While William Faulkner's complex novels drew mixed critical responses in the 1930s, two events in the 1940s helped inspire a fresh look at his work and a subsequent reevaluation of his literary talent: the appearance of Malcolm Cowley's edition of The Portable Faulkner in 1946, which included Cowley's astute analysis of Faulkner's work, and the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 to Faulkner, followed by his stirring acceptance speech. As of 2006, more scholarly work was being done on Faulkner than on any other American author, which attests to his work's relevance to modern readers. In the early 2000s, he was considered one of America's finest authors.
Light in August, published in 1932, is one of his most highly acclaimed works. The novel traces the experiences of three main characters: Lena Grove, who is searching for the father of her unborn child; Gail Hightower, an elderly minister who seeks a measure of peace in his troubled existence; and Joe Christmas, who spends his life struggling to deal with his belief that he is part black. As Faulkner weaves together the stories of these three characters, he explores the devastating effects of racism and religious fanaticism. Inevitably, however, the novel's tragic elements are juxtaposed with resilience and optimism, especially in its closing pages. Light in August thus becomes an apt illustration of this famous passage from Faulkner's Nobel Prize address: "I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."