In regional literature, you often find that the region is as much a character as body else in the work. Faulkner's stories could not be transported to New England very easily. They are specific to their location, that is the South and especially Mississippi, the northern section of the state, north of Jackson. You look at this landscape as you come to part of what goes into people, and their behavior the way that everything around you is. The number one characteristic of this part of Mississippi is, of course, the heat as far as the area goes, the heat, humidity, the dust. You get a picture of that in the first paragraph of That Evening Sun.
Monday is no different from any other weekday in Jefferson now.
This is the county seat. Jefferson is the town where many of his stories are set.
The streets are paved now,
but at the turn of the century fifteen years ago , in 1916, there were no paved streets,
the telephone and electric companies are cutting
down more and more of the shade
trees--the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms, tomake room for iron poles bearing
clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes,
Which would in a sense make things worse. We are looking
back in that earlier time as it was some kind of Mayberry. This is like
the "Out, Out" poem, as this is Mayberry with a twist, a Mayberry
you might not be quite so anxious to live in. We start off with a picture
Eden. This is like Eden.
and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds
on Monday morning, gathering the bundles
of clothes into bright-colored, specially-made motor cars: the soiled wearing of a whole week
now flees apparitionlike behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminshing noise
of rubber and asphalt like tearing silk, and even the Negro women who still take in white
people's washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.
So this is now, the Roaring Thirties, the modern era. We've got lamps all over the streets; the trees are cut down; the roads are paved; and the washing is taken and delivered back. Things are not done the way it used to be done, in the good ole days. Sort of like the joke: how many Virginians does it take to change a light bulb? Six, one to change the light bulb and five others to reminisce about the old. That is what people in 1916 in the south like to do, reminisce about the old days. Fifteen years ago you would take the clothes to your home if you were a black woman and wash them there, in a big wash pot. Monday were the big wash day. In fact, that was a tradition back in those days. There a few left over traditions from that, and one is in New Orleans. What do you eat on Monday? Red beans and rice. In the old days, you would put red beans and sausage on the stove in the morning. These red beans take forever to cook, so you just leave them on the stove to cook, and you leave them simmering while you do the washing, if you are the woman of the house. Then the food is ready. That is the Monday meal. Friday, of course, do you know what you eat in New Orleans on friday? Fish on Fridays; you have to eat fish. Some of those traditions have held over, many restaurants down there will fix red beans and rice on Mondays because of that tradition. For some reason, Monday was wash day. Tuesday was ironing because you had to iron what you washed. Friday was the day to clean house. They spent a lot of time cleaning; it was rough. I mean boiling pots of water to wash your clothes in, that can't be fun work. The way he describes it here it sounds like Eden. Oh for the good ole days, back when you had unpaved streets. People just walked around with giant piles of clothes on their heads.
Soon we get in to the specifics of Nancy and her husband, Jesus.
What is their relationship like is it idyllic?
Why? What is Jesus so upset about?
He can't even go into the white man's kitchen, but where can the white man go? In his house?
Specifically the bedroom.
Who's been sleeping with his wife? Mr. Stovall, Mr. Stovall hasn't been paying her for their times together. So, the washing is not all she's been taking in, she's been sleeping around with at least Mr. Stovall on the basis of I'm going to pay you for sex.
What does Mr. Stovall think about this? When
she starts asking him for what he owes her? Is he really happy?
No, he knocks her teeth out.
What was he so mad about?
Do whatever you want to, but nobody can find it out. This is an old southern custom, right? This tradition has created a constitutional crisis because Mr. Clinton, like any southern gentleman, did not tell about his little affair. If you sin, you don't tell people about them, you cover them up. Well this a deeply rooted Southern tradition: you go to church on Sunday, you're a Baptist Deacon, and you sing in the choir, and you are altogher respectable. You do your sinning, but you do it quietly. One of the other English teachers is from North Dakota, and she studies Southern culture. She came to the conclusion that a lot of our friends from south Louisiana get into trouble when they come to Tech, because they aren't aware of the this tradition of this part of the south. You know, down in Cajun country you walk thru the city streets as though you don't care who owns the town. You do what you want to. Who cares what I do, it's my own business? Up here, you have to know how to hide things. So you go in your room you'll be drinking, partying, or smoking a little weed, having men visitors over at times that they are not supposed to be there. Students from the area know you have to sneak off to do these things. So, Mr. Stovall is part of this deeply rooted Southern tradition of sneaking around.
What's the 11th commandment?
Don't get caught. Mr. Stovall has gotten caught and so he knocked her teeth out.
So, he's not only an adulterer. He's white and she's black,
and there were all these anti-miscegenation laws.
What was the focus of these laws?
Interracial marriage, interracial dating, other things like that; the races were not to be socially mixed, especially in marriage. Until the 60s, in the South, it would be illegal for blacks and whites to get married; The 1960s, not the 1860s. These laws cast a profound shadow. Interracial dating was considered sort of a perversion if you will, the way many people still think about homosexuals. Mr. Stovall, down at the bank! How will he ever be able to look anyone in the face again down there?
The relationship with Jesus deteriorates after Nancy gets out of jail. Jesus gets angry because she's been sleeping around, and he doesn't know whose baby this is.
What is her response to this?
She is worried that he might beat her up.
What does she do to try to protect herself? Keeps
around the family as much as she can. She is always afraid he'll come back
to get her. You don't know if he ever will. Faulkner just leaves it hanging
doesn't he? This is, also, from the perspective of the kids. They are a
limited narrator, they have a limited understanding of what's going on,
perhaps, more than what adults give them credit for. Remember this is a
time when sexual matters aren't discussed in front of polite company period,
much less with the kids so they are getting a real introduction here. To
the way life is.
The Snopes are an interesting family, aren't they? Faulkner does a lot with the Snopes family. In general, there are people who have written articles on the Snopes family. There are people who have written articles on the Snopes family and have tried to trace out their genealogy. This is sort of a minor branch of the family. We see the family as a whole. The individual in it rising from poverty to try to make something of themselves. We never really see what happens to Sarti in subsequent stories. I don't think he picks up with Sarti again.
What is their social standing? What does his dad do
for a living?
Abner--sharecropping, that is about as low as you can be in the society.
What would they call these people?
White trash, exceedingly poor white trash. They go from one house to another, from one farm to another. The tradition is if you're a sharecropper the planter owns the land, and then you work it.
What does he supply and what do you supply?
He supplies the land, seed, fertilizer; you supply the labor.
How do you divide up the crops?
I think it was 50/50.
What does Abner think about this division? Is he accepting
Does hatred take the from of ice? What form does it
take for him?
Fire.Think of the long, hot Mississippi summer without air conditioners. Last summer we had 6 months where it hit 100 degrees sometime during the month, from May on to September. Imagine it without air conditioners. Then there are all the sermons you would hear growing up at the revivals.
What are the preachers preaching about? Hellfire
and brimstone. So, fire is in our blood, it boils; it burns. You can see
the fire in this man, the rage at his position in society.
Now does he bear any responsibility for his position
in society? The fact that he never did any better off than he did?Does
he put himself there? Here is a man, who snarls at you if you try to
What is the first thing he does when he comes in to the big white house? Keep in question he will be working for this man and what does he do when he goes in the door? He wipes horse manure on the rug. He comes in the house spreading horse manure on the floor and rug. It's like a dog urinating on a tree saying this is my territory. We get a lot of this in baseball. What the deal is with the spitting is that, you are marking your territory. You come up to the plate and spit. You claim this is my territory, my area. We've got to come to terms with our animal roots, I suppose, but he comes in here, wipes off his feet, and it is a way of dishonoring these people and showing his disrespect. If you get this kind of stuff on your feet, you don't try to go around spreading this around, unless you're trying to insult others. He brings problems on himself, nevertheless he is rather low down on the social totem pole.
For him, who are you loyal to?
The family. What he is telling Sarty, the lessons that he is giving him, is that family comes first. The only people you can rely on are the people riding in the same wagon. You can't rely on the people outside to be nice to you; they aren't going to put clothes on you back and food on your table. Us against the world so we have to stick together. The main value to him is sticking his personal loyalty to me, I am the dad. You have to do what I say and stick with me and tell people what I want you to tell them. That is, lie for me. On the other hand, there are other values that Sarti finds attractive.
What is his response when he see the rich man's house?
Is he full of bitterness and hostility?
He wants me to make him richer; that's how Dad responds.
What does Sarty do when he sees this?
He has never seen anything like this before. My mother was recently in south Mississippi, in McComb. She was in this service station and a couple of girls came in and one was showing the other, hey, look you can push the button on this box and hot air comes out. They had been introduced to the wonder of the hand-dryer in the bathroom. They don't have this kind of stuff at home. He was impressed. He found something he had never seen before. His father sees it as something to hate. Sardy sees it and to him is a glimpse into another life. Notice not necessarily barred to him. Abner knows he is on the outside, that he'll never be living in this house. Sarty sees it, and it shows him a world of possibility and part of this is due to age. You know if the old man is not here yet and he never will be, but Sarty is just starting out.
What about the idea of the truth? Is Sarti comfortable
about lying for his family?
For him there is a value to society. That there is a duty to the group, not just to your family. So your duty goes beyond this immediate circle of family. He has a duty to the rich man to tell him something.
What does he go to a great personal risk to tell the guy? That his barn is burning, and my dad is setting your barn on fire. They all go out to put out the fire.
What does Sarty have to do at that point? What is the
consequence of that choice? What does he have to do after he tells the
guy his barn is burning down? Where does he go?
He runs away. This is it for his family life. He is on his own now. Again, a more of a parallel of American culture. The boy is running away to becoming a man. This is one of our great American fables or stories. It happens over and over in various stories of both real and fictional. He goes off to become his own kind of man.
What does his father think about it?
He knows that Sarty is different.
Does he encourage Sarty to be a better person than he was? What kind of man is Abner like?
Huck's father, Pap, was like this, burning with hostility and resentment as much toward his own kinfolks as anybody else. When Pap saw Huck rising up in the world, and he was not able to take advantage of it, he couldn't be happy for his son that he was doing good. Here again is a man resentful if his children ever rose to a higher level than he was.
What does the judge decide? Is Abner going to
have to pay for the whole cost of this rug?
Not even half he says okay we have to average out Major De Spain claims it costs a $100. October corn will be worth about 50 cents. He figures if Major De Spain can spend a $95 loss on something he paid cash for. Abner can stand a $5 loss on something he hasn't. Basically he says Major De Spain is rich, so I'm going to make him pay $95 of this and you only have to pay $5. This is not something you would find in the modern legal system. It would stand against you, and it would be up to Major De Spain for him to collect.
Noblesse Oblige -- French for "nobility obligates." You are obliged if you are noble. As a lower class person in society there are many things that you owe the person above you. In this old southern way of looking at things, there are also things that those above owe those below them. You just don't go and close a plant down and throw a thousand people out of work just because you can get cheaper workers in Taiwan. You have an obligation to the ones who have been working for you faithfully over those years, so there is more than an economic relationship between the companies. They are trying to move back to that because there is a shortage of labor. They are finding that the young people getting out have zero company loyalty. If you offer me $20 more dollars a week to go to for you. I'll go do it. Why? because I know this company I'm working for doesn't have a bit of noblesse oblige I know they don't have any loyalty to me. Then when the down turn comes you'll cut me off in a split second, so I'm not going to stick with you either. This is an earlier era a different view on things. So Major De Spain has to deal with his noblesse oblige. This man tore up a hundred dollar rug, but I can only charge him $5 for it, because I'm so much richer than him. I can afford the expense, whereas he can't. We get a little insight into a rather big part of the southern culture. If you had more, you had responsiblity to use for the benefit of others as well as to your own good.
Edited by Group 1: Winter 1999 English 303-02