Religious Symbols And Symbolism In Faulkner's Light In August

1576 words - 6 pages

Religious Symbolism in Light in August   

William Faulkner’s, "Light in August" has many references to Christianity. He employs a great deal of religious symbolism in all of his characters. These parallels seem very intentional, even though, Faulkner himself says he did not do it purposely. The Christ story is one of the most popular stories invented and it seems right that at some point someone is going to write similar to it. William Faulkner says he did not put the Christian parallels in intentionally. Many critics argue that there is no religious symbolism in this novel and that other critics are looking too deep into the novel. After reading Faulkners’ novel, it is hard not to make some connections to Christianity. The most obvious of his ties to the Catholic background and knowledge is in his writing of "Light in August".

William Faulkner was born in New Albany. His family was a mixture of Presbyterians and Baptists. As an adult, he became a communicant of the Episcopal Church in Oxford, but he rarely attended services there. In response to a question on Faulkner’s Christianity, he said: "I have the sort of provincial Christian background I feel that I’m a good Christian—whether it would please anybody else’s standard I don’t know" (203). According to Amy Dooley (who is the research assistant of the Center of Faulkner Studies Southeast Missouri State University), Faulkner spoke about religion being something a Southerner absorbs as part of the culture, and he can’t stop using it. He said it doesn’t matter if he believes it or not. It appears as if Faulkner uses Christianity in his writing to aid his themes of human suffering, renewal of rebirth, human continuity, and death.

The most significant example of Faulkner’s use of Christian symbolism is in "Light in August" with Joe Christmas. Joe Christmas is the protagonist who most obviously parallels Jesus Christ. There is the name of Joe Christmas, with its initials of J.C. There is the fact of his uncertain paternity and his appearance at the orphanage on Christmas day. Joe is approximately thirty-three years of age at his lynching, which is the same as a Jesus at his death. Christmas was an infant of three months when abandoned at the doorways of the orphanage (Faulkner, 332,335). He spent five years in the home of his foster parents’ (125). From five through eighteen he lived on the farm of the McEacherns (180, 186). He was a drifter for fifteen years after that. He spent the last three years of his life in Jefferson (Faulkner, 81). The reader of William Faulkner’s novel is asked to see Christmas’s death as a crucifixion despite the fact that Christmas is in every imaginable way different from Jesus.

Joseph Christmas and Jesus Christ have some parallels. Like for instance, the cross. The post images identify Christmas with the post, which Christ carried to Calvary. In the novel, Christmas is sleeping with his back to a tree and he rises "stretching his cramped and...

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