Light in August By William Faulkner Summary and Analysis Chapter 6

This chapter jumps back in time to the earliest period of Joe's life that he can remember. This chapter narrates the episode which affected Joe's entire outlook on life and thus became one of the most crucial episodes in Joe's life. First, it was there that Joe first learned that he might have Negro blood in him and the remainder of his life is an attempt to compensate for these two bloods. Here also he received his name "Christmas," since he was left at the orphanage on Christmas.

Mainly, however, this chapter establishes Joe's attitude toward women and toward his concept of an ordered existence. Slipping into a dietitian's room, he stole some toothpaste because it was a new experience and it tasted sweet. Having eaten too much and at the same time having to hide in the closet where the dietitian kept her clothes, Joe became sick while the dietitian was making love with the young doctor named Charley. When the dietitian discovered Joe's presence, she immediately called him a "nigger bastard," forcing Joe to correlate his actions with his Negro blood.

Joe, as a child of five, knew that he had done something wrong and expected to be punished for his offense. The dietitian, not realizing that Joe was too young to comprehend her promiscuity, lived in fear that Joe would tell on her; at the same time, Joe lived in a state of dreadful anticipation, expecting to be punished for his offense. Instead of being punished, he was offered a dollar, and he could not understand this contradictory act.

The suspense he was kept in was an exhausting experience which destroyed his sense of the order of things. The suspense is also correlated with the fact that he was abducted shortly afterward from the orphanage by Hines, the janitor, and upon his return, is adopted by Simon McEachern. This one episode, therefore, destroyed his peaceful order of existence, and henceforth, he always felt that women were destroyers of his ordered way of life. Thus, later, many of his violent actions against women stem from his resentment against the dietitian, who first introduced him to irrationality.

Joe's desire to eat toothpaste becomes central to his entire life. In many scenes during the novel, Joe is motivated by his hunger and by his desire for food. Later he both meets Bobbie Allen in a restaurant amid the odors of food and encounters Joanna Burden while he is stealing food in her kitchen. The toothpaste also functions as a vague symbol relating to Joe's sexual life. In the next chapter, when he first attempts sex with the young Negro girl, he vomits as though he is still vomiting from eating too much toothpaste.

This chapter presents the religious maniac in the form of Euphues Hines. Even though the reader is not aware of it at the present moment, Hines is actually Joe's grandfather. His language resembles that of an Old Testament prophet and he constantly sees himself as either God's messenger or as God Himself. His influence on Joe, however, is questionable because Joe's main conflict comes from his relationship with women.

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