Faith in Faulkner's Light In August
Religion is a big part of the southern world that Faulkner creates in Light In August. It is also a major theme of the novel. Most characters seem to use “Lord” and “God” very often in their dialogue, which shows that religion is never forgotten by the members of this society. Light in August portrays a type of religious fundamentalism. In this fundamentalism, among the people of the south, there is only one proper way of following and implementing religion in one’s life. Characters are constantly trying to justify killing, hatred, and racism through their faith. The creation of hatred and racism is the result of each character’s belief that theirs are the only genuine beliefs and therefore, it is their responsibility to carry out the work of God in their own personal way and through their own reasoning.
Two characters that are blinded by their own version of living a religious life are Mr. Hines and Mr. McEachern. I will argue that the obsession with their religion and their belief of how it should be followed is an ideology that fails each of these characters in their purpose. Consequently, the more these characters are faced by failure the more they try to embody God and take actions as if they are the Almighty Himself. Ironically, while using religion as a shield these characters fail to see their own sins. These characters see their sins instead, as the most essential and virtuous deeds and the work of God.
From the moment Mr. McEachern picks up Joe Christmas from the foster home he stresses the importance of religion to Joe. While introducing himself, Mr. McEachern explains to Joe, “…I will have you learn soon that the two abominations are sloth and idle thinking, the two virtues are work and the fear of God” (144). When Joe was eight years old he was already receiving regular whippings from Mr. McEachern because of his failure to memorize the “Presbyterian catechism” (147). These routine whippings desensitized Joe towards pain and violence and consequently receiving them did not have any effect on him (149). Mr. McEachern used violence to teach Joe religion, which are two complete opposites. Eventually, as a child, Joe began to view religion as the cause of his pain. He refused to learn anything religious because the punishment and pain he received from McEachern because of it was enough to make him hate it.
Mr. McEachern saw severe punishment as the only solution to an eight-year-old boy’s inability to memorize and learn his religious beliefs. He believed that his job was to teach Joe his religion even if it meant by force, hence, his means to achieve this goal was severe physical punishment. Mr. McEachern did not know of any other way of dealing with his frustration but to punish the little boy for it, as he saw in this boy his own inability to do God’s work and his failure. Consequently, because of this violent and forceful implementation, at such a young age Joe...