Southern Past in Light in August
The character in which the specter of Southern Past is most evident is the Reverend Gail Hightower. As evidenced by his last name, Hightower’s obsessive reverence for the past has alienated him from the community, rendering him immutably alone and unable to function normally. He spends his life endlessly recounting the deeds of his grandfather, a man who died in the midst of a dubious act of pillage during the Civil War. Dedicated to preserving the legend of his grandfather, Hightower rejects the model of his hardworking, honest, but unextraordinary father, and cultivates the larger-than-life fable of his grandfather. In this act, Hightower effectively surrenders his own potential for greatness and fades into obsolescence, a victim of the insidious hegemony of Southern Pastern past.
The community is also influenced to an enormous degree by Southern Pastern past. Even the town’s name, Jefferson, is a constant signifier of the tradition of Southern Past. In Jefferson, the primary manifestation of Southern Pastern past is the intricate, complex social system that serves to grant people their standing in the community, or to take it away. Even in the face of the radical changes the twentieth century has ushered in with it, the citizens of Jefferson cling to the vestiges of Southern Pastern past to dictate their behavior and define their worth.
This is most obvious in the way the townspeople deal with the problem of interracial relations. Even while the system of institutionalized slavery has crumbled in the wake of the Civil War, the citizens of Jefferson have held fast to their resolute belief in the natural inferiority of blacks, and, by extension, their own natural superiority. The notion of black inferiority is the center around which all other beliefs and actions are organized in the community: any mention of a black person’s presence or involvement invokes a rigid set of rules that dictate the way the situation will be dealt with. The belief in the natural inferiority and innate depravity of blacks is the galvanizing force in white Jefferson.