Study Guide

Requiem for a Nun

by William Faulkner

Requiem for a Nun Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The early settlers of what would later become Yoknapatawpha County founded the town of Jefferson to escape the “terrible freedom” of the wilderness. The town’s courthouse evolved over time, from a wooden lean-to built on the old log jail to an imposing colonial Georgian building. The Georgian courthouse was designed in the nineteenth century by a French architect who had been imported by Colonel Sutpen to design his estate. The town grew around the courthouse, until it was burned to the ground by the invading Union troops during the Civil War. It was rebuilt during Reconstruction with the help of carpetbaggers, who remained afterward to prosper and eventually become part of the local community.

Now, on November 13, the courthouse is the scene of a sentencing hearing. Nancy Mannigoe is sentenced to death for killing the infant child of Mr. and Mrs. Gowan Stevens. In the presence of the Stevenses, as well as of Gavin Stevens—Nancy’s defense attorney and the great-uncle of the slain infant—the judge orders that Nancy be hanged on March 13.

Later that evening, Gavin follows Gowan and his wife, Temple, back to their home, where they discuss Nancy’s death sentence. Temple asks Gavin whether Nancy has confided in him and offered any excuse for the murder. Gowan brings in a tray containing a bottle of whiskey and three glasses. Before drinking the whiskey, Gowan states that he has not had a drink in eight years. The conversation continues, and Temple and Gowan discuss their plans to leave for California the next morning.

When Gowan briefly leaves the room, Temple anxiously asks Gavin what details Nancy has revealed about the night of the murder. Gavin states that Nancy’s account of the tragic night has already been fully revealed. However, he tells Temple that he knows that an unknown man was present the night of the murder. When Gowan returns to the room and asks what Temple and Gavin are discussing, she says nothing. As Gowan drinks the whiskey, he tells Gavin that he had no say in avenging the death of his infant daughter because he is just the father of the victim and the court is concerned only with women and children.

Four months later, at 10:00 p.m. on March 11, Temple and Gavin meet again at the Stevenses’ residence. Gowan has taken a sleeping pill and is sound asleep. In the living room, Temple tells Gavin why she and Gowan have coincidentally returned home from California two days before Nancy is to be hanged. Temple states that Nancy should be saved, especially since she has information that was not revealed during the trial. Even if this information is relevant to Nancy’s conviction, however, Gavin does not see any feasible way to approach the court two days before Nancy’s execution. Temple and Gavin decide that Nancy probably cannot be saved; however, he declares that they will go see the governor just for the sake of...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)