OF THE BABY NAME AUGUST
Byron Bunch is a character in William Faulkner’s 1932 novel, Light in August. He is a good and honest man, but he lives a life of guarded isolation, working at the mill six days a week and directing the choir on Sundays. His life is virtuous, but only because he does not allow himself any entanglement with the outside world. Then the pregnant Lena Grove happens into his life and turns it upside down. Suddenly Byron is in love, but good fellow that he is, he steps aside as she tries to bring the father of her child (now calling himself “Joe Brown”) back into her life. Now, however, Byron is beyond the protection of self-denial, and he becomes more and more attached to Lena. At the same time, his friendship with the defrocked minister, Hightower, is proving to be more fertile ground for personal expansion and growth, as Hightower probes into Byron’s desires and their associated motivations. Slowly it begins to dawn on Byron that the price of an engaged life will be high, but its rewards are even higher. He is tested when he is forced to fight Joe Brown, and, while he is trounced by the larger man, he passes his test with flying colors. He has reached out to another human being, he has connected, he has assumed the responsibilities of the committed life, and he is much the better man for it.
Lena Grove is a pivotal character in William Faulkner’s 1932 novel, Light in August. She is a pregnant woman who is searching for the father of her unborn child, who has moved to another state, promising to send for her. Young and naïve, Lena is nonetheless a brave and determined woman who is trying to do right by her child and provide the structure of a family for him. Lena faces all the hardships and challenges that life sends her way in an unflinching and stoic manner, yet she does not despair. She simply soldiers on, fixed on the pursuit of her goals against all odds. The baby’s father is hardly worthy of her efforts – he is a lazy con artist who cravenly runs away instead of facing his responsibilities. Lena gives birth to her baby son in an old, rural cabin and continues on with her search undaunted. She is such a force of life herself, one can rest assured that her baby will not really need his worthless father, when he has such a mother.
William Faulkner’s “Light in August” (published in 1932) is a story of outcasts in the racially charged South, and Joanna Burden is one of them. The “burden” she must carry (hence her last name) is being born into a family of white abolitionists – and this makes her quite unpopular in a town not too keen on equality. Only, her reasoning for advancing the Black people within white society is a bit unorthodox. As she herself says, she saw black people “not as people, but as a thing, a shadow in which I lived, we lived, all white people, all other people. I thought of all the children coming forever and ever into the world, white, with the black shadow already falling upon them before they draw breath.” In other words, she believed blacks reflected the sins of white man, and “…in order to rise, you must raise the shadow with you.” Not exactly the most honorable of motives, but her social views are progressive nonetheless.