Light in August Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Evaluation

William Faulkner was thirty-five when he published Light in August as the final explosive creation of the richest part of his artistic career, the time that saw the production of Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Sanctuary (1931). Only Absalom, Absalom! (1936) would approach again the intensity and splendid richness of this, his tenth book published and the seventh in the series about the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Armstid, who appears in the novel’s first chapter, is the same farmer who appears as a character in As I Lay Dying; and Joanna Burden mentions Colonel Sartoris in her account of her own family’s blood-spattered history. Light in August is Faulkner’s longest work and, as critic Richard H. Rovere has noted, his most varied “in mood and character.” It is perhaps equaled only by The Sound and the Fury as a penetrating and compelling analysis of southern society.

The style of this novel has often been criticized for its inconsistency and is often presented as an example of Faulkner’s “undisciplined genius.” Indeed, the work’s stylistic characteristics are manifold and complex. Faulkner incorporates sudden changes of narrative tense, from present to past and back again, and abrupt shifts in point of view, ranging from the viewpoints of the major characters to viewpoints of characters who apparently have no part in the main action at all. Faulkner also utilizes stream-of-consciousness techniques similar to the emphasis on key images found in the works of Marcel Proust or to what James Joyce termed “radiating imagery,” while creating long compound words, also a Joycean technique, such as “womanpinksmelling,” “Augusttremulous,” “stillwinged,” and “womanshenegro.” Epiphanies similar to those found in the works of Joyce also appear in the novel, as when Joe Christmas is caught in the glare of headlights after the murder of Joanna Burden.

Faulkner’s emphasis on all the senses is similar to that found in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, while the simplicity of his imagery is evocative of the works of Robert Frost. Faulkner mixes these elements with a flamboyant poetic diction that is characteristic of the works of Wallace Stevens and includes the repetition of implicit interrogatives and phrases, such as “grown heroic at the instant of vanishment” and “two inescapable horizons of the implacable earth.” In fact, his awkwardly repetitious use of manneristic expressions such as “by ordinary,” “terrific,” and the adverb “quite” seems to support the argument that the...

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