Light in August by William Faulkner. The Portrayal of Social Outcast
Faulkner’s Idea on Social Outcasting in Light in August
One of the key beliefs that were prominent in the South was the “Agrarian Ideal”, in which Americans could successfully thrive on small farms and escape the temptation of the city. Unlike today’s society, women during that time period were looked down upon for being pregnant out of wedlock and shunned out of society. In William Faulkner’s Light in August Lena Grove, a woman who is on the search for the father of her unborn child, meets Byron Bunch at a planing mill, mistaking him for her boyfriend. Byron, already a social outcast as a result of his self-inflicted isolation and obsessiveness with his work, gets involved with Lena and claims to fall in love with her. By tangling himself into Lena’s situation, Byron goes against the social norms that he was brought up with. As a result, Gail Hightower, a retired minister who was also shunned out by the Jefferson community, and Mrs. Beard, the owner of a boardinghouse that Byron stays at, judge and condemn Byron for the continuous choices that he makes. Byron becomes more of a social outcast in the Jefferson community after his initial interaction with Lena.
Byron goes against social norms for Lena and becomes naive that she will accept him and fall deeply in love. Byron’s choice of helping a pregnant woman opposes the morals that he was brought up in. The introduction passage to Byron and Lena’s first interaction begins with, “Then Byron fell in love. He fell in love contrary to all the tradition of his austere and jealous country raising which demands in the object physical inviolability” (Faulkner 49). Faulkner uses this quote to stress the importance of the “Agrarian Ideal” that was a prominent belief in the South, which states that the country is a place where a family will flourish on a small living and escape the temptations of the city. This ideal is crucial because this was the environment that Byron grew up in, and falling in love with a pregnant woman is one of the city temptations that he learned to avoid in his childhood. Byron’s parents raised him in a way, like the rest of the community of Jefferson, to take pity on her, not to get involved and become in the middle of it. Readers can also infer that this is his first interaction with a woman, which will veer him away from his country raising. Throughout his life, Byron has steered away from the temptations that the town offers. He works six days a week and travels to another town on Sundays to direct the choir. This constant routine isolates himself from society and puts him at a disadvantage in certain situations. Faulkner states that “If there had been love once, man or woman would have said that Byron Bunch had forgotten her. Or she (meaning love) him, more like-that small man who will not see thirty again…” (Faulkner 47). Byron’s relationship with Lena is his first experience with love, and he is new to the idea of it. He has lived his last 30 years consumed in his work and avoiding the gambling and drinking temptations. He has a completely naive approach to his relationship with Lena and truly believes that she will fall in love with him and completely forget about the father of her baby. Love seems to be an occurrence that is not meant to be in his life because he does not know how to approach it, and his flaws show tremendously. Byron was previously an outcast to the town of Jefferson by making himself isolated from the community, and now he is truly not accepted as a result of getting involved with Lena and her child. After Byron’s initial reaction with Lena he goes and talks to his only friend, Hightower, and receives disapproval for getting mixed up in Lena’s situation.
Hightower and Mrs. Beard are disappointed with Byron and view him differently once he meets Lena and becomes involved in her helpless search for the father of her unborn child. Once Byron encounters Lena, Hightower and him are similar in which they are both rejected by society for the mistakes that they made. Byron goes to talk with Hightower and mentions that Lena must move because she wants to be closer to Lucas Burch and wait for him when he gets out of jail. Hightower aggressively responds with, “‘Why must she move? When she is comfortable there, with a women at hand if she should need one?”’ (Faulkner 299). Hightower is confused on why Byron is insisting that she move and why he is involved with Lena at all. His frustration is apparent throughout their whole conversation and constantly questions Byron why he must move her. Byron’s only reason for moving Lena is to please her, and he will do anything to kiss up to her and show his love for her. Hightower is not the only person that is bewildered by Byron’s decision to become involved with Lena. Mrs. Beard is disgusted with his choice and is not deceived by him. When Byron brings Lena to the boarding house, in hopes of finding a place for her to stay, he introduces her to Mrs. Beard, and she responds negatively. “Mrs. Beard watched him now. He thought that she was still trying to get his meaning. But what she was doing was watching him grope… Her eyes were not exactly cold. But they were not warm” (Faulkner 85). In this passage, readers experience a sense of tenseness between Mrs. Beard and Byron. They do not have much of a relationship, other than him being the occupant and she being the owner, and readers get a sense that they do not communicate much. Readers also detect that Mrs. Beard is baffled, like Hightower, on why Byron is so obsessed with Lena’s story and taking care of her when she has a supposed boyfriend that cares for her. When Faulkner states that, “Her eyes were not exactly cold. But they were not exactly warm” it is apparent that she is judging Byron and the constant acts of kindness that he does for her (Faulkner 85). As the conversation continues between Byron and Mrs. Beard, the tension becomes more dominant. Byron tries to lie to Mrs. Beard, and she calls him out on it: “They say that it is the practiced liar who can deceive. But so often the practiced and chronic liar deceives only himself; it is the man who all his life has been self-convicted of veracity whose lies find quickest credence” (Faulkner 85 & 86). Mrs. Beard realizes that Byron is lying and trying to deceive her. This quote discusses how the practiced liar is the one that can only deceive himself, not others around him. It also states that it is extremely easy to continue lying to oneself, and it is a practice that one will continue throughout one’s lifespan if one does not come to terms with the problem. Mrs. Beard sees Byron as a hopeless being that is wasting his time on a hopeless cause.
Through Byron’s constant desperateness, he has turned away from the innocence of helping Lena and is socially rejected. Now he works for the Devil, and his raising is contrary to him falling in love. The community of Jefferson is also against the idea of being involved with a pregnant woman because one would be conceived as damaged goods. Byron is being aided by the Devil through his interactions and choices with and for Lena. Hightower warns Byron what the outcome of his interaction might be and what he is muddling with: “‘I dont think that you could do anything that would be very evil, Byron, no matter how it looked to folks. But are you going to undertake to say just how far evil extends into the appearance of evil? just where between doing and appearance evil stops?”’ (Faulkner 306). In this passage, readers get a glimpse of Hightower cautioning Byron that people will view him negatively and judge him for getting involved with Lena. He clearly states that he is messing with a woman that bears a child, who is clearly not his and the negative opposing views he is going to receive. Through serving the Devil, Byron also dissatisfies God in the process. Byron goes against God’s will for him in life and utterly disappoints him through his actions. In the conclusion of Byron’s conversation with Hightower Hightower expresses to Byron that “‘If you must marry, there are single women, girls, virgins…. God didn’t intend it so when He made marriage. Made it? Women made marriage”’ (Faulkner 316). Here Hightower uses his religious views to defend his opinion by stating that “‘God didn’t intend it so when He made marriage”’ (Faulkner 316). Hightower outright states that Byron is doing evil and does not need his help because Byron is “‘already being helped by someone stronger than [he is]…”’ (Faulkner 308). Byron not only is following the Devil’s plan but also experiences rejection from his fellow citizens. He asserts what the community is feeling and believes by stating, “The fellow that took care of another man’s whore while the other fellow was busy making a thousand dollars. And got nothing for it” (Faulkner 416). Here readers experience some of Byron’s internal dialogue on what he knows the other members, including Hightower and Mrs. Beard, of the community have been thinking about him ever since he got involved with Lena. Readers also feel Byron’s hurt and rejection that he experiences everywhere he turns. This dismissal that Byron experiences from his fellow citizens is unmistakable throughout the novel.
Byron experiences rejection from all sides of the community, including Hightower and Mrs. Beard. He also follows through with the Devil’s plan by becoming involved with Lena and rejecting God’s belief that marriage is to someone you love and who is a follower of Him. Towards the end of the book, Byron admits that others in the community view him negatively, and he is cast out of society as an outcast. Byron’s rejection from society is a minor part of Faulkner’s Light in August, but it entrenches on the Southern character in which identity of an individual is a key characteristic of Southern literature. A reputation of an individual is a key characteristic that people look at when getting to know someone. It is a lousy excuse to reject an individual from one’s social group for caring and loving a woman that is pregnant, or even caring for the poor and rejected of our society today. Many people receive a label that can never be removed or altered as a result of a person deciding that one deserved to be shunned. In today’s society judgement pollutes and ruins the air that is constantly breathed in, this will eventually contaminate our lives and relationships will soon have no purpose behind them. This contamination will only occur if individuals do not realize how rejection gravely injures a person.
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