William Faulkner’s That Evening Sun Go Down is in essence the cautionary tale of a poor, black woman and the consequences of her moral and social peccadilloes. In reality it is a treatise on how the vulnerable members of a community are often forced to own responsibility for things which are not entirely their fault, and punish themselves for it as well.
Nancy is a black washer woman and something of a free spirit as well. She consumes alcohol and lacks a good deal of the decorum expected from African-Americans in that era. Her bearing is unusually erect for her station in life, even when she crosses under a stile with a pile of clothes on her head. These factors would set her apart in any case but the fact that she has been soliciting money for sexual favors from white men and is pregnant by one of her clients sets the seal on her fate.
The attitudes of the white townsfolk towards Nancy range from open hostility to a perfect indifference. The hostility is manifest in the attitude of the jailer who prevents her from committing suicide and then beats her mercilessly, and the attitude of Mr. Stovall who kicks Nancy in the mouth when se demands money from him. It seems to be a foregone conclusion that Mr. Stovall is one of Nancy’s clients but it is equally conclusive that white man, he will not be held culpable for his part in Nancy’s situation. The children’s mother represents a more subtle viewpoint regarding Nancy. She does not bear her any open animosity towards the black woman but she is intolerant of the regard her husband shows Nancy by escorting her to her home when she is abandoned by Jesus. She complains about being left alone repeatedly and accuses her husband of not showing enough concern for her “is her safety more precious to you than mine?”
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