As I lay dying by William Faulkner tells the story of the death of Addie Bundren and the trials her family undergoes as they carry her body to Jefferson, Mississippi, for her burial. Addie’s husband, Anse; her four sons, Cash, Darl, Jewel and Vardaman; her, daugter Dewey Dell; and several neighbors all reveal their relationship to Addie in the course of the story. A series of mishaps besets the family; in crossing a flooding river. The mules drown, Cash’s leg is broken, and the coffin is upset and rescued by Jewel.
Later, in the story the family rests at a farmhouse, where Darl sets fire to the barn, in an attempt to destroy the now-putrescent corpse; again the coffin is rescued by Jewel. The family reaches Jefferson to bury Addie; Karl is taken to the insane asylum, and Anse acquires a new wife. It is revealed in the course of the narrative that Jewel was born of Addies illicit affair with Whitfield, who is local preacher.
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Addie’s relationship to Anse had been spiritually and emotionally barren of feelings, and was based on words alone. Significally, Jewel is a silent man and is active and passionate, while Darl is sensitive and is perceptive, as he is living inside the world of his own mind.
The story unfolds in some sixty short sections, each labeled with the name of the character who is to narrate his or her thoughts and perceptions next. Like THE SOUND AND THE FURY, Faulkner, utilizes the stream of conscious technique. AS I LAY DYING is a grim story of the ordeals of fire and water, the novel is often called comic, ending with the new wife, who is “Duck-shaped” and popeyed. The point of view in Faulkner’s AS I LAY DYING I find is an experiment in narrative Page 2 writing. The language in which Faulkner utilizes with each character as they turns
narrating the story is highly subjective and highly. Each character having a recognizable change in their individual voice. Each character lends a different characteristic to their section from confessional to a stream of consciousness. The novel itself is a collection of inner monologues, which consists of fragmented passages that piece together Addie Brundren’s story of her death and the transport of her body to Jefferson. The story demonstrates unity, although the narrative appears fragmentary. The story is limited to the p of only a few days, and the sub-plots are interwoven
logically. It is to the reader’s advantage that the authors innovative unified set of events forces the reader to look at the story from different perspectives, from which are highly subjective. Faulkner made use some of this technique first in THE SOUND OF THE FURY. However in AS I LAY DYING, he provides the reader with an even greater range of voices. Additionally, THE SOUND AND THE FURY, also provides a clearer distinction between reliable and unreliable sources. The voices in AS I LAY DYING are many and ambiguous. Darl is the first narrator and most important of the novel. He is also
sensitive, intuitive, and intelligent. His monologues are more eloquent and represent the most intricate representation of the process of thought. Some of the other interior monologues are straightforward, except Darl’s, which is more of a stream-of- consciousness. One of the challenges of the novel is the complete absence of an objective perspective. All we learn about the characters in the novel is told to us through the eyes of a subjective narrator, because of Darl’s sensitivity and isolation from the other Page 3 characters involved in the story. The readers relay on his version of the events happening
in the story. Darl is eloquent and intelligent and is also isolated. Isolation plays a recurring role in the novel. The novels unique structure highlights the characters isolation. An example of this is when Darl tells the readers what he alone can observe, and his isolation is the most poetic and the most tragic. The readers feel, from the very first section, the strong sensory and sensual images in Faulkner’s novel. Although the novel takes the form of interior monologues, each character in the novel is powerfully influenced, in their own way by the physicality of their own place in the world.
The place in society, women have during the time of the novel are pieus, Isolated, lonely and annoying to the reader and the other characters in the book. Dewey’s Dell isolation is apparent in her narrative. The only daughter of the family, Addie’s death leaves her as the sole female. This role might explain the possessiveness she feels as she watches over Addie. She is lonely, isolated and is suffering from it. Some part of her excepts and enjoys this isolation. She resents and fears Darl because he intuitively understands her isolation and can see her secrets. Dewey Dell seems partial to Darl most
of the time. Both enjoy a closeness and love that is evident to the others in the family. However, she voices resentment in the first section; that explains her actions later in The in the novel. “And That’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows. ” (23) In the character of Cora Tull, Cora’s self-righteous and irritating piety comes through clearly. Her daughter Kate seems healthier in comparison as she complains Page 4 about the insensitivity of the rich. Cora’s attitude of acceptance seems kind at first, however turning out to be self-righteous and angry in the end.
Cora continues to tell the reader about the cakes, thinking about them again without reason and continuing to take comfort in the power of God “Who can see into the heart. ” (4) Cora’s interior monologue is she does not have to judge the rich because God will. Kate, and Eula are preoccupied with Cash, Darl, and Jewel and the possibility of future matrimony. Kate speaks with some scorn about Jewel’s fiery nature. Kate also speaks with scorn about Anse, predicting that if Addie dies Anse will find a new wife before cotton-picking time. Darl narrates the death of Addie Brundren.
He tells the readers that Addie wanted to see Jewel. Anse informs her Jewel and Darl have gone off to ship lumber. Addie calls out to Cash, he fits two boards together for her to see. She looks at Vardaman, and it seems as if the light leaps back into her eyes, then suddenly goes dead. Weeping hysterically, Dewey Dell throws herself on her mother’s dead body while Vardaman, terrified, slips out from his mother’s room. Religion plays a role in these characters lives by way of the author who is critical of the religious characters of the book in a sense they are often blinded by their
own piety. Many of the characters muse about God and man throughout the novel. Faulkner seems to be critical of simplistic Christianity. Eg: Minister Whitfield is revealed as a self-satisfied hypocrite who is hiding his transgression with Addie and yet is maintains that he has wrestled with devil and won. Cora’s piety grows increasing annoying throughout the novel especially when it becomes clear she ignores any fact which will contradict her beliefs. The Tulls and Peabody’s provide valuable outsider Page 5 perspective. They universally condemn Anse, for his laziness and weakness. Tull
notes that one can always tell Anse shirts apart: “There are no sweat stains, the implication being that Anse never works. ” (27) Meanwhile the Bundren’s opinions vary. Cora is extremely fond of Darl, she sees a sensibility and gentleness in him than any other Bundren. So much so that she seems to have illusions about him. She believes he begged to stay with Addie instead of delivering the lumber. She claims in her monologue that Vernon had told her too, while in Vernon’s own monologue we get the exchange with Darl. As Vernon’s Tull’s monologue depicts it, Darl hesitates and seems sad about
leaving while Addie dies, however he does not beg. This example highlights the complexity of the characters In AS I LAY DYING. The readers listen to the strong opinions of how each character feels about the other. Interior monologue is usually emphasized far more than dialogue. While dialogue is used to reveal the way the characters would provide more objective evidence, we would lose the psychological complexity of the character portraits. Faulkner depicts the structure of what the novel suggests, real intimacy and tenderness are close to impossible in the Bundren family.
Work and reality of poverty darken all aspects of life, hope, and longing are always expressed alone. The family lives in squalor with cramped conditions, and yet isolation is one of the families trademark. For eg: Darl reflects on his boyhood, and the first time he’s masturbated. Cash is sleeping not a few feet away, however Darl does not know if Cash is doing the same thing. Solitary masturbation in the dark is the only glimpse we get of Darl’s and sexuality. Addie’s death reminds us again of the harshness of rural poverty. The Page 6 themes of poverty and work run through the novel.
Motherhood depicted in the novel is is life-destroying venture, without life or happiness. Peabody says of Addie and her fierce unspoken insistence that he leave the room: “Seem them women like Addie, drive from the room them coming with sympathy and pity, with actual help, and clinging to Trifling animal to which they never were more pack-horses” (41) Even more striking is the description of Addie’s hands. “The hands alone still with any semblance life, are curled, gnarled inertness; a spent yet alone quality from which weariness, exhaustion, travail has not departed, as though they doubted even yet
the actuality of rest, guarding with horned and penurious alertness the cessation which they know cannot last. ” (46). Addie’s hands bear the mark of her hard life on Earth. Dewey Dell’s thoughts are very muddled in the book. She doesn’t speak with the complicated, and eccentricity of Darl, however instead in a voice near-hysterical with worry. Her mother’s death is deeply painful to Dewey Dell. She throws herself upon Addie’s dead body, with an unexpected intensity. She has lost her lover, who has abandoned her and left her pregnant. Dewey Dell’s isolation is clear however she is so
Used to being alone that she begins to resent people’s intrusions. Darl earns her resentment for example, because of how intimately he understands her. Even more Intrusive is the baby growing in her womb, which leads Dewey Dell to realize she must begin to worry about finding a way to end her pregnancy. The third section of the novel has Vardaman narrating. He is disturbed by the idea of shutting Addie up in the coffin. He speaks as if confused about the wonders of town and the mysteries of his mother’s death. He doesn’t understand he’s a country Page 7
boy and why there is a difference between the city life and the country life. He doesn’t understand the idea of death and his thoughts are confused when he compares Addie’s dead body to a dead fish. He feels the need to get Vernon, because he thinks Vernon saw the fish. A storm has began as Tull narrates. He is woken by Peabody’s passing team. Cora hears the noise and thinks Addie has passed. She wants to hitch up and go to help, but Tull prefers to wait until they are called. Vardaman, arrives at the door dripping wet and speaking incoherently about fish. His babbling is strange and eerie, and
Tull shares in the reader’s reaction. “I’ll be durn if it didn’t give me the creeps. ” (63). Both Vardaman and Darl are taken by questions of being, consciousness, and identity. His mother’s death has only added confusion to these questions; Vardaman does not understand how something that “is” can become a “was. ” In other words destructive power of time. The terror of morality, and the mystery of no longer ceasing to exit on Earth becomes it is too much to handle for Vardaman. In his mind, his mother has become something else. Vardaman, turns death into a transformation. Eg: his mother is a fish.
He imagines her as a rabbit, because she has gone far away, just like rabbits. He is also disturbed by the fact that they are going to eat the fish. Vardaman struggles to find teleology for the events around him. He tries to connect what happens to reasons, when in fact often things happen for no good reason at all. He blames his mother’s death on Peabody, because he believes Peabody’s arrival preceded his mother’s death. His reasoning though clearly incorrect, however it is much more reasonable than the rest of the characters explanations and thoughts in the novel. Reference Site: AS I LAY DYING By William Faulkner.
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