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William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

The action of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is simple: Addie Bundren dies; and in answer to her wishes, the body is taken for burial to Jefferson, some forty miles away. But the weather intervenes, and floodwaters require that the cortege take detours. Some nine days pass before the coffin, which before long clearly announces its passing to neighboring places, is finally laid to rest. These days involve battling flood water and a fire set by one of the children, the threat of buzzards, the hazards of a broken leg, and other incidental losses and disasters.

In the end, after Addie is buried, her bereaved husband appears with the second Mrs. Bundren. She brings with her a gramophone as dowry, and the Bundren family is once again reunited, with the exception of Darl, who has been sent to the state hospital. Faulkner exposed the Bundren family to two of the greatest disasters known to man: Flood and Fire. But As I Lay Dying is not merely a story of disasters or of a mission nobly achieved in spite of serious difficulties. Nor is it simply a comedy of horrors. Whatever it has of biblical or legendary suggestiveness is a matter of inference.

Primarily the novel is a psychological study of several perspectives upon truth, and the truth in this case is not dying, but the circumstances of being born and of the living. This interpretation of the novel makes Addie imperatively its center. It is her consciousness and her memory of the Bundren past that makes the narrative passages of her family what they are: reflections in both style and point of view of the place of each Bundren in the whole. Addie has only one monologue to herself, but it is the key to the novel. It is ironically placed in the external action after her son, Jewel, has rescued her coffin from floodwaters.

The monologue occurs “as I lay dying,” but it is revealed to us that she lay dead, her will still powerfully dictating the acts and temperaments of her children. As the passage begins, Addie remembers her life as a schoolgirl before her marriage to Anse. To get away from the hateful school she took Anse; and she shortly discovered, with the birth of their first child, that “living was terrible and that this was no answer to it. That was when I learned that that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say. Faulkner AILD pg. 171).

These words she remembers are Anse’s, and Anse remains a man of words, who shunts aside with words and folk pieties all responsibilities to act. But Cash, the first-born, who arrived before the dissolution of Addie’s love and trust, proves a reliable, practical, and a sensible person; in a sense the folk-hero of the novel. Cash’s birth was the dividing line in Addie’s relationship with her husband. She now knew “that we had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam. AILD pg. 172).

But she is further embittered in the second birth: “Then I found that I had Darl… It was as though Anse had tricked me, hidden within a word like within a paper screen and struck me in the back through it”. (AILD pg. 172) Her bitterness over the trick is translated into hostility for Darl, who becomes the most vocal, the most strangely upset, and eventually destructive member of the family. His acts and his words are both desperate stratagems to assert himself as a member of the human race and of the family.

The rhetoric of Darl’s words and the violence of his acts are a direct result of the circumstances of his birth. At this point Addie fully realizes “how words go straight up in a thin line and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other. “(AILD pg. 173) She severs all meaningful relationship with her husband, “And then he died. He did not know he was dead. “(AILD pg. 174) and she has an affair with the preacher, Whitfield, also a man of words.

Jewel is the result, a bastard son. The birth of Jewel is a consequence of her testing the word sin against the act of it. The act is vitiated because Whitfield does not deeply participate in it, but Jewel becomes to her the only real son, the only one not associated with Anse. To Jewel Addie entrusts her salvation, which is to mean the successful progress of her coffin to the family grave in Jefferson. Before she died, she had said to Cora Tull, an imperceptive and smugly righteous neighbor, that Jewel “is my cross and he will be my salvation.

He will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me”. (AILD pg. 168)Jewel does just this. He is a man of few words, and he believes in pure act. As I Lay Dying’s great dramatic conflict has nothing to do with Anse’s fulfilling his mission or is only incidentally concerned with it. It is essentially a novel of the tensions between Darl and Jewel, the one an unwanted and the other an illegitimate son. About the other children, Addie says, “I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel.

Then I gave him Vardaman to replace the child I had robbed him of. And now he has three children that are his and not mine. And then I could get ready to die. “Addie’s monologue is brilliantly explanatory. The peculiarities of the style and the strange shifts of actions are dissolved in the light of Addie’s control over her children’s status and their response to it. It is fitting also that Vardaman and Dewey Dell should become close in the end to Darl’s position: They are all three children of Anse and only indifferently of Addie.

Vardaman’s style of monologue even approaches Darl’s, in spite of a disparity in their ages. Darl’s curious power to see beyond space and time barriers is also explained; his speculation upon being is directly related to his sense of isolation from his mother. Darl says, “I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. ” Jewel is in terms of Addie’s being; when Addie dies and is finally buried, Jewel’s is will become was.

But Darl’s existence depends on his breaking through that being; and when he fails, he fails altogether of being and goes off to the house of schizophrenics in Jackson, where the disparity of being and not being will not matter. The affairs of the Bundren’s are seen in the alternating bright glare and fitful light of their divergent conciousnesses. So far as they are concerned, their eccentricities are sufficiently explained. But it all comes together with Addie’s chapter. Her monologue is the needle that ties up many loose ends. Faulkner essentially uses her to put everything together. Addie is Faulkner’s glue.

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StudyBoss » William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

William Faulkners As I Lay Dying

Fulfilling a promise they had made to their mother, Addie, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, in William Faulkners As I Lay Dying, journey across the Mississippi countryside to bring her body to be buried in Jefferson, alongside her immediate family. Each one, in turn, narrates the events of this excursion as they are perceived. Though all of the family members are going through the same experiences, each one expresses what they see and how they feel by exercising their individual powers and limitations of language.

What each character says as ell as how he/she says it gives insight into that characters underlying meanings. Darl, for example, uses his linguistic skills to gain power as narrator. He possesses the ability to pick up on things unsaid and to read other peoples actions. Dewey Dell describes his intuitiveness when she says that he said he knew without the words, and I knew he knew because if he had said he knew with words I would not have believedand thats why I can talk to him with knowing with hating with because he knows (27).

He uses his gift of realizing things without them having to actually be told to him to ain credibility with the reader. Who would doubt a narrator who possesses that type of adroitness? Also, his language is clear and reflective. He uses similes and metaphors and appears to have an acute awareness of spatial relationships. Darls sophisticated perception and poetic linguistics give him the means of reaching for and maintaining his role as a competent observer and reporter. However, his position does create certain problems for his siblings. Tull describes Darls look as being uncanny. He is looking at me.

He dont say nothing; just looks at me with them ueer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. Its like he had got into the inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doing outen his eyes. (125) It is the same penetrating gaze that gives Darl so much power that makes the others around him so uncomfortable, especially Dewey Dell. She feels that his strange knowledge of what has not been said is an invasion of her privacy. The land runs out of Darls eyes; they swim to pin points.

They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone: I sit naked on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail (121). If Dewey Dell interprets his knowing as crossing some personal boundary that she created then that would explain her fantasizing about killing Darl and why she reported his setting fire to the barn. In fact, everything about Dewey Dell is extremely personal. Whereas her brothers report what happened, she tells how she feels about it. She uses language not as a means of describing but rather as expressing. He could do so much for me if he just would.

He could do everything for me. Its like everything in the world for me is inside a tub full of guts, so that you wonder how there can be any room in it for anything else very important. He is a big tub of guts and I am a little tub of guts and if there is not any room for anything else important in a big tub of guts, how can it be room in a little tub of guts. But I know it is there because God gave women a sign when something has happened bad. (58) She is not describing the sun as poised like a bloody gg upon a crest of thunderheads (40) like Darl would or explaining how to do something in a step by step manner like Cash.

Dewey Dell is attempting to express her confusion and her fears. She is a young girl who became pregnant and doesnt know what to do about it. She knows she cant tell her family and she has no means of taking are of herself. Instead of using language to describe the world around her, she uses it to show how she feels on the inside. Language is a personal thing to Dewey Dell and though she does not possess Darls polished quality of speaking, she emonstrates its power as well as he does. Cash, like Darl, uses language as a means of gaining authority.

He begins the novel as not having any control because Darl possessed the role of narrator. His first narration is in the form of a list. The second and third are not even complete thoughts because nobody takes him seriously. He has no power as a narrator; he is simply a character. It is not until Darl goes insane, losing his role. The weight of that role is then passed onto Cash who, in his last two narrations, finally has the ability to tell things as he sees them. Language has importance to Cash in of itself. It gives him what he previously lacked – the simple right to express what he thinks.

Sometimes I aint so sho whos got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. Its like it aint so much what a fellow does, but its like the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it. (233) Whereas language is a power to Darl, Dewey Dell, and Cash, it is a limitation to their mother. She feels that ords made up to describe certain experiences are inadequate to the experiences themselves.

She says that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at (171). Phrases like motherhood and love according to Addie, are completely separate from what they actually mean; they are simply tools. How could the balding man wearing glasses who spent hours staring at the alphabet to spell out the word pride know that thats what a mother would feel when shes watching her child act out the lead part in the school play? And how could that brilliant young woman just out of college ossibly understand the word death.

It has no meaning to her – it is only a term used to describe the transition from living to nonliving. Language is crucial to all of Addies children, except Jewel, to mark who they are but it is experience that matters to their mother. The power and limitation of language can be used to explore different perspectives of the same events. Although Darl, Dewey Dell, Cash, and Addie all saw the same things, they each use different methods of expressing them to portray what is important. The funcion of language is different for each character but plays an equal part for each.

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