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Well, I finished my reread last night and Hightower is just as much a mystery to me as ever. Please post any elucidating thoughts here! Also, does he die in the end? not, in his words, ever having lived since he died in the moment his grandfather died stealing that chicken?
Oh, kokipy, now that I'm getting a glimmer of understanding about what Faulkner was attempting to do with religious symbolism, I'm turning to Hightower. There's much there that I don't think I got on first read. I'll be back.
While I was reading I didn’t find Hightower that compelling or understandable either. However, when I looked back over the passages I had marked as interesting, over half of them were Hightower’s. I’m still not sure why that is. I did have a thought on kokipy’s comments from the main LIA discussion:
Well, Hightower's trouble with the town is certainly exacerbated by the difficulties with his wife, but the town never got the passion he revealed in the pulpit, with his grandfather all mixed up with religion, even before his wife started down that wide road.
Since Hightower’s plot is seen from the past, I began to wonder if his sermons were really seen as odd before his wife’s activities were known. Is it one of those issues where the interviewed neighbors of someone recently arrested always say 'there was always something strange about him/her.' Is he only different in retrospect?
I am no Hightower expert (or anything Faulkner expert -- see my humble review of LIA here), but thought I would chime in on my impressions of Hightower. He was an interesting puzzle to me until his epiphany near the end of the book.
He channeled his grandfather to the point of being compelled to move to Jefferson early in the book and tell of his grandfather's heroism from the pulpit. This obsession may very well have been his downfall with the community and driven his wife to madness! Hightower was stunted in his ability to relate to the world in which he lived even before his ostracism. Afterward, he spent his years of isolation ruminating on his grandfather as both a hero and/or a fool. Thoughts of him (Grandpa) being killed by a woman over a stolen chicken must have been agonizing. I liked the image of the wheel struggling through the sand until he got knocked on the head by Joe and came out of his stupor.
I know I am trivializing this complex character here, but I am still trying to figure this out. I actually believe that his rebirth (or reentry into society) began with the birth of Lena's baby. It was telling that Hightower entertained the idea that the baby might be named for him. Am I recalling correctly that his grandfather's first name was also Gail? His real catharis came through JC (after the knock on the head) when Rev. HT made his futile attempt to provide an alibi, thus taking that first step in reviving his compassion and humanity.
I can't believe how Faulkner has created such complex characters in such a simple story. I was blown away by this book, and am on my way to becoming a Faulkner convert.
Great insights, Jane and Donna. And I really was impressed by (and thumbed) both of your LIA reviews, btw.
I am similarly puzzled by Hightower, but this much I think I know: he is an overarching character, intended to offer some kind of overview of meaning.
Perhaps he represents the South, with its peculiar backward-looking vision that blinds it to the future, the only thing that can make a difference? And that backward view is myopic and distorted, as well. By delivering the babies, he may have ushered in the future, but he had to deliver a white baby as well as a black one before he "woke up." Joe's death also awoke him, or was it his compassion for Joe that did it (as Donna suggests)?
He also shows the side of Christianity which is loving and caring, rather than the side that Joe's stepfather and grandfather exhibit, although his heart is hardened during his years of being alone and ostracized.
I don't think he dies in the end, but rather begins to live. That seems to work with the hopeful ending, too.
I think Byron is the only true Christian in the book. Hightower is a coward. He advises Byron not to help Lena, and he refuses to offer to help Joe - not out of hatefulness and prejudice but because he is afraid. I agree that there seems to be a sense of hope when he delivers Lena's baby, but I don't think he follows that arc into a personal redemption. I think he does have a heart attack and dies in the end. But I have taken against Hightower, somewhat.
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