It was my freshman year in college, when I was seventeen, that I discovered the literary world of William Faulkner. Decades have passed since then and I still read him with amazement and respect.
Today I read “That Evening Sun,” a tragic tale of a doomed black woman, who fears she’s going to be murdered by Jesus.
Jesus is her husband. Nancy, the protagonist, is pregnant—by a white man. In Jefferson, MS. In the MS of Faulkner’s era. In a world where lines between white and black were as overt and common as ditches along the roadsides or train tracks.
Nancy’s terrified of being left alone. She tries to persuade the Compson children to remain with her, to not abandon her to Jesus.
The Compson children are familiar to Faulkner readers: Quentin, Jason, Caddy, etc. And there’s Dilsey, the Compsons’ normal servant, too, well known for her prominent role in The Sound and the Fury. They’re all here, trapped in their doom.
“That Evening Sun” plays upon familiar Faulknerian terrain: traditionaism plaguing whites and blacks; the individual, essentially helpless amidst the mob; violence; silence amidst suffering; divisions between social classes; the divisions within society; but, most important, the divisions within each individual heart.
It’s a sad story, terribly sad, because the unvoiced takeaway in the last few lines is that Nancy, innocent in some respects, is going to be killed by Jesus, and no one is going to do a thing to change it.