Requiem for a Nun Summary
by William Faulkner

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Requiem for a Nun Summary

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.


(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...

(The entire section is 1,579 words.)