That Evening Sun by William Faulkner

“But we could hear her, because she began just after we came up out of the ditch, the sound that was not singing and not unsinging. “Who will do our washing now, Father?” I said.

~William Faulkner, from That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun was published in 1931 as That Evening Sun Go Down. The title refers to a black spiritual song, whose lyrics begin, “Lordy, how I hate to see that evening sun go down.” It is an implication that death will accompany the setting of the sun, a fear that plagues Nancy, the black washer-woman who serves the white Compson family. The Compson family is also the central focus of The Sound and the Fury, for which “That Evening Sun” serves as a kind of introduction.

The story is told by Quentin Compson who is also a narrator of Absalom, Absalom!. In The Sound and the Fury, Quentin commits suicide. Nancy’s bones appear in The Sound and the Fury as well and she is resurrected entirely in Requiem for a Nun.

Faulkner was a master of interiors. He wrote from the inside out. It’s there we find the inexpressible truth, occasionally in retrospect and always out of context. It’s entirely subjective, just as we are.

When Blaise Pascal said “The heart has its reasons which reason knows not”, he spoke for us all. We read that and nod quietly, agreeing that our truth is firmly rooted within us, even when it makes no sense. Argument won’t drive it out. In fact, the harder we try to deny it, the deeper it digs its talons.

That Evening Sun is a contrast of the dire condition of a poor black woman (who is about to be murdered) as seen through the eyes of a privileged and spoiled little white boy. We are sitting behind his eyes as he watches events unfold and he tells us the horror without understanding. We, however are helplessly aware.

The dehumanization of Nancy is tragic but the real devastation lies in our tacit participation in the apathy that eventually permits the razor.