Racism In William Faulkner's Light In August

Powerful Essays
Light in August William Faulkner’s Light in August portrays the social alienation of African Americans in the South during the 20th century. The novel was based in the American South during the 1930’s, when racial tensions continued to surge. Faulkner exploited Joe Christmas, a biracial orphan, to represent the social prejudices African Americans faced. In 1896, the Plessy v. Ferguson case emerged in the state of Louisiana, where Homer Plessy was forced to sit in a “colored” car. Homer Plessy correlates with Christmas, because he was an “octoroon”, meaning he was one-eighth black by descent (Wittenberg 148). Christmas struggled with his racial identity throughout the novel. Faulkner highlights his appearance as both black and white: “He…show more content…
The title Light in August originates from the phrase “heavy in June light in August”. This saying describes how a pregnant woman is heavy in one month, but then after giving birth she subsequently becomes lighter. Before Faulkner began writing the novel in August 17th, 1931 his first child, Alabama, was born. Alabama was a premature baby (7 months) that died four days after her birth from alcohol infant syndrome (Anderson). In addition to Alabama, his great grandfather and grandfather J. W. T Faulkner also inspired Light in August. His great grandfather was acquitted of murder charges twice and was a legendary figure in northern Mississippi for being a colonel of a group of raiders in the Civil war (O’Connor 119). J. W. T. also was active in the “rise of the rednecks” (O 'Connor 120). Even though his family grew up with racial biases, he did not follow in their footsteps. Faulkner tackled racism in several forms of his writings, including his novel Absalom, Absalom! Which was nominated by Oxford American magazine as the “greatest Southern novel ever written.” (Sullivan). Family however, had a big influence on Faulkner’s writing style. To illustrate his writing style, Faulkner’s fundamental theme of his fiction novels is “the human heart in conflict with itself”…show more content…
Christmas grew up never truly knowing his heritage. Joe received his name “Christmas” after being dropped off at the orphanage Christmas day. He never met his mother nor his father or any of his family, or so he thought. His grandfather, Doc Hines, worked as a janitor at the orphanage Christmas grew up in, spying on him. One night, Hines kidnapped Christmas from the orphanage in fear that the dietitian will tell the matron that Christmas was biracial and that they would send him to a black orphanage. They were on the run for three days until the police caught them, but Hines never once mentioned that he was Christmas’s grandfather. Later in the novel Mr. and Mrs. Hines meet with Hightower and explain Christmas’s birth. Hines compares to McEachern, Christmas’s stepfather, by being driven by “absolute religious certainty” (Murphy). After having suspicion of his eighteen year old daughter, Milly, he follows her one night where he discovers her with a circus man. After learning that Milly was impregnated by the man, Hines shot and murdered the man. Although Milly claimed that the man told her he was Mexican the circus owner said the man, “really was part n***** instead of Mexican” (Faulkner 153). Hines could not cope with the fact that the father of his grandchild could be part black. He struggled to find a doctor that would perform an abortion, which led him to start going crazy. One day Hines pulled a gun in an African American church and was then arrested. By the time he got
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