Monday, January 9, 2012

Forgiving

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continues to narrate Browns conversation with the sheriff.


Brown told the sheriff about having discovered that Christmas was


sleeping with Joanna Burden. Brown also said that Christmas had hinted


that he had killed Joanna. But the sheriff implied that Brown


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himself might be the culprit. Then Brown said that Christmas had


admitted to being part black.


Even without any proof, this accusation seems to change everyones


attitude. People seem to regard having falsely passed for white as a


more serious offense than murder. This example of Jeffersons attitude


to blacks is at least the third youve read so far. The mill workers


were glad to see Joanna Burdens house burning because they hated


her for being friendly to blacks. And for hiring black servants


Hightower aroused the wrath of the town and the K.K.K.


Byron relates that the sheriff locked Brown up anyhow. Hightower


worries about what the people will do with Christmas when they catch


him. And Byron, who still hasnt told Lena about any of these


happenings, worries about having to tell her.


CHAPTER 5


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Faulkner now moves to Christmass point of view. The chapter


portrays Christmas readying himself for his violent confrontation with


Joanna Burden.


Its late Thursday night, almost three days before Byrons


unexpected Sunday evening visit to Hightower. Christmas is lying awake


in bed as Brown walks into the cabin they share. Brown is drunk and


noisy. Christmas tells him to shut up. When Brown falls on the floor


and laughs loudly, Christmas repeatedly hits him in the face. Brown


calls Christmas a nigger, but Christmas continues slapping and choking


him until Brown finally agrees to be quiet. He falls asleep.


In the last chapter Byron reported having heard about an incident in


which Christmas slapped Browns face. Now Christmas is hitting Brown


gain. Look for other incidents of violence to the face or head in


Light in August, especially in connection with Christmas.


So far, Christmas seems cold, ruthless, and violent, hardly


Christ-like. But in this chapter you will get some hints about


Christmass motivations and your first brief glimpses of his


thoughts and feelings. Christmas thinks that something is going to


happen to him and that he is going to do something. These two


thoughts, the first of his youve had access to, could suggest two


opposite interpretations of Christmass behavior. The first is that


Christmas is the victim of forces beyond his control, and the second


is that he controls his own actions. Some readers see Christmas as a


passive pawn of society or fate. Others see him as the novels only


character who consciously takes charge of his own destiny. As you read


further, consider which approach to Christmass life you agree with


more. Neither extreme is necessarily true.


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NOTE THE CHORUS OF SOUNDS Christmas thinks he hears what


Faulkner refers to as myriad sounds. A similar expression appeared


in Chapter 4, when Byron was taking Lena to town and again when


Hightower and Byron were talking. In the first instance it described


the townspeople abuzz with the rumors of Burdens murder. In the


second it described the insects chirping outside Hightowers house.


Here the reference is less specific. Many kinds of sound seem to be


emerging from Christmass memory, and indeed the next seven chapters


will take you into that memory. Why does Faulkner include this


chorus of sounds humming in the background? Perhaps this image of


myriad sounds connects his characters to something larger than


themselves. However, the image, while powerful, is open to other


interpretations.


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Christmas cannot sleep. He suddenly says, Its because she


started praying over me, and he repeats this insight several times


throughout the night. You dont know yet what he is referring to.


But this exclamation is the first hint that religion is an issue in


Christmass life.


As Christmas thinks about his relationship with Joanna Burden, he


tears the last remaining button off the underclothes he is wearing. He


thinks about a time when a woman used to sew on his missing buttons,


and he would deliberately thwart her by cutting them off again. Here


is another insight into Christmass character. He seems to feel


hostile to womens kindness, perhaps even to feel that such kindness


confines him, buttons him in. Note that Christmas is becoming the


third character in Light in August to avoid sustained relationships


with women. Note also that the button is one of many circular images


to appear in Light in August.


Christmas walks outside nude. He yells, White bastards! at a


passing car. Then he goes to sleep in the stable with the horses.


(Here is another character who seems fonder of horses than people.)


Less than two hours later, Christmas wakes. It is dawn, Friday


morning. He returns to the cabin, dresses, gets his shaving things,


and walks to a nearby valley. He spends the day there, thinking the


same thoughts over and over, thinking that he is going to do something


and that she, Burden, shouldnt have started praying.


That night Christmas goes into town. Walking aimlessly, he finds


himself in Freedman Town, the black section of Jefferson. He panics


and runs away. What provokes Christmass fear? Note that in this


passage Christmas associates blacks with women and both of them with


softness and warmth. When he gets back to the white section, the air


feels cold and hard. He sees some blacks and curses them, just as he


cursed the whites the night before. He seems hostile to both races.


Christmas lies awake until midnight. His mind is empty as he gets up


and walks to Joanna Burdens house.


CHAPTER 6


-


In this chapter we flash back to Joe Christmass earliest memories


of life in an orphanage. Faulkner describes a childhood incident


that led to the discovery of Joes possible black ancestry and to


his adoption by Simon McEachern.


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NOTE KNOWING AND REMEMBERING The words that begin this chapter


(Memory believes before knowing remembers) recall those that


introduced Chapter (Byron Bunch knows this). Such expressions seem


to be cues indicating that Faulkner is starting to use the heightened


voice of a characters deeper perceptions and feelings. Faulkner


may be suggesting that he will go deeper into Christmass inner mind


than he did into Byrons in Chapter , beyond mere knowing into


memory. Christmas, Faulkner seems to be saying, does not necessarily


even know that he has these memories, but they are part of him


nonetheless.


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Christmass memories take him back to a corridor, the first of


many long, narrow passageways youll see him in. He is five years old.


The corridor is in an orphanage. As he has already done many times


before, Christmas is sneaking into the dietitians room to sample some


of her toothpaste. He likes the feminine colors and smells of the


room. In fact they remind him of the sweet, sticky, pink toothpaste he


enjoys.


But the dietitian comes back to her room before Christmas has


finished eating. A young intern is with her. He talks her into


making love, though she is afraid. The child doesnt know what the


couple is doing and isnt even curious about them. But he knows that


he must stay hidden among the dietitians soft clothes in order to


avoid being caught with the toothpaste. So, as the couple makes


love, he eats more and more until he starts to feel sick. He sweats


profusely, and then, after realizing that something is about to happen


to him, he vomits. The dietitian hears him and wrongly accuses him


of spying on her. She calls him a nigger.


This innocent child doesnt yet resemble the adult Christmas


youve been introduced to. But Christmass memories may have turned to


the first event that helped produce the man who is about to commit


murder. In Christmass flight from Freedman Town, you have seen his


revulsion from the soft, warm, and feminine. And now his memory has


taken him back to an experience that combines all three of those


qualities.


Its also an experience in which he waits passively for something to


happen to him. Perhaps his memory has selected this experience because


hes having that same fatalistic feeling as he walks toward Joanna


Burdens house thirty-one years later.


The memories continue. The dietitian is desperately worried that the


boy will tell on her. She doesnt realize that the innocent boy has


nothing to tell. The only reason that he follows her around is that he


expects her to punish him for eating the toothpaste and he wants to


get the punishment over with. But by now the dietitian is almost


insane with fear and anger.


She goes to the janitor, a mysterious man who arrived at the


orphanage one month after Christmas had been left on the door step.


Day after day, whenever the children are playing, the janitor sits


staring at Christmas. The dietitian asks him if he knows Christmass


origins. She has noticed that the other children call Joe nigger.


The janitor sounds crazy. He calls Christmas a sign given by the


Lord to condemn sin and fornication, and he rants against women, but


he implies that Christmas is indeed black.


That night the janitor goes to the dietitians room. Calling her


Jezebel and womanfilth, he asks what will happen when she tells


the matron that Christmas is black. He is afraid that Christmas will


be sent to the black orphanage.


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NOTE In the Old Testament, Jezebel was a woman who urged the


Israelites to turn to the idol-worshipping religion of Baal. Elijah


prophesied that she would be killed, and his prophecy came true. By


extension the term has come to refer to any shameless, impudent, or


sexually unrestrained woman.


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That night Christmas feels himself being carried away. He knows that


the man carrying him is someone with whom he has a special bond, but


he doesnt understand what that bond is. The man takes him to


another orphanage, but three days later the police come to take


Christmas back. Once more he seems to be passively experiencing a fate


beyond his control.


By the time Christmas is returned to the original orphanage, the


dietitian has told the matron about his mixed racial identity. The


matron decides not to reveal this news and immediately seeks out


someone to adopt Christmas. The man she finds is full of severe talk


about hard work and the fear of God. He calls the name Christmas


sacrilegious and insists that Christmas take his name, McEachern.


Along with the janitor, Simon McEachern is the second person in


Christmass life with a harsh religious outlook. Could there be any


connection between Christmass experiences with these two men and


his complaint that Joanna shouldnt have prayed over him? You wont


know for sure until later.


CHAPTER 7


-


This chapter describes two crucial incidents in Joes life with


the McEacherns. In the first, he defies his foster father and


endures the punishment. In the second, he is about to have his first


sexual experience but resorts to violence instead.


Joe Christmas remembers the day when, he believes, he became a


man....


He is eight years old. Simon McEachern is standing over him and


accusing him of not even trying to learn his catechism (lessons in


religious doctrine). McEachern says that he will give Joe a second


hour. Exactly on the dot of the hour, he asks again if Joe has learned


the lesson. When Joe says he hasnt, McEachern takes him to the


stable to beat him. Joe puts the book he has been studying on the


ground. McEachern scolds Joe for believing that a stable floor is a


proper place for the word of God. What do you think of this remark?


Faulkner may be making an ironic comment about McEacherns attitude to


religion, since, of course, Jesus was born in a manger.


McEachern beats Joe again after the third hour. After the fourth


hour, Joe collapses and in the late afternoon, awakens in his bedroom.


McEachern orders Joe to kneel with him in prayer. Then he gives Joe


the book yet one more time.


You will want to remember this incident when you read of Christmass


relationship with Joanna Burden. You already know that she made the


mistake of praying over him. But even before you learn more about


Joanna, you can ask yourself whether Christmas is right in believing


that this day was the moment he became a man. You could argue that


standing up to McEachern is Joes first act of self-assertion, and a


dramatic change from the passivity of his childhood. But you could


also argue that the change is not as great as it first seems. Joes


self-assertion has a passive and fatalistic quality. He defies


McEachern by accepting a punishment that both of them regard as


inevitable. Perhaps Joes interaction with McEachern forms him into


the man he is to be henceforth. But is that a manhood he should be


proud of? Note that Joe seems to be developing the same hard, stubborn


personality as that of the adoptive father he is defying.


Lying in bed after McEachern leaves, Joe realizes that he has not


eaten all day. You might expect him to be glad when Mrs. McEachern


brings food. But he just smashes the dishes on the floor. Only after


the old woman has left, does he get down on the floor and gobble up


the remains.


Christmass hostility to womens attempts at kindness has begun.


This incident with Mrs. McEachern might also remind you of Christmass


angry refusal of Byron Bunchs kind offer of lunch when the two


first met. Because Light in August makes many of its points by


comparing and contrasting different characters, compare Christmass


rejection of generosity to Lenas ready acceptance of Armstids


offer of a place to stay, food, and even money.


Christmas is now fourteen years old. He and four friends are


taking turns having sex with a black girl. But when his turn comes, he


doesnt approach her sexually. He feels revolted, as he did when he


ate the toothpaste, and he kicks and beats her. Then the fight turns


into a free-for-all between him and his friends. When he gets home, he


knows he will be beaten, not because he has done anything, but because


McEachern always beats him regardless of what hes done.


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NOTE You have already noticed the possible religious significance


of Christmass name. In this chapter Faulkner uses a variety of


religious terms to describe Christmas. He describes him as being


like a monk, like a Catholic choir boy, and like a hermit. Faulkner


seems to be underlining the calm pleasure the boy takes in


suffering. Is he giving Christmas a certain grandeur with these


comparisons? Or is he instead subtly criticizing some aspects of


religion? Christmas seems to experience the exalted suffering of monks


and hermits without their higher purpose.


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