Joe Christmas and the Chamber of Secrets – The Black/ White Dilemma in William Faulkner’s Light in August

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2011-10-06 01:57Z by Steven

Joe Christmas and the Chamber of Secrets – The Black/ White Dilemma in William Faulkner’s Light in August

Africa Resource
21 paragraphs

Isabel Adonis, Writer and Artist

I read William Faulkner’s Light in August in my early teens and I scarcely understood it.  But I understood something and many years later a woman at a party mentioned that she had read the same novel at college.  For a while she talked about miscegenation and on my return home I decided that this was something that I wanted to look into.  I wandered down to the little second hand bookstore in Bethesda where I used to live and it was the first book that I found there, as if it had been waiting for me to claim it. I am mixed race, my mother was Welsh and my father was from the Caribbean.  Many people treat me as if I am black, an exotic, and a foreigner. But I have lived a life like the character in the book, lonely isolated and forever going round in circles searching for my authentic self. And just as in Faulkner’s deep south I live in a society which is determined to make me bad, determined to make me take the role of scapegoat, to make me ‘the other’ of themselves.

In the novel we learn that Joe Christmas’ skin tone is “parchment” and that he doesn’t know his parents though he suspects one of them was black.  He was left on the steps of an orphanage on Christmas day, hence his name.  In the book he is aged thirty-three so we know that he has a Christ-like persona: he has come to redeem our sins. As a little boy in the orphanage he is fond of making his way to the dietician’s  room where he likes to suck on her toothpaste.  On one particular afternoon he has taken the toothpaste from the sink when he hears her returning to her room with the interne from the local hospital.  For safety, he hides behind a cloth curtain and witnesses her making love.  Because of his anxiety he eats too much toothpaste and is sick.  As a result, he is caught by the dietician…

Read the entire essay here.

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