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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 384

Requiem for a Nun is the sequel to William Faulkner's bestselling novel Sanctuary. It centers on the character of Temple Drake eight years after her harrowing kidnapping ordeal by the gangster, Popeye, where she was forced to live in a brothel and then later lied in court to defend him. The book switches between prose and play form, often launching into the dense, long-winded descriptions and meandering character thoughts that Faulkner was famous for.

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In Requiem, Temple is married to Gowan Stevens, her alcoholic comrade from Sanctuary, and the mother of two children—a young son and an infant daughter. Despite an outwardly stable appearance and their status in polite society, their marriage is rocky because of Temple's fond attachment to her past life in the brothel.

At the outset of the book, the children's nursemaid, Nancy, a former whore and drug addict that Temple took in, is being accused of murdering the infant daughter in her crib, and as a result will be hanged. However, just before the execution, Temple comes to the conclusion that she herself is responsible for the death of her baby stemming from her own actions eight years earlier.

After drugging Gowan with a sleeping pill, she secretly confesses to Gowan's uncle, Gavin, who happens to be Nancy's defense attorney, why she feels Nancy should be spared. Gavin pleads with her to appeal directly to the governor of Mississippi in order to stop the execution. Gowan, meanwhile, has woken up and overheard the entire conversation without Temple realizing it.

The day before the hanging, Temple goes to the governor's office and confesses that she was going to leave her family and run away with another man. Nancy smothered the baby in a misguided attempt to stop her from leaving. Unbeknownst to Temple, however, the governor has already denied clemency for Nancy and it turns out to be Gowan sitting in the governor's chair, listening and learning everything.

In the end, Temple and Gavin are unable to stop Nancy execution, but they go visit her and make amends. Nancy knows she must die for her actions and Temple must live with the consequences of hers. The story is meant to extol the virtue of suffering and we leave Temple tormented, realizing that this will forever be her lot in life.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1195

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 revealing the truth once and for all.

Later that evening, Temple discreetly telephones Gavin to make arrangements to visit the governor’s mansion. While on the telephone, she notices some movement in the dark but does not give it any thought. After she disappears, Gowan enters the living room. He has heard Temple make arrangements to meet his uncle.

An interlude provides a thumbnail sketch of the history of Jackson, the capitol of Mississippi. It recounts how the capitol got its name and grew into a thriving railhead with a population of more than two hundred thousand.

At 2:00 a.m. on March 12, Gavin and Temple meet the governor of Mississippi in his office. Gavin persuades Temple to tell the governor the true story of her past and of its effects on the murder of her infant daughter. Temple begins by asking the governor if he recalls the story surrounding the events in her life when she was a freshman in college. The governor states that he recalls her name, Temple Drake. Temple then changes the topic and recounts how she met Nancy Mannigoe, whom she describes as a “dope-fiend whore.” Temple explains that she met Nancy after witnessing her being attacked by a white man. Nancy had approached the white man for two dollars he owed her for prostitution services.

Temple moves erratically back and forth as she recalls Nancy’s past and explains why she and Gavin are speaking to the governor. The governor states that he remembers when Temple Drake disappeared after leaving the university on an evening more than eight years ago. The governor recalls that she finally reappeared as the star witness in the murder trial of her accused kidnapper. Temple recalls events during the time she was held hostage by Popeye Vitelli. While recalling her abduction and incarceration in a Memphis brothel, Temple admits to having been the lover of Alabama Red, a man who worked at the nightclub owned by Popeye. Temple continues to move back and forth between recounting her past and explaining the present circumstances involving Nancy. Gavin interrupts and states that Popeye murdered Alabama Red. Temple further reveals that she wrote incriminating letters to Alabama Red, which later landed in the hands of his brother, Pete, who used the letters to blackmail her.

At 9:30 p.m. on September 13, the night of the tragic murder, Temple and Pete are in Temple’s private dressing room. Temple has decided to run away with Pete, even though Pete offers to burn the incriminating letters. After Nancy enters the room, Temple argues with her about taking the money and jewels with which she and Pete plan to escape. Nancy tries to persuade Temple not to leave with Pete. Temple, however, claims that she will never live down her scandalous past. Nancy condemns Temple for giving up and deciding to run out on her two children. Nancy states that she needs to go to the bathroom and warm the baby’s bottle. Temple screams as she moves into the door of the nursery.

At 3:09 a.m. on March 12, Gowan is sitting in the governor’s chair behind the desk in his office. At first, Temple does not realize that her husband is in the room. After she sees Gowan, they both discuss the past eight years of their marriage and the pain of attempting to live down her scandalous past and of trying to expiate Gowan’s guilt for having abandoned her to Popeye’s clutches. Temple, Gowan, and Gavin leave the governor’s office without obtaining a stay of execution for Nancy.

During the Civil War, the North burned the town of Jefferson and gutted the courthouse. After the war and during Reconstruction, Jefferson was rebuilt exactly as it had been before the war. Although the county seat prospered into the twentieth century, lingering memories of the war and the past continue to shape the town and its inhabitants.

At 10:30 a.m. on March 12, Gavin and Temple visit Nancy in the jail just before her execution. They discuss human suffering and the need to believe in faith, even in the face of suffering. As Gowan and Temple prepare to leave, Temple declares that they are doomed.

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