Light in August: Chapters 3-4
In Chapter Three, the narrative moves to give a view of the street from ‘his study window’. It is revealed gradually that ‘he’ is Hightower. It is explained that he receives a small income inherited from his father, which he now lives on. There is a handmade sign in his garden that he erected years ago. It reads as such: ‘Reverend Gail Hightower D.D. Art Lessons, Hand painted Xmas and Anniversary Cards and photographs developed.’ We are told he has few customers and no pupils.
If a stranger saw the sign, someone in town would explain how Hightower used to be a Presbyterian minister, ‘but his wife went bad on him’. She used to slip off to Memphis and ‘have a good time’. This was 25 years ago and ‘right after he come here’. One Saturday night she was killed in Memphis and the newspapers were ‘full of it’. He had to leave the church, ‘but he wouldn’t leave Jefferson, for some reason’ even though ‘they tried to get him to’. His presence in the town was not seen as beneficial to the church. It is possible to see him at his window every nightfall and waits for when ‘all light has failed out of the sky’; he then thinks to himself, ‘Now, soon’ and ‘soon, now’.
When Bunch first arrived in Jefferson seven years ago, he saw the sign and wondered what D.D. referred to. He was told it meant ‘Done Damned’ and was told about Hightower and the influence he had used to come to Jefferson. He used to sound as though he was more attracted to the town than the idea of serving the church. Young Hightower used to talk excitedly about his grandfather who was killed in the Civil war and was shot from his horse, and would preach wildly in the pulpit. The town’s elders did not like either of these attributes. When his wife began missing church on Sundays, they wondered if he even noticed. She started visiting Memphis and was seen entering a hotel. She then returned to the church and one Sunday she shrieked and shook her hands and Hightower led her out. The church paid for her to stay in a sanitarium and he preached the next Sunday.
His wife returned in the fall and attended church regularly, but the ladies did not forget her transgressions. After four or five months, she went away again and stopped coming to church. One Sunday the newspapers reported how she had jumped or fallen from a hotel window and died from the injuries. She had been staying there with a man and they had registered as man and wife. Hightower walked past reporters to deliver his sermon and the congregation walked out.
People learned that he was asked to leave the church but he refused to comply. Congregations came from other churches to listen to him and he preached with his usual ‘rapt fury’ which had been considered ‘sacrilege’ and was now seen as insane. When people stopped attending, he preached to an empty church. The day after the Sunday when he found the church doors locked, he resigned but refused to leave the town. Rumors began about him living alone and having a female African-American cook. She quit the job after masked men came to his house and ordered him to fire her. There were other rumors that she left because he asked her to do something against ‘God and nature’. He then hired a male African-American cook and men came to whip the employee. A brick was thrown through Hightower’s window by the K.K.K. When Hightower still refused to leave, he was taken to the woods, tied to a tree and beaten unconscious.
Despite this, he remained in the town and was left alone. He helped to deliver the baby of an African-American woman fours years ago, but unfortunately the baby was stillborn. Rumors surfaced that the child may have been his and Byron believes the town had developed ‘the habit of saying things about the disgraced minister’, which they did not necessarily believe. This chapter ends with Byron visiting Hightower on the Sunday night following his encounter with Lena the day before.
Chapter Four begins with Byron sitting with Hightower in his study and bemoaning the fact that he has told Lena about Brown (Burch). He then tells him about the fire at Miss Burden’s home and Brown and Christmas’s bootlegging business. He relates how he advised Lena not to visit their shack and took her to his lodgings at Mrs Beard’s home. Whilst he and Lena were sitting in her parlor, Brown was in the sheriff’s office talking about ‘him and Christmas and the whiskey and all’. Bunch did not want Lena to know ‘about the whole thing’ (which has not been specified yet) and is reluctant to leave her alone.
Hightower asks what it is that he (Byron) is hinting at and Byron explains disjointedly that Christmas is ‘part nigger’ and explains some of the events from the previous day. A countryman noticed the fire at Miss Burden’s and entered to help. He found Brown drunk inside and was saying there was nobody upstairs. The man became suspicious, went upstairs and found Miss Burden with her head almost cut off. Brown disappeared and he carried her out. There was no water for the hose and the house burned all evening. Her nephew in the North was contacted and he offered a $1,000 reward to find her murderer. Brown turned up in the square last night and yelled that Christmas killed her and claimed his reward. He then told that sheriff that Christmas and Miss Burden had been living as man and wife for three years and that he though Christmas was ‘mad’. He claimed Christmas admitted he had ‘done it’ on Saturday morning (at 8 am) and that he also started the fire.
At first he is not believed, as the fire was not reported until 11 am, but is listened to after informing the sheriff that Christmas is not a ‘foreigner’ but a ‘nigger’. The sheriff said then that he believed him at long last.
The narrative shifts to the present and Hightower asks Byron if it is certain that Christmas has ‘negro blood’ and adds, ‘poor man. Poor mankind’. Christmas has not been caught yet, but the bloodhounds have been set on his trail. Finally, Byron reveals that he has not told Lena about these events or informed Brown of her presence as he says he thinks he might run again despite the reward.
Analysis – Chapter Three and Four
In Chapter Three, the explanation of Hightower’s background and descent into being perceived as an outcast are delineated. As with Miss Burden, he does not conform to the consensus of opinion and has become vilified by the surrounding community. The bigotry and narrow mindedness of people living in the town is further emphasized when the sheriff finally believes Brown’s story when he claims Christmas is part African American. It is clear that the people of Jefferson thrive on gossip and hatred as they judge those who are different from the norm (of white so-called respectability) as deficient.