Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Nancy is a black woman who has been filling in as cook in the Compson household during the illness of their live-in servant Dilsey. She has an unreliable husband, and she has taken to prostitution to supplement her income. She has been knocked down and kicked in the face by a white client from whom she demanded payment, after which she, not he, has been jailed. While in jail she has made an attempt on her own life.
At the time of the story she is visibly pregnant, and Jesus, her husband, has gone off, first vowing vengeance against the father. Afraid that he will return and menace her, Nancy begs Mrs. Compson to let her sleep at the Compsons’ house, but Mrs. Compson will not permit it; therefore, except for one evening when she sleeps in the Compson kitchen, Mr. Compson and the three children escort her home in the evening. Between the Compson house and her cabin is a ditch, which she views as the likely place for an ambush.
After Nancy’s final day with the Compsons, when Mr. Compson will no longer accompany her, she cajoles the children, all under the age of ten, to accompany her. On their arrival at the cabin, she is so terrified that she uses every ploy she knows to delay the children’s return, offering to tell them stories and make them popcorn, but her hospitality falls short of pleasing the children.
Finally Mr. Compson comes for the children and offers to take her to a relative’s house, but she will not leave. When the Compsons depart Nancy is sitting, petrified, in her house and moaning. The author does not reveal whether her fears are groundless.
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The twenty-four-year-old Quentin Compson recalls changes that have taken place in the town of Jefferson, Mississippi, over the last fifteen years. He thinks of the African American laundresses, or washerwomen, who used to wash white families’ laundry fifteen years ago, in 1899. They would pick up bundles of clothing from families such as the Compsons and carry the bundles on their heads to and from their cabins. More recently, the process has come to involve transporting laundry by automobile, though the work is still done by African American women. Quentin recalls a series of events that occurred in 1899.
As a nine-year-old and the eldest of the three Compson children, Quentin observes his family’s interactions with Nancy, a washerwoman who lives in a cabin on the other side of the ditch in “Negro Hollow.” Nancy washes for the Compsons and cooks for them when Dilsey, their regular servant, is ill. Her estranged husband Jesus lives on the margins of both the African American and the white communities. He bears a permanent scar across his face, the result of a razor cut from a fight, presumably one of many fights in which he has participated.
Nancy has a confrontation with a white man named Mr. Stovall. On Main Street in the middle of the day in front of several townspeople, she accosts the bank clerk and church deacon for not paying her money she is owed for sexual favors. Stovall knocks Nancy to the ground and kicks her in the face,...
(The entire section is 592 words.)