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Do you agree with the following view of Joanna Burden in Faulkner's Light in August?...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted August 27, 2013 at 8:03 PM via web

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Do you agree with the following view of Joanna Burden in Faulkner's Light in August?

"Joanna Burden is a combination of philanthropist and nymphomaniac. Each role derives from her sense of ineradicable and inescapable guilt."

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted August 29, 2013 at 9:41 PM (Answer #1)

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I cannot agree with the view stated in your quotation. It really doesn't say much except that Joanna Burden feels guilty about the way blacks are mistreated in Mississippi and the Deep South generally. I see her as a lonely, aging woman who is probably more of an activist than a philanthropist. As far as her being a nymphomaniac, this seems totally inaccurate. If she were really and truly a nymphomaniac she would have been having affairs with a lot of different men over the years, and she would have been known as a nymphomaniac in that relatively small and certainly narrow-minded community. She has been living more like a virgin until Joe Christmas happens to come along. Then she releases her repressed sexuality with him, but it is not an abnormal sexuality, only a repressed one.

Here is part of the coverage of Joanna Burden contained in the "Characters" section of eNotes Study Guide for Light in August:

The rigid strictures of her faith have caused her to repress her sexuality until Joe appears. She then indulges in her passions with a sense of wild abandon. As Joe notes, she experiences "the abject fury of the New England glacier exposed suddenly to the fire of the New England biblical hell." When she loses her sexual desire during menopause, her religious beliefs become intensified. In effort to absolve herself and Joe for their promiscuity, and perhaps in response to her inability to have children, she tries to kill them both.

Joanna Burden is an outsider. The ineradicable fact that she came from New England is one of the things that make her an outsider.   She is one of the few whites who does not have an intense hatred for blacks and who does not want to keep them in ignorance and bondage. Faulkner was such a person himself, but he had to live in the heart of the Deep South and to preserve the same kind of low profile that are observed in Joanna and in the Reverend Hightower.

Light in August was published in 1932. There was no civil rights movement in the Deep South in those days. Faulkner's novel, in addition to being a literary masterpiece, is historically valuable because it shows what conditions were like before the days of people like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Joanna Burden reminds me of Emily Grierson in Faulkner's short story "A Rose for Emily."

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