Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

During a career as a writer spanning five decades, 1949 Nobel laureate William Faulkner wrote nineteen novels and more than seventy short stories. As one of his most anthologized stories, “That Evening Sun” demonstrates the best elements of Faulkner’s fictional technique and augments his achievements as a modern American writer. The original manuscript was titled “Never Done No Weeping When You Wanted to Laugh” and told from Nancy’s point of view.

The story was reworked to be told from a child’s perspective and retitled “That Evening Sun Go Down” for its initial 1931 publication in H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury magazine. The story again was retitled with the omission of the last two words and was revised and reprinted in subsequent collections of the author’s short stories, including These Thirteen (1931), Collected Stories (1950), and Selected Short Stories (1962).

Nancy’s story is filtered through the perceptions of children. The young Compsons observe the story’s events as they unfold, but they understand very little of what is happening to Nancy or its significance. Nevertheless, in the process of recreating conversations between his parents and Nancy, Nancy and Jesus, Nancy and Dilsey, and Nancy and the children, Quentin captures his family’s ineffectual attempts to calm and protect her. Lacking closure and resolution, Nancy’s fate is not disclosed at the story’s end, but there are signs, including a bloody hog bone left by Jesus on the kitchen table, that she will be killed.

The story’s title is a phrase taken from “St. Louis Blues,” a popular blues song written in 1914 by composer, singer, and bandleader W. C. Handy, with whom Faulkner would have been familiar. “That Evening Sun” is one of four stories written by Faulkner in which he incorporates elements from blues music into his fiction for literary purposes. The other three are two novels, Soldier’s Pay (1926) and Sartoris (1929), and “Pantaloon in Black,” part of the short story sequence Go Down, Moses (1942).

Set in Mississippi’s northern hill country in Faulkner’s imagined Yoknapatawpha County, “That Evening Sun” vividly depicts social relations in the Jim Crow South. The story’s narrator, the twenty-four-year-old Quentin Compson, has grown up as a member...

(The entire section is 976 words.)