That Evening Sun by William Faulkner, 1931
The magic trick:
The use of Jason in the story
Among the many, many, many fascinating magic tricks in this story, I’m most intrigued by Faulkner’s presentation of Jason, the narrator’s youngest brother. He is possibly the most annoying child in all of literature. He bickers with his siblings; he is unspeakably rude to Nancy, the black woman who helps tend his family’s house; and he has a knack for talking when he should not.
His yapping could be written off as background noise in the story, if not plain old attempts at comic relief. But come on, this is William Faulkner, folks. Jason’s behavior is not thrown into the story for fun and games.
Consider the way he talks to Nancy. He is too young to even know what he’s saying. Clearly then he’s only parroting things he’s heard adults say. His racist talk represents the feelings of the adults in the community. He even says as much early in the story when he accuses Nancy of being drunk: “Father says you’re drunk. Are you drunk, Nancy?”
He also fixates on the notion of bravery. He wants badly to prove to his siblings that he isn’t afraid of anything, especially walking outside after dark. Well, this is a critical foil to Nancy, whose fear is at the heart of the story. The fact that Jason repeatedly defends his bravery by claiming “I ain’t a (n-word),” further highlights this direct connection to Nancy’s fear.
It is truly remarkable that Faulkner could so thoroughly understand both sides of the racial divide in Mississippi like he did – in the 1930s no less. Even more amazing: he vilifies a would-be innocent, little kid to make his point. Haunting stuff. And that’s quite a trick on Faulkner’s part.
“I ain’t crying,” Nancy said. Her eyes were closed. “I ain’t crying. Who is it?”
“I don’t know,” Caddy said. She went to the door and looked out. “We’ve got to go now,” she said. “Her comes father.”
“I’m going to tell,” Jason said. “Yawl made me come.”
The water still ran down Nancy’s face. She turned in her chair. “Listen. Tell him. Tell him we going to have fun. Tell him I take good care of yawl until the morning. Tell him to let me come home with yawl and sleep on the floor. Tell him I won’t need no pallet. We’ll have fun. You member last time how we had so much fun?”
“I didn’t have fun,” Jason said. “You hurt me. You put smoke in my eyes. I’m going to tell.”