Study Guide

Light in August Gender

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Because the town believed that the ladies knew the truth, since it believed that bad women can be fooled by badness, since they have to spend some of their time not being suspicious. But that no good woman can be fooled by it because, by being good herself, she does not need to worry anymore about hers or anybody else's goodness; hence she has plenty of time to smell out sin. (3.13)

The town divides women up into two categories – the good and the bad. Perhaps Joanna Burden is an outcast in society because she didn't fit into either category.

Once he had owned garments with intact buttons. A woman had sewed them on. That was for a time, during a time. Then the time passed. After that he would purloin his own garments from the family wash before she could get to them and replace the missing buttons. When she foiled him he set himself deliberately to learn and remember which buttons were missing and had been restored. With his pocket knife and with the cold and bloodless deliberation of a surgeon he would cut off the buttons which she had just replaced. (5.9)

Christmas can't deal with women being affectionate and caring toward him; there is something about female affection that repulses him and causes him to act violently. This small act of violence – cutting off buttons with a knife – foreshadows the larger act of violence against a woman: Christmas's beheading of Miss Burden near the end of the novel.

His right hand slid fast and smooth as the knife blade had ever done, up the opening of the garment. Edgewise it struck the remaining button a light, swift blow. The dark air breathed upon him, breathed smoothly as the garment slipped down his legs, the cool mouth of darkness, the soft cool tongue. (5.10)

This is an act of breaking free from thoughts of women.

He was thinking now, aloud now, "Why in hell do I want to smell horses?" Then he said, fumbling: "It's because they are not women. Even a mare horse is a kind of man." (5.10)

Christmas is repeatedly disgusted by women and expresses the need to get away from them.

On all sides, even within him, the bodiless fecundmellow voices of n**** women murmured. It was as though he and all other manshaped life about him had been returned to the lightless hot wet primogenitive Female. He began to run, glaring, his teeth glaring, his inbreath cold on his dry teeth and lips, toward the next street lamp. (5.23)

Christmas smells black women and he begins to writhe with disgust. It's pretty complicated, but we can see it as another manifestation of his own self-hatred.

It was not the hard work which he hated, nor the punishment and injustice. He was used to that before he ever saw either of them… It was the woman: that soft kindness which he believed himself doomed to be forever victim of and which he hated worse than he did the hard and ruthless justice of men… "She was trying to make me cry. Then she thinks that they would have had me." (7.55)

Christmas prefers the meanness of men to the kindness of women.

[…] he could almost believe that it was not to make money that he sold the whiskey but because he was doomed always to conceal always something from the women who surrounded him. (12.8)

Christmas feels compelled to keep secrets from all women he encounters, in order to maintain an emotional distance.

Among them the casual Yankees and the poor whites and even the southerners who had lived for a while in the north, who believed aloud that it was an anonymous n**** crime committed not by a n**** but by N**** and who knew, believed, and hoped that she had been ravished too: at least once before her throat was cut and at least once afterward. (13.1)

The town reveals its own misogyny and hunger for violence – they hope that a black man has raped a white woman, because it'll just fuel their racial hatred.

He had nothing in his nature of reticence or of chivalry toward women. (12.26)

Christmas reveals his misogyny here.

He would have died or murdered rather than have anyone, another man, learn what their relations had now become. That not only had she changed her life completely, but that she was trying to change his too and make of him something between a hermit and a missionary to n****es. (12.26)

Christmas resents anyone trying to change him – particularly a woman.

"She was trying to make me cry. Then she thinks that they would have had me." (7.55)

Christmas reveals his inability to handle the kindness of women.

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