Study Guide

Light in August Race

Advertisement - Guide continues below


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)

Joanna Burdens progressive views on race make her an outcast in Jefferson. Her views also identify her with "Yankee" culture even though she's lived in the South, in Jefferson, her entire life.

He watched his body grow white out of the darkness like a Kodak print emerging from the liquid. (5.10)

Joe Christmas is consistently described in black and white terms, highlighting the ambiguity of his racial identity but also the strangeness of his physical appearance.

His face was gaunt, the flesh a level dead parchment color. (2.9)

Christmas's whiteness gets highlighted here, in order to show how he successfully "passes" as white.

Without his being aware the street had begun to slope and before he knew it he was in Freedman Town, surrounded by the summer smell and the summer voices of invisible n****es. They seemed to enclose him like bodiless voices murmuring, talking, laughing, in a language not his. As from the bottom of a thick black pit he saw himself enclosed by cabinshapes, vague, kerosenelit, so that the street lamps themselves seemed to be further spaced, as if the black life, the black breathing had compounded the substance of breath so that not only voices but moving bodies and light itself must become fluid and accrete slowly from particle to particle… (5.22)

Christmas finds himself becoming overwhelmed by black people, even though there aren't any around. These phantom black people seem to haunt him wherever he goes, reminding him of the possibility of his black ancestry, but also seeming to haunt the white South as well.

On a lighted veranda four people sat about a card table, the white faces intent and sharp in the low light, the bare arms of the women glaring smooth and white above the trivial cards. 'That's all I wanted,' he thought. "That don't seem like a whole lot to ask." (5.24)

This is the first time we see Christmas expressing a desire – however, it's unclear what that desire is. Does he simply want to be able to have fun? Or does he want to be white, without question?

Nevertheless his blood began again, talking and talking. He walked fast, in time to it; he seemed to be aware that the group were n****es before he could have even seen or heard them at all, before they even came in sight vaguely against the defunctive dust. (5.26)

Christmas constantly experiences his black blood "talking" to him – whenever he passes as white, he feels like he's betraying the black blood that supposedly runs through his veins as well.

Then it seemed to him that he could see her – something, prone, abject; her eyes perhaps. Leaning, he seemed to look down into a black well and at the bottom saw two glints like reflection of dead stars. He was moving, because his foot touched her. Then it touched her again because he kicked her. He kicked her hard, kicking into and through a choked wail of surprise and fear. She began to scream, he jerking her up, clutching her by the arm, hitting at her with wide, wild blows, striking at the voice perhaps…enclosed by the womanshen**** and the haste. (7.27)

Christmas lashes out at this black woman in self-loathing; he resents her abjection because it reminds him of the inner abjection he feels toward himself.

He never acted like either a n***** or a white man. That was it. That was what made the folks so mad. For him to be a murderer and all dressed up and walking the town like he dared them to touch him, when he ought to have been skulking and hiding in the woods, muddy and dirty and running. It was like he never even knew he was a murderer, let alone a n***** too. (15.19)

This highlights that race is culturally and socially created – Christmas's biggest crime was to not behave in the stereotyped ways the town would expect him to. In the same way that Miss Burden defies expectations of women to marry, Christmas defies expectations of what it means to be black.

But his blood would not be quiet, let him save it. It would not be either one or the other and let his body save itself. Because the black blood drove him first to the n**** cabin. And then the white blood drove him out of there, as it was the black blood which snatched up the pistol and the white blood which would not let him fire it. (19.11)

Christmas experiences his racial identity as a battle between white and black blood.

Or perhaps what it condoned was not the man's selfdedication to the saving of n**** souls, but the public ignoring of the fact of that charity which they received from n**** hands, since it is a happy faculty of the mind to slough that which conscience refuses to assimilate. (15.2)

Mottstown refuses to believe that black people can provide charity for whites, so they just block it out of their minds.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...