“That Evening Sun” opens as a reminiscence: the narrator, whose identity is unknown at first, reports that in Jefferson, ”the streets are paved now, and the telephone and electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees.” The time is approximately the turn of the century. The narrator first introduces Nancy, a washerwoman who takes in laundry from white people around Jefferson. The narrator then mentions Jesus, suggests—but does not say—that he is Nancy’s husband, and notes that “father told him to stay away from our house.”
The story then shifts its focus to Nancy. The narrator tells of how he and his siblings would throw stones at Nancy’s house to get her to make breakfast for them and tells the story of how Mr. Stovall refused to pay Nancy and beat her in the street. While in jail for this incident, Nancy attempts suicide by hanging but is cut down the by jailer and beaten again. The story then switches back to the present, and one listens to Jesus and Nancy snipe at each other. She is pregnant, and Jesus suggests that the baby isn’t his, but the children do not understand what they are talking about. At this point the identity of the narrator becomes clear: Quentin Compson. As the story progresses, his father, Mr. Compson, forbids Jesus to come in the Compson house, and Nancy tells the children how Jesus left town, perhaps for Memphis. She is still afraid that he plans to attack her, however, suspecting that he may be in hiding.
Mrs. Compson, by Part II of the story, is getting impatient with the time that her family is spending with Nancy and with the extra favors that Nancy is asking. Nancy is feeling very apprehensive, but Caddy and Jason are unaware of why she is feeling this way—to Caddy, the change of routine is welcome, and Jason cares only about what personally affects him. Quentin’s reactions to Nancy’s plight are unstated—it is unclear whether or not he even understands the causes for the rift between Jesus and Nancy. In Part III, Nancy is visibly terrified and is making sounds of fear to herself; she cannot even swallow coffee from fear. After Mrs. Compson refuses her permission to sleep in the Compson house, Nancy brings the children to her house, hoping that the presence of white children will prevent Jesus from attacking her. The children go home with her, but her attempts to entertain them with stories and popcorn fail. Caddy is interested in the adventure, but Jason is impatient. Mr. Compson comes to the house to fetch the children. In the final part of the story, the children leave Nancy’s house accompanied by their father and leave Nancy behind, paralyzed with fear. The narration leaves Nancy entirely as the children leave, and as Nancy prepares for death all the narrator chooses to report is Jason insisting that “I’m not a nigger” and Father scolding Caddy.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, William Faulkner, Published by Gale Group, 2001.