“As I Lay Dying,” So Does My Family: Profanity and Kinship in Faulkner’s Novel

April 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying presents an aggressive view of an unusual family. The Bundren family’s mother figure, Addie, dies. While transporting her body to Jackson for burial, the remaining six family members struggle to make it alive, uninjured, and in time so that the corpse stops rotting and smelling. Jewel, one of the elder brothers, remains the most determined and attached to their mother throughout their odyssey. However, he vocally and violently confronts those involved in transporting his mother in any way, including his family. During the journey, Jewel’s usage of the aggressive phrase “son of a bitch” illustrates the reverse ideas of familial relationships in the Bundren family as well as an inability to differentiate between animals and humans.

Jewel’s primary use for swearing is to refer to members of his family. When lifting the coffin, he refers to Cash as a “goddamn…think-nosed soul”, calling him “son of a bitch” while they try to keep it balanced (96). At the same time, Darl taunts Jewel when they go to get supplies to bring Addie to Jefferson. He retaliates through swearing as well (40). Jewel never uses this term for any other family members, leaving it for Cash and Darl. “Bitch,” by technical definition, is a female dog. Animals and their images present themselves throughout the book, with dogs appearing at all times. Jewel himself “looked like one of these bulldogs, one of these dogs that don’t bark none” (235). Using this, if Cash and Darl are “sons of bitches,” then they are no different from animals, just as Jewel is. They are all merely puppies in a litter, young animals who cannot control themselves in an appropriate manner. This shows that if they are no different from animals, then the older Bundren brothers have no need to act like humans. In doing so, they do not have to follow human or societal ideology, but can create and follow their own, explaining the weird behaviors of the three: Darl’s ability to just “know” things, Jewel’s stoic and “wooden behavior”, and Cash’s illogical logic.

However, Addie is clearly their mother by genetics. Since they are self-consciously construed as “sons of a bitch,” that “bitch” is Addie. Addie is only a female dog, further blurring the line between animal and human in the Bundrens’ minds. Vardaman’s “mother is a fish” (84), while “‘Jewel’s mother is a horse’” despite being the same person (101). They are not able to differentiate between the variations in thinking and perception, but make it clear that because they are all related. Then, there is no way the siblings cannot be dogs themselves. Despite despising one another, they are all the same at a genetic and very primal level. Consequently, the line blurs between animal and human, continuing to make the humans animalistic while the animals remain themselves or more humanoid. In this way, the dogs as a pack are a family with a distinct pecking order. The leader of the family casts them out or to the bottom if they do not obey, like Jewel, or they must follow Anse’s rules. Even though he is useless, he rules the Bundren “pack”. Addie herself is also a bitch in the insulting sense of the term. She had Jewel, who isn’t Anse’s child, just to spite her husband. Jewel is her “jewel”, making Jewel specifically her “son of a bitch.” The negative term is a positive enforcement for all of them, building the family relations and showing how they connect and relate in an animalistic, pack-like way.

But, the only ones referred to as “sons of bitches” are the older males in the Bundren family. Dewey Dell and Vardaman are not referred to or cussed out using “son of a bitch”. This is because neither of those children are Addie’s, in a belonging sense of the term. Addie “gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel” (176).Dewey Dell is not Addie’s, because she gave her to Anse as replacement for her own personal child, her son. Vardaman isn’t hers either, because while Dewey cancelled out Jewel, Addie “gave [Anse] Vardaman to replace the child [she] had robbed him of” (176). In doing so, they are not her sons, because Dewey is female, and because Addie gives Anse both of them. Addie does not actually want them. However, the genetic relation is still prominent, though not through Jewel’s cussing. Vardaman continues to draw Addie as another animal in his mind. She is instead a fish to Vardaman, because he doesn’t belong to her; he is not a “son of a bitch” as a dog, but is still related in a different way. Vardaman can make the familial connections, stating that “Cash is [his] brother” (195), “Jewel is [his] brother” (210), and “Darl is [his] brother” (249). Because Vardaman draws these conclusions, he is indirectly a “son of a bitch,” so that such wording indicates his relationship to everyone in his family while remaining disconnected through animalistic images.

The Bundrens are all “sons of bitches,” in some manner or another. While being directly called so by Jewel, Cash and Darl then can intrinsically use this information. They do not have to act as what is considered “normal”, drawing in Cash’s animalistic logicality while Darl’s insights remain a more natural occurrence than the family itself. Thus, Faulkner’s narrative highlights her more animalistic or unusual, non-human instincts, such as revenge on Anse or the similar logical calculations she makes to negate her illegitimate child. However, as Dewey and Vardaman are not figuratively hers, they are not “sons (or daughters) of bitches,” meaning that they are not only not called that, but are not as prominently weird as the others. The usage of the term “bitch” invokes the animalistic image of the elder Bundrens, showing their connection as well as the dissonance between the other members of the family.

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