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Nearly Relevant
Nonsense, Fiction, and Miscellaneous Things

'That Evening Sun Go Down', William Faulkner
The plot of That Evening Sun Go Down1 by William Faulkner centers around an apparently miscegenistic pregnancy.  That is, a negro woman, Nancy, is pregnant and, it is implied by her husband that the child is not the husband's and he further implies that the child is a white man's child.  This last implication is not stated as directly as the pregnancy itself but Jubah, the husband, complains of how a white man can come into his, Jubah's, kitchen while a black man is not welcome in a white man's kitchen.2 Jubah also warns that he could abort the pregnancy, presumably, with violence.  Jubah's warning creates an all consuming fear in Nancy of what Jubah might do to her which comprises most of the plot.

Outside of Nancy and Jubah, the main characters are the white family Nancy works for.  The family is parented by the father Jason and the unnamed mother.  They have 3 children; Quentin, 9 years old at the time of the story, Caddy 7, and a young Jason 5.  Quentin narrates the story 15 years after the events which means Quentin is about 24 at the time of narrating.  A representativeness of the town's culture is also portrayed.  It is concretized by some minor characters and the automobile.

I've divided this review into 3 sections.  Each represents what I see as the main points of the story.  I feel that there are quite a few allusions and themes especially related to
chapters 1 and 2 of The Book of Malachi of the Bible.  However, it's quite a bit of work to try and understand each allusion and then tie them together in some coherent whole.  So, since I couldn't do it, I'll leave that up to each reader of the story.

The Black Experience

Nancy has been beaten twice by white males before the story gets too far.  Jubah is angered by the thought that her pregnancy is of a white male.  Neither Nancy nor Jubah can effectively exact justice or revenge in this white society.  Jubah turns to taking out his revengefulness on Nancy.  Nancy, for her part, seems to at least tolerate if not encourage white males having sex with her, presumably, because she has very little if any recourse.  "And if you just let white men alone."3, says the adult Jason.  But how much of this oppression is her fault?

As Nancy's physical looks are described, she seems not at all beautiful. In fact she loses some teeth after suffering a beating.  Still there are several instances which mention,
rather alluringly, Nancy's "long, brown hands."4  Are we supposed to believe that her allure, in it's enticement, is irresistible and nothing more could be expected of white males but to succumb to this allure?  I don't think that's the point. I think the point is to draw a picture of a culture rooted in a devotion to the Bible and yet who act, at times, not at all religious. What does it say about those white males who may have consummated this 'irresistible' allure of Nancy's?  Certainly, nothing sanctified.  Rather, these acts are portrayed as nearly perverse in their disregard of the culture's allegiance to the Bible.

So the black experience becomes one of servitude status, of being relegated to the fringe of the community, and of suffering the foils of a vacillating, hypocritical authority.

The Book of Malachi

That the story has themes rooted in religion is not very questionable.  The character of Jubah was originally named Jesus by Faulkner.  However in the original publisher's opinion, Jesus was too controversial a name so the name was changed to Jubah. I feel certain that the Book of Malachi chapters 1 and 2 of the Bible plays an important role. 
Some of the religious allusions are apparent, such as the name Jesus and some,  such as the reference to the book of Malachi, are not apparent.  However, personally, it would be difficult to convince me that Malachi is not relevant to the story.

Here are some story aspects and verses from Malachi which I think are related:

  • The story is titled That Evening Sun Go Down "For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same . . ." Malachi 1:11
  • Nancy, drunk, is beaten by a Mr. Stovall, a church deacon, and later saved from hanging herself while in jail because of this drunkeness.  Is she really a guilty party?  This part of the story ends with Nancy discovered naked by the jailer who also beats her.5 Her nakedness and thus innocence can be seen in the allusion to, ". . . for one covereth violence with his garmet . . ." Malachi 2:16
  • Nancy often substitutes for the character Dilsey, another servant.  Dilsey is often sick.6  This description about Nancy takes place; "She looked at us, at all three of us at one time."7  Looking at three people at one time has the opposite connotation of blind.  So, Nancy is fit with good vision.  She is a fit sacrifice unlike her counterpart the frequently sick Dilsey.  "And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?  and if ye offer the lame and sick, is it not evil?"  Malachi 1:8
  • Here are some story ending descriptions;  "Nancy built up the fire.  'Look at Nancy putting her hands in the fire,' Caddy said."8  And, "We left her there, sitting before the fire with the door opened, so that it wouldn't happen in the dark."9  From Malachi,  "Who is there even among you that would shut the doors for nought?  neither do ye kindle fire on mine alter for nought."  Malachi 1:10 
Companionship or Treachery

Although miscegeny is a plot point, the theme really isn't miscegeny.   As well as the  motivation for Jubah's threats towards Nancy, misegeny is the particular description of one type of unsanctified, hypocritical consummation by the, what we might call elders, of this southern small town culture. 
 
The town seems like it's damned.  A church deacon and a jailer beat Nancy.10  Earlier in the story there is some suggestion that Jason, the father, might give in to Nancy's allure and commit the same adulterous acts with her that others in the community have committed.11  It's not a very strong suggestion, it's more like a worrisome possibility.  In such a society is there a possibility of a real and honest covenant with a woman?  Are there men southern white women can believe?  Can their ever be a companion for a righteous southern white woman?  Is the father, Jason, no different from the hypocritical leaders of this community? Yes there are, and the characters of the white adults of the family of this story, Jason and his wife, are an example.

One of the refrains young Jason must deal with is Caddy's constantly teasing of Jason as being, a 'Scairy cat.'12  Only twice in the story is the daughter Caddy referred to as Candace.  Candace is used here as full names are often used in families, out of exasperation as the acts of the child border on unshackled. At the beginning of the story her mother yells at Caddy with "You, Candace!".13   In an entirely separate, but I believe evocatively connecting event, her father, at the resolution of the story, yells at Caddy as "Candace!".14    For me, these connecting events tell of a final realization of the couple's companionship, as opposed to the treacherousness of some of these reprobate consummations.  The resolution of this subplot, the adult Jason's repeating the earlier exasperation "Candace!" of his wife, is for me the most inspiring aspect of the story.

Without being entirely aware of it, the couple know a bond which no other twosome of the story know.  That it is realized in the reprimanding of the rambunctious Caddy is heartwarming and uplifting.  Yes
there is a possibility within this seemingly damned society and it's seemingly hypocritical God-fearingness of a real and honest covenant between a husband and wife;  a relationship that is not fraught with treachery but solidified by companionship.

Oh by the way, did I mention this verse from . . . guess where?  That's right, Malachi;  "Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant"  Malachi 2:14 

 It's a powerful story with themes that are complex.  It doesn't ignore the oppression  of the negro man and woman, but neither does it vilify the entire southern culture as hopeless.   It is one of my favorite stories because it is well crafted with challenging themes and a very uplifting subplot.


1The Best American Short Stories of the Century, Edited by John Updike with Katrina Kenison, Copyright © 1999, 2000, Houghton Mifflin Company, Pgs. 111-126
2Ibid
3Ibid pg, 115
4Ibid pg. 118
5Ibid
6Ibid
7Ibid pg. 118
8Ibid pg. 122
9Ibid pg. 125
10Ibid
11Ibid
12Ibid pg.114
13Ibld pg. 114
14Ibid pg. 126
Comments
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That Evening Sun
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 2:17 PM by H.A. Schroeder
The source of the title is not the Bible-- it is the first line of the lyric of "St.Louis Blues:"
"I hate to see that evening sun go down." As Nancy clearly does.
Gravatar
Tuesday, November 27, 2012 8:31 PM by
How'd I miss this one? Maybe because of its length. (thumbs up) Glad Schroeder brought it to the fore:)
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Friday, November 30, 2012 4:03 AM by
:O)
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Friday, November 30, 2012 9:05 AM by
I made a comment to your "daniel defoe" blog a few days ago but it is not coming to the front. I wonder if they don't post to page one of the blog page when they are old? I am glad you are still here:O)
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Jimmy Fletcher
Thursday, March 14, 2019 8:47 AM by Jimmy Fletcher
nICE ONE THANKS
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