Study Guide

Joanna Burden in Light in August

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Joanna Burden

The daughter of an abolitionist family, Miss Burden has lived in Jefferson for over forty years. Her anti-slavery views make her an outcast in the town and she's often mockingly referred to as a "Yankee" and a "foreigner." Her grandfather and brother were killed in Jefferson by an ex-slave-owner. This violent event seems to haunt Miss Burden as much as it links her to the town. This historical association is also echoed in her last name, signaling perhaps the extent to which this character is burdened by her family's history and unable to move out from under the shadow of her abolitionist ancestors.

While Miss Burden holds progressive social views about African Americans, she seems to have some sexual issues with race that reveal themselves through her relationship with Joe Christmas. Their relationship seems to re-enact many stereotypes of black male sexuality, as Miss Burden forces Joe to "hunt" for her throughout the house and tears her nightgown as if to suggest that Christmas was raping her.

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