That Evening Sun

That Evening Sun Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Faulkner's That Evening Sun. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Faulkner

William Faulkner was born to in New Albany, Mississippi, in 1897. His family name was actually “Falkner,” but was misspelled “Faulkner” during his time in the Canadian air force; Faulkner adopted the new spelling and published his books under this title. During his childhood, Faulkner was deeply influenced by his mother and grandmother, who were both interested in art and literature. He was also very close with family’s black servant, Caroline “Callie” Barr, and his relationship with Callie influenced his fascination with racial tensions in the American south, which appear in much of his work. His family were fond of storytelling and Faulkner grew up listening to tales about the history of the south and of his great grandfather, who was a Civil War hero. When he was seventeen Faulkner enrolled at the University of Mississippi and met Philip Stone, who mentored the young writer. Stone tried to get several of Faulkner’s poems published, but his early efforts were unsuccessful. Faulkner’s first poetry collection, The Marble Faun, was published in 1924. Faulkner published his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, in 1925 and in 1927 wrote Flags in the Dust, his first novel set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. To Faulkner’s dismay Flags in the Dust was initially rejected by publishers, though eventually published in 1929. During a period of disillusionment with his literary career after the rejection of Flags in the Dust, Faulkner began working on an experimental novel, The Sound and the Fury, set in Yoknapatawpha County; the novel was published in 1929 and became one of Faulkner’s most famous works. Faulkner married Estelle Oldham in 1929 and hoped to make a living as a novelist. His novels As I Lay Dying and Sanctuary were published in the early 1930s. Later in life, struggling to make money, Faulkner moved to California and took a job as a screenwriter in Hollywood. He died in 1962 after a fall from a horse and was buried in Oxford, Mississippi.
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Historical Context of That Evening Sun

“That Evening Sun” is set in the southern state of Mississippi and deals with the aftermath of slavery in the United States. Slaves were used to work the land on large plantations which grew tobacco and cotton, both of which were huge industries at the time and were major sources of wealth for the south. Despite the abolition of slavery in 1862 and the subsequent decline of plantation industries—which were being replaced by capitalist industries in the north fueled by European immigration—black people still had no civil rights and were subject to racist segregation laws in the south until the 1960s. These laws stated that black and white people could not eat in the same restaurants or sit in the same coaches on public transport; that black people could not vote or carry weapons; and that black people could not own land or property. As industry in the south declined and once wealthy white families became poorer, black people continued to suffer the effects of extreme racial prejudice as well as further resentment from the white people who still viewed them as inferior. “That Evening Sun” deals with some of the effects of this cultural racism and the immensely prejudiced double standards which came to be accepted in the south during the twentieth century and before the Civil Rights Movement.

Other Books Related to That Evening Sun

“That Evening Sun” is an example of the Southern Gothic literary style. Faulkner was directly influenced by Sherwood Anderson, whose novels, Poor White, Many Marriages, and Dark Laughter, explored life in the Midwest in and examined the psychological and social frustrations of the people living there. Faulkner was also heavily influenced by the Irish writer James Joyce, whose famous novel Ulysses pioneered many of the modernist and experimental techniques—including stream of consciousness, which Faulkner employed and expanded upon in The Sound and the Fury. “That Evening Sun,” with its observation of the decline of the south in the early 1900s, is similar in tone to other short stories by Faulkner such as “A Rose for Miss Emily.” The Compson family, who are some of main the characters in “That Evening Sun,” also feature in short stories which Faulkner set in Yoknapatawpha County, and The Sound and the Fury charts the disintegration of the Compson family once the children in “That Evening Sun” are adults. Faulkner’s influence can be seen in the work of Flannery O’Connor, with her use of psychological themes and her emphasis on the corrosive effect of racial divides in the south, as well as in Harper Lee’s seminal novel To Kill A Mockingbird. 
Key Facts about That Evening Sun
  • Full Title: That Evening Sun
  • When Written: 1931
  • Where Written: Mississippi
  • When Published: 1931
  • Literary Period: Modernist
  • Genre: Southern Gothic
  • Setting: Jefferson, Mississippi, a fictional town in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha where Faulkner set much of his fiction
  • Climax: Nancy, convinced that her husband Jesus is waiting in the ditch outside her house and plans to kill her, persuades the Compson children to come home with her; the group waits anxiously in Nancy’s cabin as footsteps approach outside. These footsteps belong to the Compson children’s father however, who takes them home, leaving Nancy alone in her cabin.
  • Antagonist: Jesus
  • Point of View: First person limited; the story is narrated by the adult Quentin Compson, who is looking back on his childhood

Extra Credit for That Evening Sun

The Title. The title of the story comes from the Louis Armstrong song “Saint Louis Blues.” The lyrics of this song refer to a woman who “hates to see that evening sun” go down because it makes her feel that she is going to die. It also refers to the fact that the woman is going to “make her getaway” if she still feels afraid in the morning. This relates to Nancy’s fear of Jesus in the story and the fear that, when the sun goes down, he will kill her if she does not make a “getaway.”

Nancy’s Bones. In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner’s 1928 novel which deals with the disintegration of the Compson family several years after the events in “That Evening Sun,” Faulkner notes that Nancy’s bones are found in the ditch outside her cabin. Readers have speculated that this is proof that Jesus does kill Nancy after the story. However, Faulkner denied this and made use of Nancy again in a later story. Faulkner claimed that “Nancy’s bones” in The Sound and the Fury refer to the bones of a horse which belonged to the Compsons.