Unnamed Crowd at Burden Place

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Unnamed Crowd at Burden Place
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Unnamed Crowd at Burden Place
Ever Present in Yoknapatawpha?: 

The crowd outside the Burden house in Light in August is, like so many crowds in the fictions, an audience in search of sensations. Although the white people of Yoknapatawpha had avoided Joanna's place for decades, within minutes after her corpse is discovered in the burning house a huge crowd gathers there. It is comprised mostly of white men (who, the narrator pointedly says, "would not have allowed their wives" to call on Joanna while she lived there, 291-92), although the crowd includes "the women" too (289). Some are country people coming past in wagons on their way "to spend Saturday" in town, some come "afoot from the immediate neighborhood," and some, probably most, drive in cars out to the fire from Jefferson (287). Among these townspeople, the narrator obliquely includes members of the middle class: storekeepers and professionals like "lawyers" and "doctors" (289). Since elsewhere the novel says that Joanna's "neighborhood" is "populated, when at all, by negroes" (258), the fact that the crowd includes people "from the immediate neighborhood" suggests it includes some blacks, although since the description of it contains phrases like "faces identical with one another" and notes that "they" call the killer a "black son of a " (291) and in the past called his victim a "Nigger lover" (292), it is obviously almost entirely white. The fire and murder and possibility of rape are, for all of them, "an emotional barbeque" that provides a break from "monotonous days" (294). Some in the crowd carry "pistols in their pockets" and are looking for "someone to crucify" (289), which suggests the latent lynch mob that seems to lurk behind this sensation-hungry crowd. But while "two or three" members of this crowd help the deputy "get a nigger" for the sheriff to interrogate with force, the crowd remains peaceful (291).