Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

09 Sept 2011

(Short Story) That Evening Sun by: William Faulkner

(Reaction) Scared of the Dark by: Antonio Conejos

Faulkner's short story begins in the light of day. The introductory paragraph makes clear that progress, as seen in the daylight, has begun to change the south. As the story progresses though, the time of day changes into night and time regresses into a less modern past. It is in this night, both literally and figuratively, that the universality of fear is explored.

From the general, daylight perspective of the beginning, Evening Sun quickly narrows its scope to the night time experiences of one black woman, Nancy. Indeed, all of the narrative of the short story occurs at night. It is during the night that Nancy fears that her estranged husband, Jesus, will return and take his revenge on her. So palpable is this fear that her white employers escort her home and allow her to stay at their house.

But there is also another character who is marked by his fear, the smallest of the children, Jason. Indeed Jason's fear shows up in close proximity to Nancy's own. The first time Nancy reveals she is afraid to go home, Candace also accuses Jason of being a scairy cat. Later, walking down the trail to Nancy's home, Candace points out that, This is where Jason got scaired on Hallowe'en.

Initially this interplay between Nancy and Jason may suggest that Evening Sun is pointing out that fear is universal, whether it is experienced by white or black, young and old, boy or woman.

This is not so though as the fear is only attributed to those who society views as not quite fully mature. Those who are afraid are Jason, a boy of five who everyone is constantly talking over and Nancy, a black woman of years (I ain't nothing but a nigger... It ain't none of it my fault.).

The story's father (the meticulous reader can sift through the clues of the story and discover that the father's name is Jason) is adamant that Nancy's fear is irrational. He's not here... I would have seen him. There's not a soul in sight. Given that mature characters, ie. white folk, are those who do not show any fear in this short story, the natural conclusion is that Nancy is being deliberately portrayed as possessing a childlike fear, one that is absent in the white characters. Thus this contrast produces an image of the white characters as rational, level headed and unafraid.

Even the story's final line is an admonition to Candace not to call Jason a scairy cat. In this way the father is trying to separate his young son from the irrational ways of Nancy, the scared black woman.

Framing the story finally is the casual brutality which was everyday life before for blacks in the American South. In this time and place violence from whites is not only tolerated but expected. As such, Nancy receives a thrashing when she seeks to collect a debt from a white man, who is a Baptist deacon no less, He was the cashier in the bank and a deacon in the Baptist church... Mr. Stovall knocked her down... kicked her in the mouth with his heel.

Review:

As with most Faulkner fare, this story left me mystified after my first reading. I had to go through it again to get something out of it and even on the second reading it was tough going. Evening Sun doesn't reveal its secrets easily.

The reaction above seems to utilize more of an academic theoretical framework than I'm not wont to use ordinarliy (I've tried to cut out the jargon though). I didn't start out the reaction with a specific framework in mind but the theory implied in the reaction above just seemed to naturally rear its head while I was writing.

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