Book Analysis Light In August And The Road Religion Essay
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
The purpose of this essay is to examine the usage, expression, and overall purpose of the use of figurative crucifixion and resurrection of Christ parallels in the novels Light in August and The Road by William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy respectively. Gathering a fair amount of textual evidence from the author’s works (as well as some external references), I found that each writer develops and presents his own unique view of how man (symbolizing Christ) can transcend his boundaries and die for a greater cause, with his legacy becoming his figurative resurrection.
Mankind has been graced by the story of Jesus Christ; his exploits, his crucifixion, and his resurrection have allowed people of different backgrounds to find their commonality in faith. Though some may not be of this faith, the ideas that are passed along by Christ’s story contain valuable lessons about values and morals, as well as deeper insights into the human condition.
The purpose of this investigation is to explore the question: how do William Faulkner’s Light in August and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road use figurative crucifixion or resurrection? Both concepts presented are integral facets of the Christian belief, and they aid in linking two seemingly unrelated works. Indeed, Light in August and The Road have very little in common; the former is a Southern Gothic that explores the failed personal relationships of a man who has lost his sense of humanity, and the latter details the exploits of a father and a son who trek across the barren landscape of post-apocalyptic America in hope of salvation. Though these works possess contrary thematic elements, their connecting factor lies within the relativity of human experience; that is, the trials and tribulations that the protagonists undergo are essential to their development. In this sense, Christ’s passion can be paralleled and figuratively applied to the main characters of these novels in order to convey the idea of suffering and redemption.
This essay will first assess the criteria for what makes these characters comparable to messianic figures of old, using the Bible and other sources as reference. It will then move into the analysis of how the proverbial role of “Christ figure” is fulfilled in each novel, taking into consideration that comparative stretches must be made (something new can be interpreted in every instance as far as literature is concerned). Finally, it will discuss any possible similarities between the two works while simultaneously contrasting their usage and contribution to the overarching theme and author’s message.
Christ Figures: Literary Usage
In order to use figurative crucifixion and resurrection, parallels must be drawn to the Biblical aspects of death and redemption. The book of John chronicles the “events” leading up to and including the passion of Christ through the eyes of the said apostle; John tells of how Jesus “went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull” (Revised Standard John 19:17), how the soldiers “took his garments and made four parts” (Revised Standard John 19:23), and how “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (Revised Standard John 19:30). Although the issue of truth behind the crucifixion and resurrection is debatable, a story that depicts the idea of a savior who would die for mankind is a popular one, and this story that would endure through the ages and be emulated many times as a paragon of human literature.
The Bible provides a useful starting point for comparisons to be drawn between literary personalities and Christ; authors often apply the idea of a cross to bear or a bowed head to convey a suffering and humiliating experience that their protagonist undergoes. These symbolic gestures and actions assist the reader in drawing connections between seemingly unrelated, fictional characters. Thomas Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor discusses that Christian elements are found proliferated throughout modern literature because “we live in a Christian culture” (Foster 17). The use of a figurative messiah is predominant in text, and there are many signs that distinguish a Christ figure (typically attributed to the biblical figure as well): “crucified/bearing wounds, in agony, self-sacrificing, good with children, good with loaves/fishes/water/wine, thirty-three years of age when last seen, employed as a carpenter, known to use humble modes of transportation, believed to have walked on water, etc” (Foster 119). Additionally, Mark Stucky, in his article, “Middle Earth’s Messianic Mythology Remixed: Gandalf’s Death and Resurrection in Novel and Film,” for the online periodical, Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, discusses some of the origins and criteria of the motif of Christ’s portrayal. He expresses the suppressed Christianity’s need for a secret system of symbolism in an anti-Christian (Roman) context. Many symbols (the fish, the cross) and icons arose from the need to conceal the Christian messages that were fundamental to Christ’s passion, crucifixion, and resurrection. Although the article mainly focuses on the use of Christian imagery in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (using Gandalf as the messianic figure), there was some valuable insight into the modern usages, nuances, and portrayals of Christ used in culture today.
Light in August
The main subject of discussion in Light in August is William Faulkner’s use of a protagonist, Joe Christmas, as an unlikely Christ figure. Joe Christmas comes from a history of failed personal relationships, starting from his abusive foster parents and culminating in the murder of his “lover.” Faulkner’s portrayal of Christmas draws many biblical references: his name, and his early death at age thirty-three. Ironically, Joe’s stance on life as a misanthrope juxtaposes Jesus’ gentle nature. William Faulkner’s original purpose for constructing his novel was to explore the racial tensions of the nineteen thirties through the microcosm of interpersonal relationships of the characters in the fictional setting of Yoknapatawpha County. Joe Christmas stands contrary to Christ: haunting memories of violence, abuse, and neglect (by himself and those close to him) fuel his outwards rage and nihilism towards humanity. This outwards contempt towards people in general remains evidence of a scarred past, a history that cannot be erased with the passing of time. Faulkner’s use of a fluid timescale when visiting Christmas’ clouded past clarifies the nature of his childhood experiences, especially with the description of the grandfather. The violent and anti-social tendencies exhibited in Joe Christmas can be traced to this figure, whom Christmas only knew as the janitor at the orphanage he resided.
Sadly, the quest of the novel’s protagonist for a personal identity and greater self-understanding juxtaposes the nature of Christ’s identity completely. Whereas God had declared his son openly to the world, imposing his identity by supernatural means, that “this is [his] son, [his] chosenâ€¦” (Luke 9:35), Christmas struggles to find a true sense of self. Instead, his identity is superimposed upon him by allegations that “[he] is part nigger” (Faulkner 72). This idea that society can imprint whatever nature and attitude it wants onto whoever it wants using classifying restrictions, pivots around Joe Christmas’ character, defining his collapse under the weight of intrusive attempts to mold a human soul. Granted, Joe lives in a society more hostile towards his identifying characteristics than that of biblical times, yet Jesus was still persecuted for his background (yet another similarity that can be drawn between the two). Basically, the internal necessity for externally gained identity becomes a factor in discerning between the actual messiah and a figurative one. This discrepancy, perhaps a more prominent dissimilarity between Christ and Christmas, outlines the contrast between the two figures: Christ shaped society, whereas society shaped Christmas.
It can be argued that Cormac McCarthy’s The Road possesses a certain degree of Christian symbolism. The father (unnamed, simply addressed as “the man” in the novel) is a savior for the boy, protecting him in every way possible and taking care of him in times of illness. The man and the boy’s literal trek to the sea could have connections drawn to Christ’s passion: the man is carrying his cross (the boy) to bring the sins of humanity (destruction and quasi-apocalypse) on a path to redemption (the opportunity to survive and possibility to revive the dying human race). The boy is a burden that the man is willing to take, just as Christ was willing to carry the cross as a messianic act. The death of the man near the resolution of the plot, although tragic, is inevitable, just as Christ’s was. The coughing of blood foreshadowed this fixed fate, and this foreshadowing can be interpreted as a reference to Christ’s fixed fate as a martyr.
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