Faulkner's Light in August - Hightower's Epiphany Essay

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Light in August - Hightower's Epiphany

Most criticism concerning Faulkner's novel, Light in August, usually considers the character of Joe Christmas. Christmas certainly deserves the attention paid to him, but too often this attention obscures other noteworthy elements of the complex novel. Often lost in the shuffle is another character, the Reverend Gail Hightower, who deserves greater scrutiny. A closer examination of Hightower reveals Faulkner's deep concern for the South and the collective suffering of its people. Hightower, through his own personal epiphany, transcends the curse under which the South has suffered for so long.

Of course, the central character of Joe Christmas has dominated criticism of the
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Which to me is the worst possible condition a man could find himself in--not knowing what he is and to know that he will never know. (FIU 72)

According to Faulkner, then, even Christmas does not know his heritage for sure, and that lack of knowledge apparently condemns him to a racial limbo from which there is no escape.

Actually, Christmas is free to define himself as he sees fit. Even if he does possess Negro blood, it is not enough to prevent him from passing as a white man, and most characters who know him believe only that perhaps his father was a Mexican. Christmas passes as a white man by posing as a black one. James Snead remarks, "Joe Christmas hides his 'blackness' behind the screen of a 'negro's job': He pretends to 'slave like a negro' so no one will think he is one" (84). By accepting a menial labor job at a planing mill and living in a shack, he plays the role of a white man playing the role of a black man. Only when he confesses his suspicions do people see him as black: "I think I got some nigger blood in me. . . . I don't know. I believe I have" (LIA 216). But this confession hardly amounts to a definitive statement.

By failing to provide an ultimate answer to the question of Christmas' blood, Faulkner achieves what John L. Longley, Jr. considers to be "one of [his] clearest strokes of genius" (166). We all must confront our own racial feelings when we try to force Christmas into a category, and his

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