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Notes on Re-Reading: “That Evening Sun” and The Sound and the Fury

“Jason!” mother ssaid. She was speaking to father. You could tell that by the way she said the name. Like she believed that all day father had been trying to think of doing the thing she wouldn’t like the most, and that she knew all the time that after a while he would think of it.  I stayed quiet, because father and I both knew that mother would want him to make me stay with her if she just thought of it in time. So father didn’t look at me.  I was the oldest.  I was nine and Caddy was seven and Jason was five.

William Faulkner, “That Evening Sun.”

Posted the quote for the second sentence, although this paragraph makes an interesting footnote for readers of Faulkner.  The story is narrated by Quentin Compson, who states in the second paragraph that the events he is narrating took place fifteen years ago.  That would make Quentin 24 at the time of the narration of “That Evening Sun.”

In The Sound and the Fury, Caddy was apparently born in 1893 or 1894 (she’s roughly a year older than her brother Benjy, who is having his 33rd birthday on Easter weekend in 1928).  If Quentin in “That Evening Sun” has the same age–gap with Caddy as Quentin in The Sound and the Fury, that makes Quentin born in 1891 or 1892, which would also have made him 18 or 19 in June of 1910, when he committed suicide in The Sound and the Fury. But then, his age in “That Evening Sun” (9) makes the event in that story take place in 1900 or 1901, and the narration (fifteen years later) take place four or five years after Quentin killed himself in The Sound and the Fury.  The short story was first published in 1931, two years after the novel.

The first draft of “That Evening Sun” was titled “That Evening Sun Go Down,” a title that survived through its publication by Mencken in The American Mercury, but that got trimmed when republished later in 1931 in Faulkner’s short story collection These Thirteen.  Would a “corrected text” version of the story restore the earlier title? I would not.  The story has three siblings; Faulkner had the idea of starting his novel with a fourth sibling, Benjy, after he wrote the short story and as he was working into the novel.  While he rewrote the story before submitting it in 1930-1931, he did not iron out the time inconsistencies with the novel.

There’s a passage in the story about pregnancy.  Nancy is pregnant, the children notice, and her husband, Jesus, says it’s a watermelon, and Nancy responds, “It never come off your vine, though.”  Mencken told Faulkner that, to publish the story, he’d have to change Jesus’s name, and cut the watermelon/pregnancy reference.  Argggh!  It got put back when the story was reprinted.

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