Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 592
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, knocking out several of her teeth, before she is taken to jail for an undisclosed reason. While in Jefferson’s jail, Nancy sings about her troubles and tries to hang herself. The jailer accuses her of using cocaine, sees that she is pregnant, and proceeds to beat her for her behavior anyway.
After she is released, Nancy is visited by Jesus in the Compsons’ kitchen. Speaking in sexual innuendos, their discussion focuses on her pregnancy and the father’s identity. Nancy makes it clear that Jesus is not the father, and he threatens to kill whoever is. Knowing that Jesus would not confront Stovall because of the consequences (he likely would be lynched), Nancy grows increasingly afraid of her husband, whom she believes actually wants to kill her...
(The entire section contains 592 words.)
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