Nature of Man Explored in Essay
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Faulkner masterfully weaves lives in and out of this fabric, demonstrating the importance of self-identity as well as social acceptance. Light in August, however, draws more attention to how the conflicts and differences between race, gender, and social constraints are destructive forces.
The birth of Lena's child "holds out the promise of a new age that transcends the social contradictions that Joe's violent tale bears witness to" (Lutz), according to Lutz. Furthermore, Faulkner looks toward the future with the birth of this child to this meek woman. Lena is comfortable with herself and she copes well hen others choose to judge her by her unwed status. This is a striking contrast to how Joe chooses to deal with how others perceive him. Lena may not be able to see the future but she is confident she can unearth some hope in it somewhere. Mrs. Hines response to the child suggests a "kind of primal innocence that precedes the shadows of racist and patriarchal ideology" (Lutz) in the novel, according to Lutz. Her "unknown tongue" (Lutz) is "tied thematically to the growing light of dawn" (Lutz) and it "presents the possibility of a language and a culture not imprisoned by distinctions of race and gender, a society where the shadows will be dispelled and the distortions of the cave left behind" (Lutz). With the exception of Doc Hines, the characters that witness the birth of Lena's child subscribe to "values of sympathy and compassion which set them apart from the puritanical, rigid moral codes of the majority of the townspeople" (Lutz). This birth and the young family moving toward a future unknown represent hope in the world and demonstrate what it takes to face that hope. They are moving away from Jefferson and for which it stands. They believe the future is brighter somewhere else. It takes courage to move from one's present circumstances into the unknown but these two do it and become "symbols of the possibility of a new social order" (Lutz). Faulkner leaves us with this image, knowing the world they left behind will not be missed.
Trauma, as life experience, connects characters in a myriad of ways. Two characters whose lives fall together and stay connection because of trauma are Joe and Joanna. Both of these characters suffered at the hands of others when they were young and the pain they experienced in those early developmental stages in their lives never left them. In fact, it was still shaping them. Joe experiences on of the most painful of all traumas and that is not knowing who he is. As a baby, Joe is abandoned at an orphanage with no real hope of discovering his parents. Joe does not look black or white definitively. He could pass as either one in any southern community. His lack of knowledge about his past and his parents promise him a life of being nothing but a stranger wherever he goes. Wherever he lands, he is lost before he even begins. Faulkner sheds light on his daily struggle of facing the fact that he may never know who he is. While Joanna was not physically abused as a child, she deed experience trauma and while this trauma might have been "more subtle than Joe's" (Sills), it is "equally devastating" (Sills). This memory, along with many others is something Joe cannot erase from his mind. We all experience painful events and we must learn to deal with them in our own terms. As a teenager, Joe encounters more experiences that only make him more unsure of himself. His encounter with the waitress is as example of how Joe loses his footing because he has nothing on which he can fall. This begins a cycle of self-debasement for Joe. He has no sense of self so he drifts from one experience to the next. This kind of existence leads to an acceptance of violent tendencies.
Men find ways to cope with what life presents to them. Joe, with his burdens and trauma, is clearly a spokesperson for what not to do in a community. We can feel compassion for Joe to a certain extent because his story is pitiful and even dreadful to consider. However, Joe fails to reach his potential because he allows his past and the pain it brings to control each and every moment of his life. This can only lead to bitterness and rage. With
Joe, Faulkner is presenting us with someone conflicted from the inside out with no easily achievable solution to disentangle with torments him. Sills contends that in order for Joe to feel accepted as white, his anger "needs to destroy any threat that Negroes might accept him as one of their own" (Sills). Sills point out that the absurdity with this scenario is while "questioning his whiteness, he is alternately attracted to and repelled by Negroes" (Sills). What Joe fails to consider is the fact that he can be welcomed by both races. Joe does not ever feel as though he is worthy of this and thus never truly attempts to accomplish this feat. It may not have been as easy for him to do but it was an alternative he never seriously considered. This keeps him living on the edge of two kinds of existence: one black and one white. This might seem appealing at the onset but Joe illustrates how it is not. Joe knows nothing of who he is and does not know if he is black or white and this unknowing trips him up every time he takes a step.
Joanna is connected to Joe through trauma. Joanna's trauma is different from Joe's in that she did not experience the reality of it first hand. Sills points out this trauma is still significant because it literally shapes every aspect of her life. The fact that her grandfather and half-brother killed "over a question of negro voting" (Faulkner 253) coupled with the event of her father taking her into the darkened cedar grove to see the unmarked graves, proves to be a frightening experience for a child. Her father tells her to remember the graves and remember that the white is cursed by the black one. Sills suggests that her father's guilt becomes Joanna's "burden in much the same way as Joe was encumbered by not knowing who or what his birth father was" (Sills). Behind both of these events lies the shrouded ghost of religion. Sills contends that within almost every community, organized religion "demands certain behavior patterns of the individual who, if he or she cannot comply, will be outcast by the majority who prescribe to a particular moral code" (Sills). Joe and Joanna fit this prescription because they "exist outside of a society defined by its religious presumption" (Sills). Interestingly, these two individuals are shaped by religious and social mores and subsequently "victimized by its indifference through not only its institutions, but also by those whom its institutions sanction as authorities" (Sills). It is a curious situation, as Sills points out, the South was a victim of the North and yet the South did its own share of victimizing and traumatizing the lives of others. Sills maintains Faulkner "suggests that Southern society's racial prejudice and demagoguery are at the root of both Joe's and Joanna's inability to accept their otherness as defined and imposed by that society" (Sills). Both of these characters experienced at young ages the "consequences of individual and collective indifference to the Other, the one who is different, who is silenced by ignorance or fear, who accepts rejection as his or her due" (Sills). This rejection is something neither Joe nor Joanna could escape through his or her own devices. They could not raise themselves above their circumstances long enough to see what else life could offer them. They were swimming in the mire of puritanical hate but they could not realize it because they were influenced at such an early age.
Memories taint reality. Joe's reality is tainted by the memory of what he does not know while Joanna experiences a type of double existence. She chooses to live isolated from the community yet she is involved with various programs. She is threatened by members of the community yet she is still compelled to support African-American education to ease her conscience. According to Sills, Joe's moving in with her is an act that forces him to accept the alienation he feels from Jefferson. The two are bound to each other and they both experience "self-rejection grounded in guilt" (Sills). Sills explains that to be bound up with self-pity is to be stuck and nothing illustrates this more than these two people living on the outskirts of Jefferson, isolated in from everyone. This is an image for death, explains Sills, while, for Faulkner, "life is defined by action, even if such action is propelled by guilt" (Sills). Moving is better than staying still and…
Sources Used in Documents:
Faulkner, William. Light in August. New York: The Modern Library. Print. 1950.
LUTZ, JOHN. "Faulkner's Parable of the Cave: Ideology and Social Criticism in Light in August." The Mississippi Quarterly 52.3.1999.459. Gale Literature Resource Center.
Web. 1 Sept. 2010. http://go.galegroup.com
Perkins, Wendy. "Critical Essay on 'Light in August.'" Novels for Students. Ed. 2007. Gale
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