The narrator, Quentin Compson, points out that Monday “is no different from any other weekday in Jefferson now.” A “city laundry” has replaced the “Negro women” who used to do the laundry on Mondays when Quentin was a boy, and the streets in Jefferson are now paved. Quentin complains that the trees which used to grow on the sidewalk are being cut down to make room for telegraph poles, which bear “clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes,” and the laundry is now collected and taken away in motorcars.
Quentin points out the changes that have taken place in Jefferson since he was a child. While the “Negro women” used to do the laundry on Mondays, a “city laundry” has now taken over this job. This change is symptomatic of the other modernizations that have taken place in the American South since the early 1900s. By using words like “bloated” and “bloodless,” Quentin suggests that he thinks these changes are negative, and that they have sapped the personality (the “blood”) from the town by replacing the old ways of life in the South.
Quentin notes that “even the Negro women who still take in white people’s laundry after the old custom” have cars now. On Mondays “fifteen years ago,” when Quentin was a boy, the streets were “full of Negro women” carrying bundles of laundry on their heads that were “almost as large as cotton bales.” They carried these bundles, “without a touch of hand,” from the “kitchen door of the white house” to the “blackened washpot beside a cabin door in Negro Hollow.”
The fact that “Negro women” still take in “white people’s laundry” suggests that, although black people’s status has improved since Quentin’s childhood, they still often work for white people as servants. The fact that Quentin says that “even the Negro women” have cars suggests that black people are still second-class citizens in Quentin’s mind. Although Quentin praises the black women’s skill in carrying the laundry, his nostalgia for this is synonymous with nostalgia for the old ways of life in the South when black people had very few rights. The bundles of laundry are like “cotton bales,” cotton being one of the main industries built on slavery in the South. This signifies that black people in the South are still suffering the consequences of slavery, many years after its abolition, in terms of how white people view and treat them.
Quentin describes how Nancy, a black woman who sometimes worked for the Compsons, would wear her sailor hat on top of the bundle of laundry she carried. Quentin and his brother and sister, Jason and Caddy, would follow Nancy and marvel at how the bundle “never bobbed nor wavered,” even when she had to climb down into the ditch that was outside her house and climb out the other side. Nancy had a “high, sad” face that sunk in a little “where her teeth were missing.”
Quentin and his siblings enjoyed the novelty of seeing Nancy carry the laundry on her head. While the white children see laundry day as a game, and Nancy as entertaining, it is hard physical labor for the black servants and not something they would be nostalgic for. Nancy’s “sad” face and “missing teeth” further suggest that her life is hard and that she has been a victim of physical violence.
Some of the washer women’s husbands would help their wives by fetching the clothes for them, but Jesus, Nancy’s husband, never did—“even before” Mr. Compson, Quentin’s father, told Jesus to stay away from the Compson’s property. Jesus never came to help Nancy with the washing, even when she was doing the extra work of cooking for the Compsons because their usual maid, Dilsey, was sick.
Nancy’s husband, Jesus, is framed as a menacing figure from this early point in the story. The fact that he never helps Nancy, even when she is taking on extra work, suggests he is a mean, careless husband. The fact that Mr. Compson has banished him from the property suggests that he has caused or been in trouble in some way.
Quentin complains that Nancy was not a very reliable servant and describes how he, Caddy, and Jason would often have to go to Nancy’s cabin and wake her up so that she could come and cook their breakfast. They did not cross the ditch however, because Mr. Compson had warned them to stay away from Jesus, who lived with Nancy. He recalls a memory from the past, in which the children throw rocks at Nancy’s house to wake her and Nancy comes to the door “without any clothes on” and tells them she is sleeping. By the time she gets around to making breakfast. it is too late for Quentin to go to school.
Quentin’s privilege is evident here as he remembers the inconvenience of their regular servant being sick and their having to make do with Nancy. The ditch represents the racial segregation between the two societies in Jefferson: the white part of the town, and the black society in “Negro Hollow.” The fact that the children throw rocks at Nancy’s house, and yet still expect her to serve them, shows that the children have learned to disrespect black people and expect black people to wait on them.
Quentin and his family think that Nancy is a drunk, and that is why she is late for work. Later they hear that Nancy has been arrested again. As she is being escorted to jail, the group passes a man called Mr. Stovall, a local bank cashier and church deacon. Nancy screams at Mr. Stovall, demanding, “when you going to pay me white man?” Mr. Stovall responds by kicking Nancy in the face and knocking out several of her teeth. As Nancy is lying on the ground and Mr. Stovall is restrained, she laughs and says, “it’s been three times now since he paid me a cent.”
This scene between Nancy and Mr. Stovall implies that Nancy has been working as a prostitute, and that Mr. Stovall has used her services but has failed to pay her. Mr. Stovall responds violently towards Nancy, kicking her in the mouth, in order to silence her. He is afraid that her outburst will expose his actions and damage his reputation as a respectable member of the white community. However, there are no consequences for Mr. Stovall, even when he publicly assaults Nancy. This shows how safe white people were from the law (which generally took their side) compared to black people.
In jail Nancy protests all night, “singing and yelling,” and people stop outside to listen and laugh at the jailor trying to “shut her up.” The next morning, Nancy stops singing, and when the jailor goes up to her cell, he finds that she has tried to hang herself from the window bar. The jailor “revives her” and then beats her; he tells everyone that Nancy is not a drunk but is on cocaine, because “no nigger would try to commit suicide unless he was full of cocaine.” The jailor also reveals that Nancy is pregnant because she hangs herself naked and he can see her “belly already swelling out a little, like a little balloon.”
The white community’s lack of sympathy towards Nancy is evident; rather than feel concerned about her, they view her arrest as entertaining gossip. The severity of Nancy’s problems is made clear by the fact that she tries to commit suicide. However, the report from the jailor suggests that the white community trivializes this too and thinks that Nancy tries to kill herself because she is on drugs rather than because she is deeply unhappy. This shows an unwillingness on the part of the white community to address the reasons a black woman may have for being unhappy, such as racism or extreme poverty.
Quentin notes that he, Caddy, and Jason also notice Nancy’s “apron swelling out” when she is cooking for them because Dilsey is sick. This is “before father told Jesus to stay away from the house,” Quentin notes, and as such Jesus is sitting in the Compson’s kitchen while Nancy cooks. Jesus says that Nancy has a “watermelon” under her dress, to which Nancy replies that it didn’t “come off” Jesus’s “vine.” Caddy is confused and asks Nancy and Jesus what they mean but the adults ignore her. Jesus says that he can easily “cut down the vine it did come off,” and Nancy tells him not to talk like that before the children, and that Mr. Compson doesn’t want Jesus hanging around the kitchen. Jesus sulks and complains that “he can’t hang around a white man’s kitchen,” but a “white man can hang around his.”
Mr. Compson tells Jesus to stay away from the house, suggesting that Jesus’s aggressive behavior has escalated in some way. Quentin refers to an incident before this takes place, while Nancy is evidently pregnant with someone else’s child, probably as a result of her prostitution. When she says the “watermelon” has not come off Jesus’s “vine” she means it is not Jesus’s child. Jesus implies that he might hurt the man who got Nancy pregnant, saying he can “cut down the vine it did come off of.” Jesus is angry about the hypocrisy in their society, as he feels there is one rule for white men and another for black men. White men can tell black men to get off their property, but black people have no civil rights to defend themselves or their own homes from the actions of white men.
Dilsey stays sick for a long time, so Nancy continues to cook for the family, and Mr. Compson tells Jesus to stay away from the house. One evening, after supper, Mrs. Compson remarks that Nancy is taking a long time to wash and dry the dishes and sends Quentin to see what is taking so long. Quentin finds that the dishes have been put away and fire is out. Nancy is sitting by the “cold stove,” and when Quentin asks her what is wrong, she says that “she ain’t nothing but a nigger” and that “it ain’t none of her fault.”
Nancy is clearly avoiding going home, which is why she sits so long in the kitchen after all her work is finished. When Quentin goes to question her, she implies that she is in trouble but that there is nothing she can do about it since “she ain’t nothing but a nigger” and “it ain’t none of her fault.” This suggests that Nancy feels her situation is hopeless and that she can’t do anything to help or protect herself because of her race and lack of rights and power in society.
Unnerved by Nancy’s manner and the contrast between the “warm, busy, cheerful” way the kitchen usually feels and the cold, dreary atmosphere “at that hour” of the night, Quentin returns to the library and tells his parents that Nancy is finished. Mr. Compson goes to see what is wrong with Nancy. Caddy suggests that she might be waiting for Jesus to come and get her, but Quentin says that Jesus has left town. Jason thinks Nancy is “scared of the dark” and doesn’t want to walk home. Caddy tells Jason that he is afraid of the dark too, causing the younger boy to defend his own bravery.
Quentin demonstrates his privilege and his ability to avoid situations that makes him uncomfortable. He dislikes the atmosphere in the kitchen, which is depressing compared to the “warm, busy, cheerful” atmosphere he thinks a kitchen should have. Although Nancy is a human being, Quentin only views her as something that cooks and cleans and makes the kitchen feel homey. The younger children’s reaction suggests that they are too young to comprehend adult fears but empathize with Nancy on their own level, assuming she is afraid of the same things as them, like the dark. Jason, however, is already learning that in the patriarchal culture of the South, boys are meant to be brave and not admit their fears.
Mr. Compson returns and says that he is going to walk Nancy home because Nancy thinks that Jesus has come back to town. Mrs. Compson asks if Nancy has seen Jesus, but Mr. Compson says she hasn’t. Mrs. Compson then complains that her husband seems to consider Nancy’s safety “more precious” than her own, as he will leave her and the children “unprotected” with Jesus about. Caddy and Jason then beg to go with their father and Nancy and, although Mrs. Compson is irritated, Mr. Compson takes the three children and goes to walk Nancy home.
Mrs. Compson trivializes Nancy’s fear, even though if Jesus is outside, Nancy could be in significant danger. Instead of acknowledging this, Mrs. Compson acts as though she and Nancy are in the same amount of danger from Jesus, even though this is clearly not true—Jesus is unlikely to hurt a white woman because the consequences would be so severe, and Nancy is the person he is angry with. In contrast, killing Nancy will have no consequences because she is not protected by the law or civil rights.
On the walk home, Nancy says that she will be alright if she can just get “through the lane,” which is the darkest part of the walk. Mr. Compson asks Nancy if she can stay with Aunt Rachel, who sometimes claims to be Jesus’s mother yet also sometimes says she isn’t “kin” to him. Caddy teases Jason about being “scairder than niggers,” but Jason denies it.
The dark lane becomes symbolic of the racial divide in Jefferson. Aunt Rachel clearly is Jesus’s mother, but his violent behavior sometimes makes her ashamed to admit she is related to him. Caddy calls Jason “scairder than niggers” which demonstrates that the children have learned racist stereotypes, such as the idea that black people are cowardly. This stereotype ignored the fact that black people were genuinely afraid for their lives because of racial violence during this period and, instead, suggested that black people were inherently weak. This supported the patriarchal culture of the South, in which macho bravery was considered a virtue while cowardice was considered unmanly and inferior.
While the children argue, Mr. Compson tries to reassure Nancy that Jesus is gone. Nancy replies that Jesus told her that “she done woke up the devil in him and there aint but one thing going to lay it down again.” Mr. Compson tells Nancy that she wouldn’t be in this situation if she could “just let white men alone.” Caddy asks what her father means and is ignored. Nancy tells Mr. Compson that she knows Jesus hasn’t “gone nowhere”—that, in fact, he is hiding somewhere in wait, and that she “aint going to see him again but once, with that razor in his mouth.” Nancy says, when he appears, she “won’t even be surprised.”
Nancy believes that there is nothing she can do to stop Jesus, and that it is her destiny to be murdered by him. Rather than understanding the hopelessness she feels in her vulnerable position as a black woman, Mr. Compson blames Nancy for the situation. He says that she should “let white men alone,” suggesting that Nancy has led white men on by persuading them to use her services as a prostitute; rather than accepting that white men go to her voluntarily. Mr. Compson shows his racial prejudice because he is more willing to believe that a black woman leads white men astray than that white men freely act in ways which society, in this period, would deem immoral.
Dilsey is still sick, so the family begin to walk Nancy home every night after she has finished her work. Eventually Mrs. Compson becomes annoyed that she is being “left alone in this big house” while Mr. Compson takes home “a frightened Negro.” Instead of walking Nancy home, the family sets up a bed for her in the kitchen and allow her to sleep there for several nights. One night they are woken up by a Nancy making an eerie sound that isn’t “singing” nor “crying.” Mr. Compson goes downstairs to check on Nancy as Caddy and Quentin creep out onto the landing to see what is going on.
Mrs. Compson demonstrates that she is willing to put her own convenience (her desire not to be left alone) ahead of Nancy’s physical safety. The fact that they allow Nancy to sleep in the kitchen shows that the Compsons are relatively sympathetic towards their servants, although they do not let Nancy have one of the bedrooms. The sound Nancy makes is associated with the racial divide between black and white characters in the story. The white characters do not understand the sound, and it is portrayed as something alien and strange. The sound expresses Nancy terror of what may happen to her. The fact that the white characters do not understand this shows what a gulf in sympathy there is between the white and black people in Jefferson.
The children hear their father going down the back stairs and then hear Nancy’s sound again “in the stairway.” They see that she is standing against the wall in the dark, her eyes appearing catlike. Nancy stops making the sound when the children go down and stand with her until Mr. Compson comes back. He brings Nancy’s bed up with him from the kitchen and sets it up for her to sleep in the children’s bedroom.
Nancy is most afraid when she is alone and stops making the sound when the children go down to the landing because they provide her with company in the darkness. Although the children are very privileged compared to Nancy, they are in a similar position to her as they cannot physically defend themselves and rely on their father for protection.
Quentin and Caddy lie in the dark room with Nancy. Caddy keeps asking Nancy questions about what made her afraid and what she saw in the kitchen, wondering whether she saw Jesus trying to get in. Nancy whispers something but, in the dark, it seems as though “nobody” had made the sound, and that it “came from nowhere and went nowhere.” To Quentin, it seems as if Nancy isn’t in the room at all, and that he had “looked so hard at her eyes on the stairs” in the dark that their image had been “printed” on his eyeballs—“like the sun” after staring at it and then closing one’s eyes. Nancy starts crying for Jesus, making the sound long until it “goes out like a match.” Quentin tells Caddy that it is the other Jesus, not her husband, that Nancy is calling for.
Nancy becomes associated with the darkness here as the sound she makes seems to come from nowhere and go nowhere; as though it comes out of the dark. This suggests that Nancy’s life has been overshadowed by the darkness (racism) that haunts Jefferson and that, since she will likely be murdered by Jesus, her whole life and death have been defined by this. Nancy’s death is foreshadowed by the sound “going out like a match.” The image of Nancy’s eyes “printed” on Quentin’s eyeballs suggests that Nancy’s fears haunt Quentin after the events. It is ironic that Nancy is calling for “Jesus,” since Jesus could be either Jesus Christ (who is a sign of salvation in the Christian faith) or Jesus her husband (whom she believes will kill her rather than save her).
Dilsey gets well and comes to cook for the Compsons again, but Nancy still comes into the kitchen after it gets dark. Dilsey asks Nancy how she knows that Jesus has come back. Jason, who is also in the kitchen, says that “Jesus is a nigger.” Nancy tells Dilsey that she can feel Jesus; that he is “laying yonder in the ditch.” Jason says that Dilsey “is a nigger” too, while Dilsey makes Nancy some coffee and tries to calm her down. Jason then says that he “ain’t a nigger” and asks Nancy if she is one. Nancy replies, “I hellborn, child. I won’t be nothing soon. I going back to where I came from.”
Nancy cannot prove that Jesus has come back but senses that he is nearby and that she is in danger. This represents racism in Jefferson, which puts all the black characters in danger and is ever present even though it is never openly articulated. Jason is in the process of learning this racism as he is learning to separate black and white people into different categories. The fact that he keeps asking who is “a nigger” and who is not suggests that he does not understand the reason for the divide and will need it confirmed by the adults around him before it becomes second nature to him. When Nancy replies to Jason, she again associates herself with darkness, nothingness, and lack of salvation, suggesting that her life is meaningless and that nothing can help her. Nancy, like Jason, has learned her place in society because, in the Christian culture of the South, Nancy would be considered sinful because she has been a prostitute.
Nancy tries to drink the coffee that Dilsey has made for her, but she cannot swallow it. She starts making “the sound,” which she made the night that she slept in the children’s bedroom. Quentin remarks that it was like there were two Nancys, “one looking” at the children, the other “making that sound.” Nancy spills the coffee on the floor, and Dilsey says that Nancy can sleep in her house if she is afraid of Jesus. Nancy turns this offer down though because she says that “no nigger” will stop Jesus.
Nancy says that “no nigger will stop Jesus” because she feels that black people are powerless to stop Jesus’s literal violence, but also against the atmosphere of racial violence that surrounds them. Jesus will not be afraid to hurt other black people because they are not protected by the law like white people are.
Nancy seems to have an idea suddenly, and her eyes “move fast, like she is afraid” there isn’t time. She asks the children if they remember the night she slept in their room and says that, if they let her stay again, she will play with them like she did last time. She persuades the children to ask their mother, but Mrs. Compson says that she “can’t have Negroes sleeping in the bedrooms.” Caddy asks Mrs. Compson why Nancy is afraid of Jesus and if Mrs. Compson is afraid of Mr. Compson. Jason starts to cry and says he will only stop crying if Dilsey makes him a chocolate cake. Mr. Compson tells Jason off and sends the children to tell Nancy to go home and lock her door.
Nancy attempts to manipulate the children by reminding them of the time that they played in the bedroom together. Although she has said that “no nigger will stop Jesus,” she feels protected in the presence of the white Compsons, as they have more protection under the law than she has. Mrs. Compson, however, has lost patience with Nancy and says no. Caddy picks up on the fact that Nancy is afraid of her husband and is curious about this. Caddy too is learning the social boundaries of the world she is growing up in. As a girl in a patriarchal culture Caddy is probably aware that she will be married one day, and that she will have fewer rights than her husband. Like Nancy, Caddy may one day be afraid of her husband or be a victim of domestic violence.
Caddy tells Nancy what Mr. Compson has said and asks what Nancy has done to make Jesus mad. Nancy drops her cup and begins making “the sound” again, before asking the children if they remember having fun when she stayed in their room. Jason says he didn’t have any fun, but Caddy reminds him that he was not there, but asleep in Mrs. Compson’s room. Nancy says that if the children come home with her, they will have fun again. Caddy doesn’t think their parents will let them go, but Nancy says that she shouldn’t tell them. Caddy thinks it will be alright to go because their mother didn’t say they shouldn’t, but Quentin reminds her that this is only because they haven’t asked.
Nancy grows increasingly desperate after learning that Mr. and Mrs. Compson have given up on helping her. Again, she tries to manipulate the children, trying to bribe them to come to her house and convincing them not to ask their parents for permission to go. Caddy too is clearly familiar with this type of manipulation as she astutely points out that her parents have not said they could not go. Quentin, who is older, knows that this is not a good excuse to behave in a way that their parents will not like.
The children set off down the lane with Nancy. The lane is dark, and Caddy teases Jason about being scared. Caddy asks Nancy why she is “talking so loud” and Nancy laughs and says; “listen at Quentin and Caddy and Jason saying I’m talking loud.” The children are confused and say that Nancy is talking “like there are five” of them or like Mr. Compson is with them. Nancy calls Jason “Mister Jason,” the way she would Mr. Compson, whose first name is also Jason. Nancy tells them to “hush” and they cross the ditch towards her house.
Nancy tries to make it sound like Mr. Compson is with them in order to deter Jesus from attacking her. This shows that she does not believe that the children alone will be enough to protect her and suggests that she is putting them in danger by taking them with her. Although this is not an admirable decision on Nancy’s part, she is driven to this by fear and by the negligence of the children’s parents.
Quentin doesn’t like the smell in Nancy’s house, which is like a lamp and Nancy’s smell like the wick; “they [are] waiting for one another to begin to smell.” Nancy asks them what they want to do at her house, but the children are uncomfortable. Quentin says that there is “something you could smell besides Nancy in the house,” something even Jason smells. The young boy wants to go home.
The image of the lamp and the wick suggests that Nancy belongs to her environment in “Negro Hollow,” but that the Compson children do not. They are not familiar with the poverty there, signified by Nancy’s “smell,” and it immediately makes them uncomfortable. The “something” besides Nancy that they can smell suggests the adult world, which the children do not understand but that they sense their proximity to and want to escape from.
Nancy stands in front of the door and looks at the children as if she is “emptying” her eyes. Caddy asks if Nancy will tell them a story and Nancy agrees. While she is telling the story though, Quentin notices that she talks and looks around as if her eyes and voice “did not belong to her.” Quentin says that “the Nancy who could stoop under a barbed wire fence with a bundle of clothes balanced on her head” was there, but another part of her “was outside”—“waiting somewhere else.”
The idea that part of Nancy is already waiting outside the house suggests that Nancy has already accepted her death as inevitable. The idea that she is waiting for it outside in the darkness associates Nancy with death, which is often talked about in terms of darkness. Nancy tries to keep the children occupied with stories in an attempt to put off her death, even though she considers it inevitable and inescapable.
Nancy’s story is about a queen who is trying to get across the ditch outside her house, so that she can “get home and bar the door.” Caddy asks why a queen would need to go near a ditch or get home and bar her door. Jason says he doesn’t like the story and wants to go home. He says that he will tell his parents if they won’t take him home, and Nancy pleads with the children to stay, saying that she knows better stories. She tells them that she has some popcorn and that Jason can hold the popper if they stay. Jason says this will be alright as long as he can hold the popper and Caddy cannot. While they are talking, Nancy puts her hand on a hot lamp and doesn’t seem to notice it burning until Caddy points it out.
Nancy, who was able to manipulate the children at first, is now begging them to stay. Jason shows his tyrannical side when he says that he will stay to make popcorn if Caddy cannot hold the popper. Although Jason is very young, this shows that the children are pampered and accustomed to getting their own way. Nancy, meanwhile, is so transported by fear that she is almost literally detached from her body and is unable to feel her hand burning until Caddy points it out.
Nancy gets the popper out from under the bed, but it is broken. Jason begins to cry when he sees this and again says he wants to go home. Caddy is losing interest in the popcorn too and thinks that they should leave because it is getting late. Nancy seems desperate for them to stay and tries to fix the popper, but Caddy says it won’t hold. Nancy helps Jason hold the popper over the fire, but it breaks, and the corn falls in the grate. Jason gets smoke in his eyes and starts crying again.
Nancy gets increasingly desperate as the children grow less enthusiastic about staying. Caddy, who has been the most interested in staying with Nancy and the most curious about Nancy’s situation so far, also begins to lose interest. The popper breaking suggests Nancy’s losing battle to keep the children invested in her situation, which they do not really care about except in a very naïve, superficial way because they are too young to understand.
As Nancy is taking the popcorn out of the fire, insisting that it will still be good to eat, the group hear footsteps approaching the cabin outside. They all stop to listen, and Nancy begins making the sound again as tears start coming out of her eyes even though she is not crying. The children watch, fascinated, unsure what is going on. Caddy goes to the door and says that she sees Mr. Compson coming. Nancy begs Caddy to ask Mr. Compson if she can come and sleep in their room again and that, if she can, they will have fun. Jason says that he hasn’t had any fun, and that Nancy got smoke in his eye and hurt him.
It is unclear whether the footsteps approaching belong to Jesus or not. It is possible that he is sneaking up on the house, and that he is prepared to hurt the children inside, but that he is deterred by the approach of Mr. Compson. However, the reader could also assume that the footsteps belong to Mr. Compson and that the children are in no real danger.
Mr. Compson enters the cabin and, again, tells Nancy to go and stay with Aunt Rachel. He says that he has checked the ditch outside Nancy’s cabin, and that Jesus is not there. Nancy says she knows Jesus is there because she received a sign from him: a pig’s bone with some meat and blood still on it, which was on the table when she got home. Nancy says that she knows Jesus is there and that “as soon as” the Compsons walk out the door, she will be “gone.” Mr. Compson again tries to coax her to Aunt Rachel’s, but Nancy says that it won’t do “no good,” and that even if she were sleeping in the room with the Compson children she would still be “gone” the next morning.
Nancy loses all hope as soon as Mr. Compson arrives because she knows that he has not come to help her. Although he tries to placate her, telling her that he has checked the ditch and that Jesus is not there, Nancy is convinced that when they leave, she will be “gone.” The use of the word “gone” suggests that she will vanish, returning to the empty darkness that she believes is waiting for her and that her life has been made up of because of her low social status.
Giving up, Mr. Compson tells Nancy to lock her door and put out the lamp, but Nancy says she is scared for “it to happen in the dark.” Mr. Compson moves to take the children home and Nancy says that she has her “coffin money saved up with Mr. Lovelady.” (In an aside, Quentin tells the reader that Mr. Lovelady is the town undertaker whose wife killed herself suddenly one morning.) Mr. Compson tells Nancy not to talk “nonsense” and says that he will see her in the kitchen the next day. Nancy says that Mr. Compson will “see what he sees,” but that “it will take the Lord to say what will be.”
The digression about Mr. Lovelady and his wife’s unexpected suicide ties into the idea that uncomfortable ideas go unacknowledged in this society. Rather than openly acknowledging racism in the town, the residents push it under the surface. Similarly, with Mr. Lovelady’s wife, the reason for her suicide is unknown and it is treated as something inexplicable and random, rather than the result of some underlying problem. Although Nancy believes she is damned and that her death will be “dark,” her closing statement suggests that she does believe in Christianity and that her fate is synonymous with what “the Lord” has planned for her. This implies that Nancy feels she is damned on a spiritual level and that salvation is being denied her because she does not deserve it. This suggests that Nancy has internalized the racist ideas about herself and her social status.
The children leave with Mr. Compson. Nancy remains sitting by the fire with the door of her cabin open and does not get up to close it. Caddy asks her father what’s going to happen, and he tells her that nothing will. They walk down through the ditch and Quentin observes that he can’t “see much where the moonlight and the shadows tangled.”
Although Nancy is clearly very afraid, so much so that she is paralyzed by fear and simply sits with the door open after they leave, Mr. Compson still trivializes her fear. He dismisses the children’s questions about what will happen to Nancy. Although Quentin does not openly question his father’s judgement, he does check the ditch for himself and acknowledges that he cannot really see if someone is hiding there or not. This suggests that Mr. Compson is willing to overlook potential danger to Nancy rather than inconvenience himself and go out of his way to look for Jesus. The fact that Quentin is aware of this and does not draw attention to it suggests that he too has learned to ignore uncomfortable ideas and become complacent and preoccupied with his own comfort and convenience.
Caddy asks if Jesus is watching them from the ditch, but Mr. Compson says that Jesus is gone. Jason is sitting on his father’s shoulders and it looks like Mr. Compson “has two heads, a big one and a little one.” They come out of the ditch and can no longer see Nancy through the open door, but they can hear her making the sound which is “like singing and not like singing.” Quentin asks Mr. Compson who will do their washing now. Jason, on Mr. Compson’s shoulders, declares that he “is not a nigger,” to which Caddy responds that Jason is “worse” because he’s a “tattletale.” She says he is “scardier than a nigger,” prompting Mr. Compson to break up the fight by shouting at Candace.
The image of Jason riding on Mr. Compson’s shoulders, like Mr. Compson has “two heads,” suggests that Jason will grow up to be a version of his father. This is supported by the fact that Jason announces that “he is not a nigger,” suggesting that Jason is learning to differentiate himself from black people and learn racist attitudes in the same way that his father has. When Mr. Compson defends Jason from Candace, it suggests that Jason’s status as white man will protect him from criticism in the future, just as Mr. Compson protects Jason from it as a child. Quentin’s question about “who will do the washing,” implies that he believes Nancy will be killed but also that, in his mind, the most significant consequence of this will be that no one will be there to do his washing. This shows his total disregard for Nancy’s wellbeing and connects the end of the story to Quentin’s nostalgic comments about the washer women at the beginning of the story.