Point of View and Narration
Quentin Compson, one of Faulkner’s most memorable characters, narrates the story. In the story, he is a nine-year-old boy, but as a narrator he is twenty-four. Faulkner has Quentin narrate in both voices: the story begins in the voice of the adult Quentin, but soon switches to the voice of the younger Quentin. It is difficult to tell when the narrator reverts to his younger self, because much of the story is simply reported dialogue, but many of the sentences in the first part of the story are long and filled with adjectives and conjunctions. By Part II, the sentences are short, declarative, and often skip around conceptually, suggesting the mind of a young boy.
Later, however, the story begins to revert back, as the older Quentin seems to reflect on what this story has meant to his maturing process. In the sixth section, the voice again becomes more complicated and almost lyrical: “I couldn’t see much where the moonlight and the shadows tangled,” Quentin says at one point, and also speaks of ”the sound that was not singing and not unsinging.” Also, his unwillingness to face the real gravity of the situation is indicative of his greater maturity. As an adult narrator, he recognizes that readers will understand the importance of Nancy’s fear, whereas a younger narrator would probably feel the need to tell the reader explicitly what was happening. Quentin’s silence on the topic of why this story has been so significant to him is, paradoxically, the sign of his maturity.
Faulkner uses irony in a number of ways in this story. One of the most haunting uses of irony is the name of Nancy’s tormentor, Jesus. In the version of the story that was printed in the magazine The American Mercury in March 1931, Faulkner had called this character “Jubah,” but returned to his original name when the story was printed in the collection These 13. “Jesus” refers to the Christian savior, but ironically the Jesus who actually appears in the story poses a threat to Nancy. Faulkner intensifies the irony when the children hear Nancy moaning the name to herself: “‘Jesus,’ Nancy said. Like this: Jeeeeeeeeeesus, until the sound went out, like a match or a candle does.” Although the children are too young to realize it, Nancy has “committed a sin” against Jesus, for she is pregnant by another man. But instead of forgiving her, this Jesus may be seeking vengeance against her. Some critics suggest that Nancy is a prostitute, deepening the identification between this Jesus and the Christian Jesus, for Jesus Christ also associated with prostitutes.
The title is also ironic. The phrase ‘ That Evening Sun”—or, as it was titled in the American Mercury version, ”That Evening Sun Go Down”— is taken from the first line of the well-known song “St. Louis Blues,” by W. C. Handy. In this song, the singer dreads the coming of the night because evening reminds her of her absent lover. In Faulkner’s story, the darkness reminds Nancy of the same thing, but she is not missing him; rather, she fears that he is waiting to kill her.
”That Evening Sun” is set in Faulkner’s familiar fictional town of Jefferson, in his invented Yoknapatawpha County, at the turn of the century—some critics suggest 1898 or 1899. William Faulkner was from Oxford, in northern Mississippi, and in most of his best-known fiction he constructs an elaborate fictional equivalent for his home. Oxford becomes “Jefferson,” and in his works Faulkner traces the history of the town and its county from Indian days to the 1950s. Such families as the Compsons and such black residents as Dilsey recur throughout his work. Jefferson is a small Southern town, dominated by a few families and suffering from the aftereffects of slavery and the Civil War. Few writers have portrayed family life in the South as lovingly and humorously as Faulkner has, but at the same time few writers have examined with a more critical eye the poisonous legacy of slavery. In this story the reader sees the two collide, as the peaceful small town of Jefferson is shown to have a dark, frightening side that emerges after the sun goes down.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, William Faulkner, Published by Gale Group, 2001.