William Faulkner’s Light in August

Light in August cover“Nothing is ever simple in a Faulkner book. However plainly the people talk, however straightforward that the situations seem, there are layers and layers of things to dig through to find the ultimate truth, if indeed there is any. It’s Faulkner’s way with words, he’s not flashy like some contemporary authors, preferring to slowly wind his way into your consciousness with his gift of writing. It’s only as you read, maybe as you peruse a passage for the second time do you see the little details that you missed the first time out, the choice of a word here, the flow of a paragraph. Just immerse yourself in a time and place thought long gone, that still lurks in the corners of people’s thoughts and the traditions that never die.” — Michael Battaglia

Courage—those who read and are ready to discuss this searing work must have great courage. The violence of the work is intimate and explosive, even as it is presented in the narration without emphasis or drama. I do not think this suggests acceptance; but might Faulkner be attempting to write us into the place and time and particular local world in which violence, racially or gender-inspired, would be part of the fabric of being. As you are reading, make room for the horror and discomfort the book conveys. Of course part of our conversation will focus on this aspect of the text, and what use it is (or is not) to Faulkner’s overall purpose. Is this horrific tale crafted to cry despair on the human condition? Or is there a construct of hope and redemption woven into the work?

I propose that racism is one of the primary challenges to human progress. Faulkner has alluded to race in all of his work; Light in August is the work that most addresses race head-on. As a white Southerner living in the post-Reconstructed South, race issues were part of the construction of his world. Although critics have discussed Faulkner’s own limitations in his racial views, this work offers us the torments and tragedies Faulkner understood to be embedded in racialized relationships. The work, I think, stands as a testament to his desire to confront the racism that was embedded in his world.

Although Light in August is less structurally challenging then some of his works, it is still experimental in the weaving of the three major narrative strands. We need to consider how these strands work together and illuminate each other. Each strand also contains elements of the tragic and the comic—Faulkner is breaking genre constrictions by interweaving the elements even through the strands.


  • Seven-meeting study
  • Approximantely 55 pages of text per week– trying to move slowly enough to allow for full consideration of Faulkner’s incredible writing.

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Posted on

February 26, 2019