Byron Bunch, a central character in William Faulkner’s Light In August, starts out as a hardworking and isolated man. The irony of his name is at first the most striking bit of comedy since one can assume Faulkner named Byron after the famous poet, Lord Byron, of the Romantic movement. The irony is made clear when we realize the very simple nature of Byron Bunch as compared to the flamboyant, excessive nature of Lord Byron. Byron Bunch fails in his attempts to form a relationship with the women he loves, Lena Grove, but the rejection or lack of an answer at all doesn’t keep him from serving her and enjoying the serving itself. Lena Grove becomes an earth symbol while Byron Bunch a guardian who serves with the blind hope of being satisfied one day. Together, both Lena and Byron form a symbol of "stable order" in the style of a pastoral idyll, where Byron is the “masses” loving service to natural order, and Lena the wandering representation of earth and it’s relation to time (Holman 164).

The scenes that feature Byron and Lena are usually written in present tense, unlike most of the story written in past tense. Faulkner effectively places the two in what he would call the “is,” or the pure truth. Placing these two characters in the present tense creates a pastoral, idyllic element especially with such a contrast to the other plot lines. Faulkner writes their scenes with a far less amount of tension than the other characters, including Christmas, who he uses to represent a theme of racial impurity and in-betweenness. Lena is especially free-spirited and nonchalant while Byron is simple and goodhearted. While they are together there is a tranquility that is harshly juxtaposed against the violence of Christmas's narrative.

Although Byron Bunch is written as a simple man, both physically and affectionately, Faulkner gives him moments of perfect clarity and an observational wit. We receive our first impression of Lucas Burch (Brown), the father of Lena’s child, through Byron’s innate sense of character: “He puts me in mind of one of these cars running along the street with a radio in it. You can’t make out what it is saying and the car aint going anywhere in particular and when you look at it’s close you see that there aint even anybody in it” (LIA 37). As the story progresses we form a similar opinion of Brown, which only affirms the very perceptive ability of Byron Bunch. Byron’s realization of the terrible nature of Brown has him decide to protect Lena from him, even though she is searching for him. Lena Grove is a beautiful woman who gives Byron a reason to break free from his routine and monotonous life, but ironically he only swaps one type of service for another: steadfast work and religion with steadfast protection and worship.

Faulkner’s comedic touch of Byron and Lena’s interaction is fitting, since readers know that Byron is celibate, and the flare of sexual desire burns in him as if his insides were made of tinder. Although he restrains himself with a temperament that has been cultivated for thirty-five years of hard labor and steadfast resolve, he helps Lena. Faulkner foreshadows Byron’s doom of this fateful encounter: “Byron is already in love, though he does not know it yet… He seems to have already a foreknowledge of something now irrevocable, not to be recalled, who had believed that out here at the mill alone on Saturday afternoon he would be where the chance to do hurt or harm could not have found him” (LIA 55). The “hurt or harm” is an emotional one for Byron Bunch, which hits him harder than anything physical. Lena Grove’s momentous decision to search for Brown expresses an unwavering determination that Byron has no power to dismantle and just when most would have enough reason to discontinue any services provided to a woman unwilling to end a fruitless endeavor, Byron Bunch keeps at it. He asks her to marry him, is turned down, but keeps traveling with her. He makes an advance at her during the end of the novel, which she does not accept, adding another failure to his many dogged advances: “ I just watched him climb slow and easy into the truck and disappear and then didn’t anything happen for about while you could count maybe fifteen slow, she woke up, like she was just surprised and then a little put out without being scared at all, and she says, not loud neither: ‘Why, Mr Bunch. Aint you ashamed. You might have woke the baby, too.’ Then he come out the back door of the truck” (LIA 503).

Although Byron is a simple man who tries to stay out of any kind of devilment or sinful behavior, he does have moments where he breaks the mold that Faulkner originally placed him. Byron, for everything he does in Light In August, is the ultimate failure, the comedic relief, the naïve and innocent blip in a cast of experienced and dramatic characters.However, Byron does fit a role in Faulkner’s overall message. If “bunch” can be defined as “masses” then Faulkner is commenting on the masses of people, or human existence, and their ability to serve, whether for religious beliefs or a lover’s call. If Byron breaks the mold that his ironic name and passive manor implies then Faulkner is expressing his belief in the “masses',” or at the very least the individual’s, ability to break boundaries. It may be a hopeful theory in Faulkner’s work especially in light of the finale of Joe Christmas’ death, but if Faulkner meant to imply Byron Bunch as the representation of the conglomerated populace, or average individual, he’s not necessarily being sardonic but rather conveying his belief in ones ability to serve for the sake of it, that one can enjoy the satisfaction of satisfying another.

Works Cited

Holman, C. Hugh. "The Unity of Faulkner's Light in August." PMLA , Vol. 73, No. 1 (Mar., 1958), pp. 155-166.
Web. 13 December 2013.