New Kinds of Narration
“That Evening Sun” is an example of the different kinds of narration that writers such as Faulkner pioneered. Although very traditional in comparison with some of Faulkner’s other experiments—part of The Sound and the Fury, for example, is narrated by a mentally retarded boy who has no sense of the passage of time—the story makes use of a narrator whose voice and point of view change in the course of the story. Quentin Compson, the narrator of this story, starts the narration as a grown man (he is presumably twenty-four years old) but in the course of the story reverts back to his identity as the nine-year-old boy in the story. His sentences grow shorter, his vocabulary less developed, and his observations less insightful. The story is just as much about Quentin’s growing understanding of the adult world as it is about Nancy’s fears, and Quentin’s narration presents a man who transports himself back into his own mind as it was fifteen years ago. Because of this, the reader understands Quentin’s seeming lack of reaction to the events narrated better than he or she could, had the narrator been outside of Quentin’s head.
After the Civil War, Northern politicians and anti-slavery activists sought to transform the South through a process called Reconstruction. For more than a decade, the Federal government passed laws and Constitutional amendments aimed at giving African Americans in the South all of the rights and privileges of citizenship. In fact, many black lawmakers were elected from Southern districts. (Later, to discredit Reconstruction, white Southerners ridiculed those black lawmakers, and to this day some American schools teach that Reconstruction went too far and that the idea of competent black lawmakers in the 1870s was ludicrous.) But Reconstruction ended in 1877, and soon after all of the branches of the federal government acted in concert with the Southern states to roll back the gains that African Americans had seen during Reconstruction.
Although after Reconstruction the Constitution guaranteed them the right to vote and receive fair trials, black Southerners soon found that they fell under another, parallel system of legal regulation: Jim Crow. “Jim Crow” was the name given to the system of laws, customs, and ideas by which the white South kept black Southerners oppressed in the period after Reconstruction. It included literacy tests for voting, tolerance of lynching, the prevention of African Americans’ access to many public facilities, and even the widespread activity of the Ku Klux Klan. Jim Crow persisted well into the 1960s, when the civil rights movement finally made inroads in the South. Yet even in the twenty-first century, in many parts of the South, some vestiges of semi-official racism remained.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, William Faulkner, Published by Gale Group, 2001.