Study Guide

Light in August Fate and Free Will

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Fate and Free Will

It was as if he couldn't get religion and that galloping cavalry and his dead grandfather shot from the galloping horse untangled from each other, even in the pulpit. And that he could not untangle them in his private life, at home either, perhaps. (3.7)

For much of the novel, Hightower blames his family for his own pitfalls and failures.

I had seen and known n****es since I could remember. I just looked at them as I did at rain, or furniture, or food or sleep. But after that I seemed to see them for the first time not as people, but as a thing, a shadow in which I lived, we lived, all white people, all other people. I thought of all the children coming forever and ever into the world, white, with the black shadow already falling upon them before they draw breath. (11.12)

Joanna Burden explains how she internalizes her dad's concept of black people representing the sins of white people.

In order to rise, you must raise the shadow with you. (11.21).

Miss Burden believes that the only way to remove the fateful "curse" of blackness is to help black people advance in society. It's a strange motivation for a liberal.

Perhaps he realised that he could not escape. Anyway, he stayed, watching the two creatures that struggled in the one body like two moon-gleamed shapes. (12.21)

Christmas represents himself as at the mercy of these competing versions of himself. There's no room for agency or free will here.

[H]e believed with calm paradox that he was the volitionless servant of the fatality in which he believed that he did not believe. He was saying to himself I had to do it already in the past tense; I had to do it. She said so herself. (12.21)

Christmas chalks up the murder to his destiny and fate – as a black man, he sees himself as doomed to depravity.

I have never got outside that circle. I have never broken out of the ring of what I have already done and cannot ever undo. (14.50)

Joe Christmas realizes that he's been traveling his entire life, but still has yet to reach any clarity or insight about his identity.

It seemed to him that he could see himself being hunted by white men at last into the black abyss which had been waiting, trying, for thirty years to drown him and into which now and at last he had actually entered… (14.50)

Near death, Christmas realizes that white society has succeeded in killing him not only spiritually and psychologically, but now also physically.

Perhaps in the moment when I revealed to her not only the depth of my hunger but the fact that never and never would she have any part in the assuaging of it; perhaps at that moment I became her seducer and her murderer, author and instrument of her shame and death. After all, there must be some things for which God cannot be accused by man and held responsible. There must be. (20.17)

For the first time in his life, Hightower admits to causing his wife's adultery and ultimately her death.

He seems to watch himself, alert, patient, skillful, playing his cards well, making it appear that he was being driven, uncomplaining, into that which he did not even then admit had been his desire since before he entered the seminar. (21.34)

Hightower acknowledges his own fakeness and hypocrisy. He pretended to be compelled toward Jefferson by fate but, in reality, it was his secret desire to live in the town where his grandfather was murdered.

'Then, if this is so, if I am the instrument of her despair and death, then I am in turn instrument of someone outside myself. And I know that for fifty years I have not even been clay: I have been a single instant of darkness in which a horse galloped and a gun crashed. (21.35)

Hightower admits that he has not been manipulated by fate or molded, as clay; rather, he is the primary agent in his life and has made the decisions that have lead him where he is today – a lonely outcast.

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