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With regard to Light in August by William Faulkner, one critic suggests that Faulkner...

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pashti | Student, Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted August 27, 2013 at 7:59 PM via web

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With regard to Light in August by William Faulkner, one critic suggests that Faulkner may have intended an allusion to the ancient festival of Diana. Do you think that the combination of Christian and classical mythology leads to confusion for the readers?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 28, 2013 at 10:11 PM (Answer #1)

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I think Faulkner is hard enough to understand without attempting to explain his works by references either to Christian theology or classical mythology. Faulkner was not highly educated. He only attended a few college courses and was an indifferent student. I would tend to agree with the assertion that "the combination of Christian and classical mythology leads to confusion for the readers."

Such references and allusions are not necessary to understanding or appreciating Faulknerian masterpieces like Light in August. Faulkner is writing about extremely simple people of a kind that he knew personally from living among them all his life. Most of his best works are about little people living in one small Mississippi county which he invented and of which he claimed exclusive ownership. In other words: KEEP OUT. NO TRESPASSING.

It might be more proper to claim that the mythological characters are like human beings than that human beings are like the mythological characters. Faulkner was a close observer of the people around him and not a stargazer. He was also inclined to be quite cynical about the human race.

When [Malcolm] Cowley, for example, wrote asking if it would be fair to call his work a “myth or legend of the South,” Faulkner testily replied that the South “is not very important to me,” adding, in a gratuitous discharge of bile, that in his opinion human life is “the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.”                    Frederick Crews, “Faulkner Methodized,” in The Critics Bear It Away: American Fiction and the Academy

As far as Diana is concerned, there is some slight connection between this Roman goddess and Lena Grove because Diana was supposed to be a guardian of pregnant women. Lena does seem to have a sort of guardian spirit looking after her, making her virtually invulnerable and unstoppable. But Diana was a virgin herself and wanted nothing to do with men. Lena was protected by the kindness that exists in most human beings, and Faulkner’s novel seems to have been intended to dramatize that quality.

It might be said that it is the baby more than the pregnant girl who brings out the goodness in humanity even before it is born. It seems unfortunate that this baby happens to be the offspring of a man who is incapable of normal human feelings himself. His foil, Byron Bunch, loves Lena for her strength, endurance, honesty, patience, and faith. He is not the father of her child but will probably ultimately become a better father than Lucas ever could have been.

What Light in August reminds me of the most in literature is Tolstoy’s short story "What Men Live By." At the end of that story the angel who has been living as a human being tells the cobbler and his wife:

I remained alive when I was a man, not by care of myself, but because love was present in a passer-by, and because he and his wife pitied and loved me. The orphans remained alive not because of their mother's care, but because there was love in the heart of a woman, a stranger to them, who pitied and loved them. And all men live not by the thought they spend on their own welfare, but because love exists in man.

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