Study Guide

Light in August Foreignness and 'the Other'

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Foreignness and 'the Other'

Joe Christmas is like a litmus test for racial attitudes in Light in August. Some characters, like Joanna Burden, find themselves attracted to his difference, going so far as to turn it into a kinky sex thing. Others, like Percy Grimm, are motivated by their desire to extinguish community diversity in some attempt to keep America "pure." Christmas himself has to deal with ideas of the Other as well, because while he successfully passes as white he finds himself wandering to black neighborhoods and invading black churches. In these moments Christmas shows himself to be drawn to the other inside of himself.

Questions About Foreignness and 'the Other'

  1. How is identity created in the novel? How is someone defined as an insider or a foreigner?
  2. How do people treat Christmas once they learn he's black?
  3. Who defines Joe Christmas's racial identity?
  4. What is it about Christmas that Joanna finds so attractive?

Chew on This

As a biracial man in 1920s Jefferson, Christmas will always be an outsider.

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