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“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner

‘That Evening Sun Go Down’, a short story written by William Faulkner, portrays the pathetic condition of African Americans in South America. One can identify the hidden hatred that the white men harbour towards the Negro community in America. A Unique Feature of the Story is that it can be read from two different angles. One is the clear distinction that exists in society between the rich and the poor. Another aspect is the inequality and prejudice found in the treatment of black by their white counterparts. The writer questions the inequality in society and argues against the fact that African Americans in South America are not considered human beings. They are not provided with the right to make a living of their own. They are forced to be washerwomen or cooks in white people’s houses where their pitiable condition is accentuated by the inhuman treatment they are meted out. The central character of the story is Nancy, the Afro-American washerwoman who is working for Quentin’s family. Her husband, Jesus, is a drunkard, who suspects her for her connection with white people. At the end of the story, Nancy is expecting death at the hand of her husband. The title of the story, ‘That Evening Sun Go Down’ signifies the death of Nancy. Among African communities, there is a belief that the sunset symbolizes death. This belief can be connected to Nancy’s deem which is the story’s magic climax. Racialism and discrimination is not a new issue in America, its roots are planted decades back, at the age of slavery. The people in America were not ready to treat the offspring of their former slaves as equal. Earlier, the life of an African in the American continent has been a struggle for survival. The choice of the writer to use the theme of racial discrimination towards Africans in America is a rebellion against the rigid norms of the society. Claim: William Faulkner uses the theme of racial discrimination and exploitation to display the hardships of African Americans in South America.

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Faulkner’s story ‘That Evening Sun Go down” presents a pathetic picture of the racial discrimination practised in the Southern part of America during the 1930s. The author William Faulkner presents the story through the device of narrative point of view. The story is told by the character Quentin Compson. The author uses the memories of Quentin Compson at two different times. Throughout the story, the opposing ideas of Nancy and Compson are well revealed. The South American region is notorious for its suppressive attitude towards black people. The majority of black people in South America were denied their civil rights. Nancy, the central female character in Faulkner’s story is an African –American lady settled in South America. Faulkner presents the characters as real and very common in the South American region. One can read at ‘The Official Web Site of the Nobel Foundation’ that William Faulkner attempted to create his own writing style. For this, he invented a host of characters that were typical of the historical growth of South America. “Faulkner has invented a host of characters typical of the historical growth and subsequent decadence of the South. The human drama in Faulkner’s novels is then built on the model of the actual, historical drama extending over almost a century and a half.” (William Faulkner: Biography).

It is evident that the human drama that can be seen in the novels and short stories is from the real world. The situations that are described in the short stories and novels are the real-life of blacks in South America

In Faulkner’s story, Nancy is a washerwoman who works in the white laundry. The white fellow Mr Stovall is never ready to pay the black woman for her services, and he is the representative of white domination in both economic and religious. One can see the clear difference between rich and poor being delineated throughout the narration and the actions of the characters. Faulkner reveals his craftsmanship by presenting the fears of Nancy and Compson’s children. They also live under the shadow of racial discrimination. When Nancy expresses her wish for payment the white knocks her down and kicks on her face. Here Stovall is protected, but the poor black woman gets thrown to trial. The author presents the Southerners as passive and they wish to keep blindness towards the evils of racial discrimination. The author portrays the character of a mother who believes in white dominations. She is absolutely ignorant of Nancy’s sufferings. Once Nancy expresses her wish to sleep in the Compson house, the mother opposes her and says that she will never allow Negroes to sleep in the bedroom. Several times she questions Mr Compson’s readiness to help Nancy.

The character Jesus, Nancy’s husband in Faulkner’s story, reveals a dangerous, cruel black man with an unending thirst for self-satisfaction. The author uses darkness as a symbol to express fear, both personal and racial. The whole event is presented with the background of darkness. The theme of darkness is important in the work because it is a dark portrait of white southern master’s fear and indifference to their black employee named Nancy. “It is a dark portrait of white Southerners’ indifference to the crippling fears of one of their black employees. It is also an exploration of terror, vengeance, and solitude.” (Faulkner). The story is also an explosion of terror on Negroes, their vengeance, and the solitude that can be seen in their lives. Their past, present and future are in darkness, the title of the story itself signifies the theme of the story.

Then the story concerns two distinct thoughts. Faulkner presents the character of Mr Compson, the father of three children. He is a man who is ready to help Nancy and he offers to walk Nancy home. It is clear that the man acquires enough knowledge about the plight of black women in his time. Even Faulkner finishes the story with a tragic end and it reveals the white dominance. The character, Mr Compson in “That Evening Sun Go down” tries to prevent the evil of racial discrimination. Nancy strongly believes that Mr Compson supports her and he is one person who will fight against racial discrimination. When Nancy Tries to build up the fire the children make some problems then he is ready to bring the children home. When Nancy says that there is a devil lying in her husband’s body Mr Simpson tries to console her and says that it is good that he is gone but Nancy believes Jesus is still trying to kill her. Many times Mr Compson tries to console Nancy and the suffering children. The following lines express his consciousness and frustration about Nancy. Father says; “There’s nothing for you to be afraid of now. And if you’d just let white men alone.” (Faulkner, p.1931). The given lines reveal his tenderness to Nancy and the children and the fear about Jesus. Here the man expresses his views against white dominance. In the second part of the story, Nancy becomes more violent with fear when she hears a strange sound. She fears that is her husband. At last, she stands there until Mr Compson comes to the kitchen with his pistol in his hand.

The current social system prefers white Southerners to take social and economic benefits of African Americans. The black Southerners are suffering from a lack of education, economic stability. The life of the black washerwoman arise many questions. In jail, Nancy tries to commit suicide. When the jailor hears the sound of bumping and scraping, he reaches upstairs and notices Nancy is hanging from the window bar. He humiliates her and says that it was cocaine, not whiskey. According to him, it becomes for a nigger, full of cocaine, impossible to keep his real nature longer. Faulkner expresses his idea with a satirical tone. Peek, Charles A in his critical article ‘”That Evening Sun (g)”: Blues Inscribing Black Space in White Stories’ is of the opinion that the author uses Nancy’s prostitution and addiction to turn his satire on religion and judiciary. “Nancy’s prostitution and addiction serve as the opportunity for Faulkner to turn his satire on a Baptist Deacon (who has used Nancy but not paid for her services) and a law officer (who, holding Nancy in jail, bemoans her lack of sensitivity even as she attempts suicide).” (Charles). The Baptist Deacon used her, but he did not pay for her service. In the same way, the law officer misbehaves with Nancy. Both these characters display male domination and discrimination on race in society.

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However, there is another viewpoint that the main theme of the work is not racial discrimination, but the denial of civil rights to Negroes. The critical Article- That Evening Sun (Themes)- is of the opinion that troubled race relations are not the main concern of the story. “The troubled race relations that have characterized the South throughout its history are the backdrop for “That Evening Sun,” even if they are not the main concern of the story.” (The Evening Sun(Themes): Race Relations). It is pointed out that the main theme of the story is the sad plight of a Negro woman in a society which denies the most basic civil rights to Negroes which includes basic rights like- right to vote, to have a fair trial and the freedom of expression. But one can see that Nancy is unable to voice her protest and she is willing to accept her fate.

The main theme of the story is the sad plight and hardships suffered by the Black community in South America. Through the character Nancy the washerwoman, the writer portrays the historical setting of slavery and denial of civil rights to Negroes in America. It is evident that the discrimination affected the social growth of Negroes and they are unable to enter the mainstream of social development. Most of them lived in reserved areas that were earmarked for Negroes. This social discrimination and partiality is portrayed in the story and is a hard blow on racial thought in the human mind. Moreover, it divides the people into different categories of caste, creed and religion. It distracts the development of individual, and eventually, the society. The theme of the story and its portrayal helps the readers to have a positive opinion about anti-racial movements. Moreover, it helps the victims of discrimination to act according to their will to fight against the same, and not acquiescing to it pretending that it is their fate.

Works Cited

  1. Charles A, Peek. “That Evening Sun(g)”: Blues Inscribing Black Space in White Stories. BNET: The Go To Place for Management. 2004.
  2. Faulkner, William. That Evening Sun Go Down. 2008. Web.
  3. Faulkner, William. That Evening Sun Study Guide. BookRags. 2006.
  4. William Faulkner: Biography. Nobelprize.org. 2008. Web.
  5. The Evening Sun(Themes): Race Relations. Answers.com. 2008.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, October 23). “That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/that-evening-sun-by-william-faulkner/

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StudyCorgi. "“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner." October 23, 2021. https://studycorgi.com/that-evening-sun-by-william-faulkner/.

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StudyCorgi. (2021) '“That Evening Sun” by William Faulkner'. 23 October.

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