That the story begins with a description of life fifteen years previous, and includes her origin story (how she lost her teeth, how she was connected to the Compsons, her relationship with Jubah and as a whore, all formed a mosaic - each element being singular and symbolic of a much larger reality for the black southerner.
Greg Barnhisel, in his critical essay on "That Evening Sun," observed that, "Faulkner rarely hit upon a more effective combination of the dark side of history and of individual human drives than he did with "That Evening Sun."
In this story, the two combine, and a young boy who is rapidly approaching maturity must puzzle together what is happening and what his own place in the impending tragedy might be....Quentin, from his unique perspective, gives the reader simply information, not interpretation, for the majority of the story, (Barnheisel, npag)
The totality of the impact of slavery and all of the myriad after-effects are conferred upon Nancy through Quentin's narration. "In a sense, it is the past - the past's crushing weight, the past's legacy - that is the main theme of the story, as often it is with Faulkner" (Barhnheisel npag). Here we find greater confirmation of this theme, "Segregation, the legacy of slavery, is the condition that produces most of the ironies that Faulkner uses in "That Evening Sun" Mr. Stovall is not punished for visiting Nancy sexually and it is Nancy who is carted off to jail after Stovall kicks her teeth out. Nancy is beaten severely after she attempted suicide in jail.
These ironies are the children of slavery and segregation - they are the cultural realities of a system so inherently corrupted by the evil it institutionalized that whenever good appears, it seems that it can only do so through the innocent accidents of children.
What Barnhisel observes is that there is a direct connection between history and the present and that knowledge, while it sheds light, does absolutely nothing to resolve the situation. Faulkner, he notes, strives to express the core reality, to use the characters and their words to expose the rotten core of the Southern soul. Clearly, knowing that this kind of duality exists cannot help but corrupt all those who touch it.
Which, of course, explains why Mrs. Compson is so self-centered, mistaking Mr. Compson's situational compassion and at least surface-level understanding of the needs of propriety for an impulse to abandon her and, in the words of Quentin, "You could tell that by the way she said it. Like she believed that all day father had been trying to think of doing the thing that she wouldn't like the most, and that she knew all the time that after a while he would think of it." Barhniesel acknowledges this and brings us
Carol Gartner's essay looks at the fact that "Nancy's situation introduces broader questions about black-white relationships in the post-Civil War South, never far below the surface of Faulkner's novels or stories. The results of the system of slavery, more than present conditions, lead Nancy to seek the Compsons' help and induce Mr. Compson to do his limited, ineffectual best to help her. Finally, however, Mr. Compson is as powerless to protect Nancy as Jubah is powerless to stop Nancy's white predators - 'When a white man want to come in my house,' Jubah says, 'I ain't got no house," (Gartner, 295).
Here, we find additional support for the central theme put forth - that there is indeed a pervasive corruption of the soul of the South that slavery and segregation wrought, and that all that can be done is to expose it, show the horrific effects to the light, and force people (then well before the civil rights movement) to face the reality of their lives - that Southern "culture" is one that is at once the history and "charm" of the Plantation Economy, and the destruction of life - the absolute tainting of every person - that slavery brought about.
The Evening Sun" references a fear that once the sun goes down, Nancy will surely die. Of course, symbolically, we know that a sunset represents just that. The title means much more than that as well.
It means that the impact of slavery, though in its wane, is not gone, that the sun has not set on the problem of race in the South. Additionally, it references twilight. We know that...
Symbolically, this references the tiredness of the issue of race within the South, that everyone is exhausted and afraid, that no one can see the truth of their lives at this stage. It follows then, that this is the time of greatest danger - that when the guard is down, when the people are tired of dealing with their own problems, their awareness or ability to care for or deal with others' relatively insurmountable problems becomes nearly impossible.
Everyone has given up, in this story, and instead of acting upon things, they are simply riding a wave. but, we have to wonder about the actions of Mr. Compson. Nancy has made every attempt she can think of short of barricading herself in the Compson's house, to keep from being alone in her home at night. Mrs. Compson and Dilsey function in a realm of awareness that completely shuts out the corruption of the soul. To them, Nancy is simply making trouble for the family and for herself - she is trying to deal with an innate awareness that the children cannot tap into and that the other women of the story have refused to acknowledge. That leaves only Mr. Compson to represent the smallest shred of an attempt to "deal" with the situation. He is not so inhuman as to completely ignore Nancy - his attempts to soothe her, or to give in just a little to her fears, are clear. but, his effectiveness is not.
Mr. Compson functions on the surface - he wants the appearance of being human, of accepting Nancy, of putting forth effort, but he also absolutely fails to understand that her fears are real though completely illogical (to him).
She demonstrates the kind of caged fear that is reserved for the most desperate of souls. Mr. Compson, notably, has no expressed fears in this - which represents that he is the status quo. Mrs. Compson's fears are based upon her own insecurities and the feeling that if her husband won't be a man for her and take care of her family "properly" then for him to put any effort into another person (and worst of all a black woman) then he is betraying her.
In the context of the larger point of the story, Mrs. Compson is analogous to those most bitter about the losses to the status of whites in the post-Civil War South. For her, Dilsey is secure because she "knows her place." But Nancy makes demands that border on familiarity - something that if acknowledged, would symbolically place Nancy and Mrs. Compson on the same social level, and that can't take place. Therefore, Faulkner's women straddle the divide, the figurative ditch, and it is Nancy who is right in the middle of it - she sees and recognizes both her world and the other.
Faulkner's observation of his world is one that requires a real understanding of history. "That Evening Sun" requires that the reader know the history of the South in order to fully comprehend the corruption that it exposes. At the core of this story is fear and that fear is created by the destruction of the Southern soul that slavery and segregation brought to all of the people.
Self-definition is at stake within the story's negotiations of economic space, negotiations which bear, for example, on Nancy's prostitution...It is important to see that Compson's paternalistic ascription of promiscuity to Nancy is a misunderstanding of her economic plight...Mr. Compson can see neither how his world structures hers nor what the signs of his own blindness are," (Gartner, 260).
What exactly is it that Nancy fears? Is it truly her mortality? Perhaps, but as Nancy stands as a symbol of the Southern black soul, mortality is not really the problem here. What Nancy's fears seem to express is an absolute dread of the manner in which she will die - that she will surely be butchered at the hand of her own ex. Jubah represents the demonic evil that slavery forced upon the South. He is not evil because he is evil, is so because he was made to be so. He represents the distillation of evil - which is why his power over Nancy is centered on the darkness, in the sunset, in the recesses of the ditch, from whence he will spring to destroy her for the sins that she could not help commit because, in…
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