Places: Requiem for a Nun

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1951

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedJefferson

Jefferson. Requiem for a NunFictional town based on Faulkner’s hometown of Oxford, in the northeastern part of Mississippi. In several novels and stories, he created his own microcosm, his own “little postage stamp of native soil.” Although his mythical county bears considerable resemblance to the real locale, he altered certain details involving chronology and individual characters. Recurrent locales and characters, such as Temple Drake and Gavin and Gowan Stevens, link this to other Yoknapatawpha fiction, especially the earlier novel Sanctuary (1931). By tracing the history of the town and its buildings in the narratives between the acts, Faulkner makes it clear how significant place is in his fiction, particularly in this novel. Both the courthouse and the jail figure in Sanctuary and are again employed as settings here.


Courthouse. Act 1 of the play is introduced by a prose narrative titled “The Courthouse (A Name for the City)” that is designed to establish the significance of the place as more than a mere backdrop for the story. In this section, Faulkner traces the history of Jefferson, Mississippi, from its founding, near the beginning of the nineteenth century, to the time of the narrative. The courthouse was constructed some thirty years after the town was founded. The narrative sets the stage for the first scene of the play, which occurs in the courtroom in which Nancy Mannigoe, Temple and Gowan’s servant, has been tried and condemned to death for the murder of their child. The second and third scenes of the act take place in the modern living room of Temple and Gowan’s apartment in an antebellum home in Jefferson.


*Jackson. Capital of Mississippi. The narrative section that introduces act 2, titled “The Golden Dome (Beginning Was the Word),” is devoted to the history of Mississippi in general and the capital, Jackson, in particular. “The Golden Dome” is a reference to the state capitol building. Scenes 1 and 3 are set in the governor’s office in the capitol. Faulkner’s stage directions describe the set as suspended above the stage, since it symbolizes “the still higher, the last, the ultimate seat of judgment.” The second scene, a flashback to a time before the murder, occurs in Temple’s private rooms in the apartment she shares with Gowan.

Jefferson jail

Jefferson jail. The opening narrative of act 3 is “The Jail (Nor Even Yet Quite Relinquish–),” in which Faulkner continues the history of his fictional town of Jefferson. He uses the jail as a symbol not only for the growth of the community but also for the changes in the United States during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth. The third act’s one scene takes place in the common room of the jail on the day before Nancy Mannigoe is to be hanged for the murder of Temple and Gowan’s child. The almost medieval appearance of the jail serves as an ideal backdrop for the tragic story of Nancy, the child, and his parents.

BibliographyBlotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. A comprehensive biography of Faulkner, which includes a historical discussion of his ancestors, his development as a writer, and the genesis of his work. An excellent beginning source.Izard, Barbara, and Clara Hieronymous. “Requiem for a Nun”: Onstage and Off. Nashville, Tenn.: Aurora, 1970. Traces the evolution of the text, its sources and the French adaptation by Albert Camus, and the performances of the dramatic portion of the novel in Germany, Greece, and Great Britain.Polk, Noel. Faulkner’s “Requiem for a Nun”: A Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981. An exhaustive analysis of the novel that draws on the academic scholarship generated by the work and by Faulkner’s career.Polk, Noel. Requiem for a Nun: A Concordance to the Novel. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board, 1979. Establishes a critical tool of immense value to those who wish to examine the novel in depth and detail.Ruppersburg, Hugh M. Voice and Eye in Faulkner’s Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983. A fine, detailed, but easily accessible overall introduction to the study of the novel.Watson, Jay. Forensic Fictions: The Lawyer Figure in Faulkner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993. In chapter 5, “Maieutic Forensics: Or, Requiem for a Nun and the Talking Cure,” the author focuses on the role of Gavin Stevens, Faulkner’s quintessential lawyer.
Categories: Places