Study Guide

Light in August Foreignness and 'the Other'

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Foreignness and 'the Other'

Man knows so little about his fellows. (2.39)

While much of the novel concerns racial and gender "Otherness," there's also the sense in the novel that even the familiar can be "Other," since we never really know one another.

[Hightower] sits motionless, watching Byron with a sort of quiet astonishment. There is nothing militant in it, nothing of outraged morality. It is as though he were listening to the doings of people of a different race (4.10)

Hightower sees Byron as strange to him once he realizes that Byron is falling in love with Lena.

[Miss Burden] has lived in the house since she was born, yet she is still a stranger, a foreigner whose people moved in from the North during Reconstruction. A Yankee, a lover of n****es, about whom in the town there is still talk of queer relations with n****es in the town and out of it, despite the fact that it is now sixty years since her grandfather and her brother were killed on the square by an exslaveowner over a question of n**** votes in a state election. (2.37)

Miss Burden is labeled an outsider both because of her refusal to marry and because her ancestors were dedicated to black rights – the town leaves no room for different viewpoints, and individuals who struggle against it seem to wind up as outcasts.

That night they talked. They lay in the bed, in the dark, talking. Or he talked, that is. All the time he was thinking "Jesus. Jesus. So this is it." He lay naked too, beside her, touching her with his hand and talking about her. Not about where she had come from and what she had even done, but about her body as if no one had ever done this before, with her or with anyone else. It was as if with speech he were learning about women's bodies, with the curiosity of a child. (8.10)

Unlike other experiences of "otherness" in the book, Joe Christmas experiences Bobbie's difference from him with wonder and curiosity.

"Remember this. Your grandfather and brother are lying there, murdered not by one white man but by the curse which God put on the whole race before your grandfather or your brother or me or you were even though to. A race doomed and cursed to be forever a part of the white race's doom and curse for its sins." (11.20)

Miss Burden's father sees the life of white Americans as inevitably wrapped up with, and bound to, the lives of African Americans. This sense of obligation haunts Miss Burden her entire life.

She is a Yankee. Her folks come down here in the Reconstruction, to stir up the n*****s. Two of them got killed doing it. They say she is still mixed up with n*****s. Visits them when they are sick, like they was white. Wont have a cook because it would have to be a n***** cook. Folks say she claims that n*****s are the same as white folks. That's why folks don't never go out there. (2.55)

Miss Burden's progressive views mark her as different, or "Other." Though she's not African-American herself, the quote suggests that, in this society, a white person could become tainted by merely having relationships with black people.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...