Homelessness in “Light in August” and “Wise Blood” Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Aug 19th, 2020

The concept of home is commonly regarded in relation to the process of formation of individual identity, and, in almost every culture, the definition of a home serves as an indicator of a person’s wholeness and the integrity of his/her worldview. It can be considered as a central element of human existence and is related to the psycho-emotional state of self-realization and actualization of personal values. In this way, while the concept of home is correlated with the positive social and ethical implications, the notion of homelessness is commonly perceived as a negative social phenomenon associated with marginality, poverty, lack of clear-cut relations to the past or the future. The concept of homelessness provokes the associations of anti-social, radical forms of behavior and the deviant way of interacting with the society as a whole. While outwardly, homelessness can be manifested in continuous motion from a place to place, social isolation, and the absence of a firm belief in future, it is provoked by internal qualities and experiences which define a homeless person’s actions and ideas.

Homelessness is a widespread social issue and it is often employed by authors in their works. William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor addressed this problem in the novels “Light in August” and “Wise Blood,” but did it in their own unique and artistic way. In their novels, homelessness is referred indirectly and it implicitly and metaphorically unfolds in the story lines driven by the beliefs and actions of the main characters – Joe Christmas and Hazel Motes. Both of the novels’ actors, to some extent, are homeless in term of the material domain of life, but it is possible to say that this homelessness originates from their inner psychological and spiritual space.

Joe Christmas

The plot of “Light in August” is of Southern origins, and it is grounded in the literal projection of the metaphor of a man on the “black cross” (Faulkner 104). The African blood runs through the veins of Joe Christmas, the main character, but the society considers him a white person. Such duality laid the foundation of his cultural and social identity becomes the source of a spiritual disaster. Joe Christmas is an alien among the members of both ethnical groups – he has no sense of affinity with the White people, but the Black community rejects him. In this way, the feeling of deficiency follows Christmas and leads him to the culmination of the personal tragedy.

In Christmas’ example, the thematic hints of homelessness can be found in the loss of personal, cultural, and social identity; the lack of belonging to anything or anyone since the very moment of birth. As an infant, he was found at the doors of an orphanage at the Christmas eve. Later on, while given the scares descriptions of the character’s life, the author eliminates all features of human individuality and uniqueness from Joe’s portrait. A reader can find some Christmas’ characteristics which are primarily related to his occupations – the dexterity and cunningness that are essential to successful bootlegging, – but his personal qualities remain unrevealed and are hidden under the burden of the inner drama.

As the character first appeared in Jefferson, one who encountered him inevitably felt that “there was something definitely rootless about him, as though no town, no city was his, no street, no wall, no square of earth his home” (Faulkner 16). The homelessness of Joe Christmas is the absolute impersonality – the boundaries of his character are vague and, as if intentionally, are presented out of focus. In this way, it is possible to say that Faulkner did not construct Christmas as a personality but as a representative of a particular kind. The sequence of the story events collides the character with the necessity to overcome and fight his own destiny, and, at first, a reader may perceive him as the one given with a strong and active personality, or even a hero, because he does not want to reconcile and strives to surmount the constraints of his loneliness and isolation. But then we can observe that way Christmas commits his murders – routinely, calmly, and mechanically. The actions of Christmas are depicted as if nothing personal can be found in them. He can be perceived as an instrument possessed by another external force. And the observation of Joe’s inner state and the intents behind his outrageous actions help readers to understand the whole depth and complexity of inner controversies and problems suffered by the character.

Hazel Motes

The theme of homelessness in O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” has both implicit and explicit significance. The main character of the novel, Hazel Motes, is a young man, an antisocial element who is always on the road, in motion. During the starting episodes in the novel, Hazel, discharged from the army service, came back to his hometown, Eastrod, and found that everything there was deserted. The thoughts about his relatives’ deaths and the view of the empty house have a symbolic meaning which can be directly and literally associated with the origins of his detachment from home. After encountering the place where his childhood had passed in the state of abandonment, Motes decided to go on the train trip, as if trying to move away from childhood memories and unfulfilled childhood dreams shuttered by cynicism and indifference.

Although the issues of homelessness are disclosed in O’Connor’s narration, it is possible to find a few correlations of the theme with the character’s internal conflicts related to transforming a faith into a disbelief or a negative faith. According to the fractured Motes’ memories, his mother was a highly, or even excessively religious person and she influenced her son in the way that he wanted to become a preacher. However, after being a soldier in the World War “he returns wounded, stunned by its nihilism” (O’Connor 17). As a result, Motes averts and misinterprets his mother’s spiritual heritage, develops a new religion according to own revelations, and becomes the only missionary of his church.

His new faith proclaims a belief in the fact that nothing is real – no redemption, no sin, no repentance. According to Hazel’s “religious” view, there is no difference if you live righteously or you indulge in sin because there is no punishment, and the concept of sin does not have any justification and existential ground in itself. Moving away from his true spirituality, Hazel Motes becomes a preacher of the triumphal egocentrism which is represented by the author as the “Church Without Christ” (O’Connor 39). However, the success of Motes’ preaching is highly disputable because life without hope and aspiration to cognize the unknown, without an opportunity to be amazed by miracles or feel the presence of the divine, loses all colors and becomes exposed to quality deterioration. The loss of values becomes equal to universal homelessness that darkens each moment of life and leads a person to insanity and inevitable tragic death – emotional, psychological, and physical.

New religion preached by Motes is the culmination of tautology – life equals life, there is nothing either inside of it or beyond it. There is no Savior because there is no one to save, and there is no need to save anyone. There is no subject and no object in Hazel’s religion – his religious is an unlimited hopelessness. An in the opposition to the traditional forms of religious consciousness cultivated through compassion and empathy, Hazels’ faith is nurtured by the anger that runs through his blood. In this way, O’Connor’s representation of homelessness should be regarded as the state of spiritual deracination, the loss of all kinds of values, and the sense of emotional emptiness which remains neglected by Hazel due to his inability to set apart from own ignorance and the influence of misleading ideas.


Homelessness is one of the major themes in the novels “Light in August” and “Wise Blood,” but, in both of them, the authors exploited it in an indirect way. Although the styles of the writers, as well as the analyzed characters, significantly differ from each other, the concepts of homelessness are represented in the ideas of the separateness from own identity. While in the case of Joe Christmas, the isolation develops from the social situation, cultural and ethnic controversies, in the case of Hazel Motes, it literary starts from home, childhood, and loss of connection with personal values which were previously cherished. Thus, Faulkner and O’Connor managed to demonstrate that spiritual homelessness, emotional and cultural deracination may have a more harmful impact on a person than any material damage.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. Light in August. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1972. Print.

O’Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood. New York, NY: Noonday Press, 1974. Print.

This essay on Homelessness in “Light in August” and “Wise Blood” was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Read more