Summary and Analysis: "That Evening Sun" Section II


Because Dilsey remains sick, Nancy continues to cook for the family. Mr. Compson and the children walk her home every night, until Mrs. Compson complains, "How much longer is this going on? I to be left alone in this big house while you take home a frightened Negro?" Her nagging takes its toll on her husband, for he eventually makes a pallet for Nancy in the kitchen, where she can sleep. One night, after the family awakes to a sound coming from the kitchen, Mr. Compson goes downstairs to check on the noise and returns with Nancy and the pallet, which he puts in Quentin and Caddy's bedroom.

This episode is important thematically and contains one of the clues that convince many readers that Nancy is murdered at the story's end. Obviously having heard something outside the house and believing it is Jesus, she begins panicking. Although the children cannot describe exactly the agitated sound that Nancy makes, Faulkner characterizes the children's impression of it in words that he repeats in the final section of the story. Here in this section, Quentin notes of Nancy's moaning, "It was not singing and it was not crying, coming up the dark stairs. . . . It was like singing and it wasn't like singing, like the sounds that Negroes make." This description is similar to that in the last section, when Mr. Compson and the children leave Nancy in her shack, waiting for Jesus. Although they cannot see her, they can hear her: ". . . she began just after we came up out of the ditch, the sound that was not singing and not unsinging." This sound that Nancy makes in the final section recalls the sound from Section II and alerts us that she must hear Jesus outside, waiting to kill her.

Also significant in the pallet scene is Quentin's beginning to understand subtle nuances in how adults act and what they say. Lying on the pallet, Nancy whispers in a frightened tone, "Jesus." Quentin describes Nancy's saying the word as "Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesus," to which Caddy inquisitively asks, "Was it Jesus?" Understanding that Nancy does not mean her husband, but Jesus Christ, Quentin comments to his sister, "It's the other Jesus she means." He is acquiring the ability to differentiate between Nancy's fear of her husband and her call for her savior's protection.

Again, Nancy disclaims any self-worth. Ironically, although she calls to her savior, she then speaks of God's knowing that "I aint nothing but a nigger." Because she has been so conditioned by the Southern culture to believe that she is worthless, she thinks God believes this, too.

When Dilsey returns to the Compson household, she resumes the cooking. That night, Nancy arrives, saying she knows that Jesus is outside, waiting to kill her. The conversation between her and Dilsey continues the theme of the Compson children's lack of concern for her situation. Jason's interjections are similar to his and Caddy's sparring in section I about whether or not he is a "scairy cat." In this section, his concern about who is a "nigger" contrasts with the seriousness of Nancy and Dilsey's discussion and reinforces our impression that Jason is a mouthy, overly pampered brat.

Nancy's final remarks at the end of this section — "I wont be nothing soon. I going back where I come from soon" — accentuate the intense fear and self-loathing that she continues to feel. The tension mounts as no one — except us — sympathizes with her plight.