Requiem for a Nun Characters
by William Faulkner

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Requiem for a Nun Characters

The four main characters are Temple Drake Stevens; her husband, Gowan Stevens; her former friend Nancy Mannigoe, who was also their baby’s nanny; and Gavin Stevens, Gowan’s uncle and Nancy’s defense attorney. Nancy is African American; the other main characters are white. The plot revolves around Nancy’s murdering the baby before the novel’s action starts. Nancy is tried and convicted of the murder, and sentenced to death. Temple, Gowan, and Gavin debate the fairness of the sentence and even consult the state governor about a reduction.

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As a character in William Faulkner’s earlier novel Sanctuary, Temple Drake had been abducted by a pimp and coerced into prostitution. Her father had located her and sent her abroad. In the interval before Requiem for a Nun begins, Temple has married Gowan Stevens; they have two children, a son and baby daughter. Just before the second novel opens, Temple has been blackmailed about her past and planned to run away with another criminal, and Nancy has killed the baby.

Gowan Stevens, Temple’s husband, had also featured in Sanctuary; he was an alcoholic whose carelessness led to Temple’s abduction. Although he abandoned her at that time, he later re-entered her life and they married.

The attorney Gavin Stevens is Gowan’s uncle. He defends Nancy Mattigoe in the murder case. Gavin also appears in other Faulkner fiction. Gavin is a fair and just man, who tries to get a stay of execution for Nancy. He and Temple visit the governor and explain the circumstances that led to the murder.

Nancy Mannigoe was the nanny for Temple’s baby daughter. Temple had met and become friends with Nancy when both were prostitutes; at that time Nancy was also addicted to drugs. There is no question that Nancy killed the baby; she did so by smothering her in her crib while Temple was in the next room. The violent act was her misguided effort to compel Temple not to leave with her criminal former boyfriend but to stay with her husband and other child.

Pete is Temple’s former lover who returns to her life. He blackmails Temple over some letters from her past. In her home, when he seems to have convinced her to leave with him, Nancy intervenes by killing the baby.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mrs. Gowan Stevens

Mrs. Gowan Stevens, née Temple Drake, the central character of William Faulkner’s earlier worky Sanctuary (1931), a novel in which Temple is abducted by a petty criminal, Popeye Vitelli, and forced to live in a Memphis brothel. She is both repulsed by and attracted to the evil and sexually strange outlaw and even provides perjured testimony to protect Popeye from a murder charge. At the end of Sanctuary, Temple is taken abroad by her father for a long rest cure. By the opening of Requiem for a Nun, she has married and is the mother of two children: a son, Bucky, and an infant daughter who is smothered in her crib by Nancy Mannigoe. The dramatic episodes in the novel explore the lingering connection between Temple’s past life of degradation and obsession with her current one of guilt and remorse. She still experiences some lingering attraction for the sexual license released during her captivity, and she agrees to run away with one of her captor’s brothers in the backstory at the beginning of the novel.

Gowan Stevens

Gowan Stevens, who in Sanctuary was responsible for placing Temple in Popeye’s control by getting drunk and smashing his car on a back road in search of more bootleg liquor. What began as a college spree turns increasingly ugly. Unable to control his drinking, Gowan is unable to help Temple, and he eventually runs away, leaving her in the control of the criminal. Gowan feels responsible for destroying Temple’s reputation, and by the time of Requiem for a Nun, he has married her and assisted her in living down the perfidy of her past. Unfortunately, the consequences of that past reappear and cost him the life of his baby daughter.

Gavin Stevens

Gavin Stevens, Gowan’s uncle and the lawyer who defends the murderer of his...

(The entire section is 1,072 words.)