulkner uses Joanna Burden as a parallel to the South’s burdens rooted in racism. Through Joanna’s portrayal as an evil villain, Faulkner explores religious fanaticism, racism, and living in the past- the three major themes of A Light In August.
Joe Christmas was raised by abusive adopted parents who pushed their religious disciplines upon him. Joanna paid for pushing her religion on Christmas with her life. After years of a twisted relationship, resembling the master and slave relationship that plagued the ante-bellum South, Christmas rebelled by murdering her. The final push that caused this was her praying for him, just as his parents had done earlier in his life. Christmas’s disillusionment from God had a direct correlation to his lack of a structured and healthy faith. This disillusionment led Christmas to destruct and hate religion. Although not fanatic by society’s definition, Christmas could not accept Joanna’s pious prayers in his name. It was Christmas’s hate of religious fanaticism that cause him to rebel and take Joanna’s life. As Faulkner allows the text to sympathize with Christmas as a victim of society, the reader sees Joanna as the villain, despite her role as the victim of a gruesome murder.
Through this important scene, Faulkner attacks religious fanaticism. Christmas’s reaction supports Faulkner’s opinion that religious fanaticism breeds hatred and rejection. In that moment, Christmas’s hatred and rejection climaxed, and he had no choice but to kill Joanna. After being subjected to religious fanatics throughout his early life, Christmas’s hate and constant rejection inspired Joanna’s murder. If religion had played a healthier role in Christmas’s life, he might not have felt complete alienation from society; after all, loving thy neighbor is one of the most important Christian tenants. Faulkner illustrates the hypocrisy of religious fanatics who preach love and understanding, allowing their seemingly benevolent measures to shroud the racism and hate that lies beneath the surface.
When Joanna’s character is first introduced, she uses a candle to conceal her age. The shadows that envelope her are a symbol that foreshadows Joanna’s darker side, despite the obvious warmth and light of the candle. Faulkner allows Joanna to use the darkness to shroud the truth and “light throughout the novel. The truth is that Joanna Burden was a racist. Joanna was raised in a family of abolitionists, and she felt that it was her duty to carry of her family’s fight for the blacks. She felt that the South’s burden was her “burden” in life, as she sought to atone for all the wrongs that the white race had committed. Her actions were done out of a sense of duty and not desire. Her role as an advocate for blacks led her to become isolated from society. Underneath the facade of benevolence towards blacks, she was a racist.
Faulkner allows Joanna’s relationship with Christmas to illustrate her racism and the detrimental affects. For example, Joanna would leave for him like an animal. Joe Christmas felt that he had to assert his masculinity in his attempts to refuse her influence of female power and spirit because Joanna controlled the relationship as if she were the man or the master. For example, Christmas finds the unlocked door an insult, as if she were amused by his meager attempts to be a man. She played the superior role of the master as opposed to Christmas’s inferior role as a slave. Even the sexual side to their relationship was just as racist. Joanna’s superior attitude towards Christmas because he had black blood was played out through sexual games. For example, Joanna would make Christmas crawl though windows or make him find her naked in the bushes, as an act of sexual superiority because Christmas was coming to her. By making Christmas come to her, he was giving in and she had all the control sexually, just as a master would have complete control of his slaves. After having been the inferior “slave” in the relationship, Christmas was driven to assume the powerful role Joanna had never allowed him to play by asserting his masculine dominance to the point that he had to murder her to demonstrate that he had some control in the relationship. Faulkner’s allowing Joanna to play the role of the master in the relationship reinforces her portrayal as a villainous character and establishes Christmas as a victim of the Southern society.
The root of Joanna’s evil was that she was living in the past. She was living out her life as if she were part of her family generations before, seeking to play the role of a dedicated and misunderstood abolitionist, working to win justice for the persecuted blacks of the south. Joanna could not realize that the cause her family had so adamantly supporter for her had died before she ever assumed the role, because Joanna is clearly a racist and unlike her family, her motive are fake. Joanna’s living in the past isolated her from the society in which she lived. She was an outcast, and repeatedly sought to manipulate him.
Through Joanna, Faulkner illustrates that living in the past can destroy one’s inner being. Joanna allowed the past to corrupt every aspect of her life, including her relationship with Joe Christmas. As Faulkner’s subtle villain, Joanna led Christmas to further isolation because Christmas was consumed with keeping the relationship a secret. The twisted relationship precipitated Christmas living in the past when it came to his relating to women. Another bad relationship with a woman made him draw upon the incident earlier in his life with the dietitian at the orphanage, further disrupting what Christmas perceived to be the right order of things in his life.
When Christmas first became involved with Joanna, he had no way of knowing that through her would meet his end. After years of isolation, he was searching for love and understanding. What he found was a racist manipulator whose benevolence shrouded the racist truth. Joanna living through her past precipitated Christmas’s isolation and rejection from society. Joanna’s attempt to pray for Christmas was the final straw, and her murder was a direct result . Through Joanna’s villainy, the reader comes to understand the detrimental affects of racism and the high price that society pays. Racism destroys the possibility of people’s working together. The chance to achieve peace when certain individuals are persecuted is impossible. Those isolated often are driven to react violently and the entire society suffers along with the persecuted individual. Innocent people suffer thereby undermining progress. The opportunity of cultural appreciation’s, knowledge, and understanding that leads to a richer life is eliminated. Faulkner also illustrates that living in the past not only destroys the individual consumed with the past, but those that surround that person as well. Finally, Faulkner demonstrates through Christmas’s murder that religious fanaticism breeds hatred and rejection and often leads to violence. In this case, the violence was played out through the murder of Faulkner’s subtle villain Joanna Burden as Christmas admits, “For her and for me.”