As I Lay Dying
As I Lay Dying: How Does Time Affect How Human Experience is Portrayed?
Change from past to present:
“”His mind is set on taking her to Jefferson,”” Quick said.
“”Then he better get at it soon as he can,”” Armstid said.
Anse meets us at the door. He has shaved, but not good. There is a long cut on his jaw, and he is wearing his Sunday pants and a white shirt with the neckband buttoned. It is drawn smooth over his hump, making it look bigger than ever, like a white shirt will, and his face is different too. He looks folks in the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed, shaking us by the hand as we walk up onto the porch and scrape our shoes, a little stiff in our Sunday clothes, our Sunday clothes rustling, not looking full at him as he meets us.
“”The Lord giveth,”” we say. (Faulkner 86)
After brief interaction with Peabody, Armstid and Co., Tull turns his attention to Anse and talks in present tense. By beginning with the past and switching to present, Faulkner indicates the melding of the past and present together to show how the human experience is not straightforward.
This also shows a change in the conscious mind. Sections narrated in past tense seem to show a disengagement to the events in the passage while parts in present tense show immediate engagement and interest.
In the beginning, Tull is simply listening and not really participating. However, when Anse enters the scene, Tull’s attention is captivated and seems to be physically experiencing it which is indicated by both the present tense and the amount of detail he describes Anse, He looks folks in the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed.
Here, Faulkner is breaking through traditional storytelling of linear time by presenting a story that consistently flashes back to the past. This method also provides a reader of an idea of the characters’ mentality as they experience life. Those reflected in the past show little interest by the narrator. Meanwhile, those in present tense show attentiveness to the situation.
Moreover, Tull is able to describe his encounter with Anse with sight, sound and feeling, indicating his awareness of the events. Imagery like scrape, shak[e] and rustle are audible and physical descriptions.
Through this, Faulkner shows that the human experience and memory does not follow strict past, present and future terms. Unimportant events in the mind remain in the background in the past and significant events are portrayed in the present. The talk among the men continues, but it is in the background and past tense.
He shifts time in accordance to the characters’ intensity.
- 0.1 PASSAGE 2-DEWEY DELL
- 0.2 PASSAGE 3-DARL
- 0.3 PASSAGE 4-DARL
- 0.4 PASSAGE 5-VARDAMAN
- 1.1 PASSAGE 6-DARL
- 1.2 PASSAGE 7-DARL
- 1.3 PASSAGE 8-TULL
- 1.4 PASSAGE 9-DARL
PASSAGE 2-DEWEY DELL
The signboard comes in sight. It is looking out at the road now, because it can wait. New Hope. 3 mi. It will say. New Hope. 3 mi. New Hope. 3 mi. Now it begins to say it. New Hope three miles. New Hope three miles.
That’s what they mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of
spreading bones, the hard girdle in which lie the outraged entrails of events (Faulkner 120-121)
Dewey Dell feels trapped in time, her monologues are mostly in harsh, present tense, indicating her consciousness frozen in the present. Unlike other characters in the book whose mind freely moves from past to present with each scenario, she is unable to do so which shows that her psyche is one of constant agony as the only woman in the family and one that is reminded by the baby in her belly.
She uses words like hard girdle and womb of time to show how she feels caged by her current situation and hopes to get it over with quickly. Her noting of New Hope three miles show her desperation to get to Jefferson, almost like she’s watching the seconds tick by on a clock, wishing for it to go faster but experiencing what seems like standstill in the wagon.
Since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. (Faulkner 80-81)
When Darl talks about empty[ing] [him]self, he is emptying himself into time and releasing his existence within time. However, since he has not done this, he continues to be an is, his physical and mental mind both in the present.
Darl tries to claim the nature of existence within time and finds himself becoming lost in the flux of time. He plays with is and was, which are signifiers of the passage of time, weighing each one and trying to understand their meaning. However, because of Darl’s inability to understand the concept of time and his existence within it, he is incapable of following time. By the end of the story, Darl is left without any identity in time, switching from past to present constantly and even to third person.
They pulled two seats together so Darl could sit by the window to laugh.
One of them sat beside him, the other sat on the seat facing him, riding backward. One of them had to ride backward because the state’s money has a face to each backside and a backside to each face, and they are riding on the state’s money which is incest.
The wagon stands on the square, hitched, the mules motionless, the reins wrapped
about the seat-spring, the back of the wagon toward the courthouse. It looks no
different from a hundred other wagons there; Jewel standing beside it and
looking up the street like any other man in town that day, yet there is
something different, distinctive.
During that passage, he mainly focuses on the past except when his mind pictures his family in Jefferson. This signifies his emotional mind wanting to be there but his physical state and mental mind are trapped in a cage in Jackson.
So in a sense, his loss of time and existence has separated his emotional mind from the rest of his mind, leaving him with no true nature of existence. To him, his past and present self are all melded into one being which is left without a cohesive identity and place in time.
At this time, Darl has accepted his fate of becoming a was and emptied himself of being an is. Thus, his emotional mind is left without a home because Darl has become a was while his physical body is still in the present and is left without the spiritual existence of Darl in it.
What does time say about the emotional self?
It was not her. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother. She went away when the other one laid down in her bed and drew the quilt up. She went away. “”Did she go as far as town?”” “”She went further than town.”” “”Did all those rabbits and possums go further than town?””… And so if Cash nails the box up, she is not a rabbit. And so if she is not a rabbit I couldn’t breathe in the crib and Cash is going to nail it up. And so if she lets him it is not her. I know. I was there. I saw when it did not be her. I saw. They think it is and Cash is going to nail it up.
It was not her because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now it’s all chopped up. I chopped it up. It’s laying in the kitchen in the bleeding pan, waiting to be cooked and et. Then it wasn’t and she was, and now it is and she wasn’t. And tomorrow it will be cooked and et and she will be him and pa and Cash and Dewey Dell and there wont be anything in the box and so she can breathe. It was laying right yonder on the ground. I can get Vernon. He was there and he seen it, and with both of us it will be and then it will not be. (Faulkner 66-67)
Vardaman can only comprehend things in the present because he cannot understand the passage of time. He reasons with himself how Addie came to be dead without comprehending her death. He explains to himself that Addie’s passing is not a passing at all but has merely left the scene, continues to live in the coffin, or has becomes the fish he caught. Vardaman’s belief of Addie still living within the coffin is shown when he tries to comprehend his mother in the coffin, explaining to himself that a rabbit couldn’t breathe in the crib. This eventually convinces him to drill holes into the coffin to allow her to breathe, signifying that Vardaman still believes his mother is living and does not understand that time has taken her away from him. This idea is also revealed when Vardaman excitedly asks Darl if he caught his mother, telling him You never got her. You knew she was a fish but you let her get away (Faulkner 151). To him, his mother is alive (in one way or another).
THE TIME OF OUR LIVES
Tull is in his lot. He looks at us, lifts his hand. We go on, the wagon creaking, the mud whispering on the wheels. Vernon still stands there. He watches Jewel as he passes, the horse moving with a light, high-kneed driving gait, three hundred yards back. We go on, with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it. (Faulkner 107-108)
Time is drifting away from the Bundrens, almost as if they are losing sight of the past present and future, very similar to how the book uses past, present and future tense freely to describe occurrences. It is almost as if they are stuck in time with soporific and dreamlike motion which seem to move uninferant of progress. Time, and its meaning within the book is decreasing.
The river itself is not a hundred yards across, and pa and Vernon and Vardaman and Dewey Dell are the only things in sight not of that single monotony of desolation leaning with, that terrific quality a little from right to left, as though we had reached the place where the motion of the wasted world accelerates just before the final precipice. Yet they appear dwarfed. It is as though the space between us were time: an irrevocable quality. It is as though time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs parallel between us like a looping string, tie distance being the doubling accretion of the thread and not the interval between. (146)
After watching the river swirl with impermanence and change, Darl creates a connection between the physical form he just witnessed and space and time. Like the river, it is forever changing
This passage speaks to the idea that time is not linear but varies by human experience. Time no longer run[s] straight but runs parallel with each character. Instead, it loops and turns much like the river they are crossing. Time ebbs and flows with each character.
Darl also describes distance as a double accretion of the thread. While accretion can mean a growth, it can also mean the accumulation of disparate fragments to make one whole, much like how the story is narrated not only with each person’s perspective but also time frame. Time flows differently for each character, some moving faster than others. But each time frame harmonize to tell a story with a beginning and an end.
The women sing again. In the thick air it’s like their voices come out of the air, flowing together and on in the sad, comforting tunes. When they cease it’s like they hadn’t gone away. It’s like they had just disappeared into the air and when we moved we would loose them again out of the air around us, sad and comforting. Then they finish and we put on our hats, our
movements stiff, like we hadn’t never wore hats before. On the way home Cora is still singing. (Faulkner 91-92)
He creates his own time space, very fast†’ indicates the significance of events and his consciousness.
Jumps abruptly from scene to scene†’ represents Tull’s psychological time span, each sentence representing a unit of time. This portrays Tulls consciousness during the funeral.
He starts this passage with singing and ends with Cora still singing so it seems like this time frame belongs to that of the funeral.
Time frame changes with each character and each scene that the character deems important or unimportant (or creates a lasting impact on his/her mind)
What does time say about the human consciousness and thinking?
If you could just ravel out into time. That would be nice. It would be nice if you could just ravel out into time.(Faulkner 208)
Darl’s desire to unfold time speaks to the book’s sudden changes in past and present tense. Indeed, Faulkner does not provide the reader with a stable present tense and changes tenses within each characters’ section.
Darl’s awareness of the profoundity of time and the end of it: death. He is also overwhelmed by triviality of human life against time because his is will eventually become was in time. Thus, by yearning to Ravel out into time he wants time to become fully unfurled to without any existence at all.
Darl’s loss in time results in his mind becoming locked out of his physical self. His mind has convinced itself that existence is nonexistent, he has become a was while his current physical psyche lives on as his is, without logical or comprehensive thought that was seen throughout much of the book.
How does the passage of time relate to human existence?
Time is not always felt in sequence, it varies boundlessly and constantly intertwines itself with aspects of human experience.
By dissolving the concept of time and lacking a stable present, Faulkner is able to shape character consciousness by warping time, stretching or shrinking durations with the intensity and engagement within characters’ inner lives.
His usage of the past tense and present tense also shows the variability in human awareness and perception of events.
Fragments of time, no matter how discordant and anachronist, can come together to form a story, just as it did in As I Lay Dying.
"As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner
In the novel, As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner’s utilization of symbolism in animals displays the Bundren’s attempts to cope with the newly death of their mother. The mechanism of familiarity is displayed throughout the story to depict the instability the Bundrens feel now that they lost their head of the house. Whether it’s Jewel’s horse that represents his adoration for his mother and freedom, the fish that represents Vardaman’s mother, or the cow painfully filled with milk that represents the burden that Dewey Dell contains, each of this character’s objectivism leads back to the missing presence of their mother..
After Addie’s death, Vardaman goes fishing where he catches a fish, he then states I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls.Then it wasn’t so. It happened then. And now she is getting so far ahead I cannot catch her.His comparison of his mother to the dead fish displays his naive understanding of how death works. He does not know how to process death so the only way he can think of it is as his mother is no more in the form she once was, similar to the fish who’s no longer in their natural form. My mother is a fish is his my common monologue when he speaks. Being a child, the complexity of death is hard to wrap one’s brain around. Vardaman being the youngest child, and stating his mother is a fish as mentioned shows that he doesn’t really understand his mother’s death, just that she is no longer around. Once the fish is dies, he compares it to his mother not being able to breathe that punctures her casket with holes, in return mutilating her face, just so she has air to breathe.
Similarly, Jewel’s horse also stands as a remembrance for his late mother.Jewel had a close relationship to his mother, because he was created out of Addie’s rage to feel free again. Through the commonality of expressing their emotion through violence, it is apparent that Addie has favoritism over Jewel. While all her other kids had to do chores, she allowed Jewel to work every night until he was able to afford his horse, and forced her other kids to take over his chores as well. As they travel to Jefferson, Jewel rides ahead on his horse symbolizing his desire of wanting to seperate for the Bundren family. When Anse sells his horse for a pack of mules, it is almost like his mother was taken away from him again, as he was stripped from his freedom, forcing him to stay with the Bundren’s. Anse cruelness towards Jewel is apparent because he could’ve borrowed Armstid’s team, instead of selling Jewel’s horse. He even justifies his decision on page 191 by stating that he hasn’t had teeth for 15 years because every nickel he earned was saved for the family. Of course the one time Anse makes a decision it has to be in spite of Jewel, even when it was not Anse’s decision to make.
On the other hand, Dewey Dell being the only female, feels the need to take over the role as the head of the house. As a future mother, she relates to a cow filled with milk due to the fact that they both carry this burden that they don’t want. The cow relies on them to relieve her from her milk, similar to Dewey Dell when she goes to the physician to get an abortion with the ten dollars that Laff left her. After being manipulated into having sex and given false pills, Dewey is still stuck with a baby she doesn’t want. Going to New Hope, gives Dewey hope in finding meaning in her life. In comparison to her mother Dewey also see having a child as her independence being taken away.
In conclusion, the stability of the family still waivers, but there are able to achieve Addie’s goal of being buried in Jefferson. What should’ve had somewhat of a happy ending, instead shows Anse introducing to his kids a new bride, along with a pair of new teeth.
William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying" Country Songs
William Faulkner was an American writer and Nobel prize winner. He was born in Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner wrote novels, short stories, screenplays, poetry, essays, and plays.
Everybody knows that Faulkner’s fiction is alive wither sound of African American music. In Soldiers Pay, individuals first dance to a blues orchestra and then listen to the singing of a country church, while “”Flags in the dust”” includes scenes in which Elnora sings Gospel as she works for the Sartorius family, a blind street musician performed the blues in the town square. Young Bayard Sartorius enlists a Negro band to entertain the unmarried women of Jefferson. “”That evening sun “”famously takes its title from W.C. Handy “”St Louis Blues”” a song most remembered and recorded by the “”Empress of the Blues, “” Bessie Smith. A lot of critics have addressed these and other blues moments in Faulkner’s stories. H.R. Stone back suggested that these individuals and events of “”Pantaloon in Black”” pulled from “”East Riders””.
While Jane Haynes notes provocative parallels between the blue ballads about “”Stag lee”” and the scene in Hamlet in which V.K. Ratliff imagines Flam Snoops defeating the Devil. From talking about the blues elements and African American musical traditions in Faulkner’s stories, It is surprising that scholars have said nothing about a body of Southern songs with which the Mississippi author is likely to been familiar, white folk or country tunes or “”hillbilly music””. As record companies called it in the 1920’s and 30’s. Few of the critics who have the presence of popular culture in Faulkner’s stories so much acknowledge country music, almost half of them hardly discuss it in any specific detail. Hugh Ruppersburgs claim that Lena Groves opening statement in Light in August. “”I have come from Alabama””, talks the first line of Stephen Fosters “”O’ Susannah”” Although the name Joe Christmas’s first love, waitress and prostitute Bobbie Allen involves “”Barbara Allen””.
She is a “”American folk ballad of love cruelly ended””. Erich Nun’s study of depictions of a variety of different music genres. These rare discussions of Country songs in Faulkner’s stories says that the authors novel of the early 1930’s associate working class white individuals with such music. No scholar, has never examined specific references to country music in As I Lay dying. A narrator from this period that focuses almost upon the people who made and consumed hillbilly songs. Richard Grey suggested that As I Lay Dying has a special balladic quality, but most of it makes only a general observation that its strategy is similar to that of a folksong or ballad. In case in which a story was being remembered is given a significance by the sense of the other tales that lie behind it. Mark Lucas noted that only in passing that the Nobel resembles one of the most vulnerable forms of folk song and that is called the disaster ballad. Although , It’s a fact that more than any other Faulkner novel, As I Lay Dying is common with allusions and parallels to a host of country songs recorded and released in the late 1920’s. Arthurs like the fiction of Sherwood Anderson and James Joyce or the poetry of Homer and T.S. Eliot.
The phrases, and attitudes of Southern Folklore. As they carry the body of Addie Bundren from the corner of Yoknapatawpha County to the town of Jefferson for the burial. The gender politics of folk song traditions and dramatizes country music’s relationship to the culture which is known to be the twentieth century culture. No less, the Bundren families journey. The history of country music embodies tension between a region. Folk tradition on one hand, and an aggressively commercial, whether its modern, national, and potentially equal culture on the other. If it used to be common for scholars to read Faulkner’s attitudes toward mechanization, and pop culture as hostile, critics recognize the complex and multifaceted nature of the authors treatment of modernization. John Matthews for example, acknowledges that the Bundrens are constituted by the dialectical history of capitalist agriculture, commoditized economic and social relations, and the homogenizations of the mass culture. Although he complicates the traditional critical consensus when he noted that Faulkner’s novel also dramatizes mass movements that put others in touch with the energies of progress. In the story As I Lay Dying , paragraphs detailing Cash Bundrens desire for a “”graph phone”” and multiple allusions to country songs which is a genre once old fashioned, escapist commodity and engagement with reality. It is not so much that Faulkner’s novel tells of a families movement from rural backwater to modern city as some would say.
After all in its factors that might stimulate the development of a mass market for phonograph records, a 1923 trade publication suggested that in addition to resolving “”isolation, lack of amusements, and long winter evenings with little or nothing to do, recorded music might fulfill the need for something that will influence the children to remain on the farm, rather than encouraging restless modern children to flee the country for the city. Bonnie Allen’s name in light in August for instance, could have been inspired by the appearance of Barbara Allen in myriad folklore. Musical shows at Oxfords Opera House, also at one time owned by Faulkner’s grandfather. Radio performances and recordings of that piece by such artists as Vernon Dalhart, and Newton Gaines. At the time of Faulkner’s appearance as a novelist in the mid to late 1920’s, different cultural forms and new media were making folk songs everywhere. After the arrival of American radio, country music became an big part of the nations landscape. That is an initial half hour program of square dance music in 1923. The 3 radio stations soon after the arrival of American radio were Fort Worth’s WBAP was airing by 1927, they would be airing a regular Friday night country show. Then in 1924, WLS in Chicago would become the national barn dance program, and then in 1926, the year of Faulkner’s debut novel George D. Hay, a former reporter for the Memphis commercial appeal paper the Mississippi’s author read regularly proudly renamed his country show on Nashville’s WSM “”The Grand Ole Opry””.
As Bill Malone notes in these early days of American broadcasting, such programs were picked up by listeners as far away as New York, Canada, Hawaii, and Haiti. Never mind Mississippi. If Phono graph records couldn’t compete with the radios ability to transform country music across major distances they would accept performances that listeners could enjoy repeatedly. The popularity in 1923 of a phonographic disc of Fiddling sung by John Carson encouraged companies to rush in to the South and the Southwest with their field units, recording almost any country musicians they could find. A more significant watershed occurred in 1927 when Ralph Peer utilized the new electrical recording during sessions in Bristol, Tennessee. He made the first phone graph records of two of the most important acts in country history, that is the Carter family and Jimmie Rodgers. The first great generation of country music on record coincided with the most prolific period of Faulkner’s career. During which the author developed his chronicle of Yoknapatawpha County in such works as the Sound and the Fury and other short stories as well as I Lay Dying. Stories of Faulkner’s antipathy later in recorded music are a legend, although it is probable that a man who identified “”Yes, Sir That’s My Baby”” as his favorite song and he also enjoyed listening to Bessie Smith’s blues records on a phono graph. He discovered country songs during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s whether it was on the radio or on record.
If Faulkner never did tune in to the Ole Opry or in Jimmie Rodgers “”Blue Yodel””, he had the opportunity to become familiar with the lyrics of the traditional ballads and songs of numerous volumes of folklore that appeared during the first three decades of the twentieth century. The publication of Harvard professor Francis James Childs multi volume The English and Scottish Popular Ballads between 1882 and 1898 stimulated interest in traditional songs and folklore on both sides of the Atlantic. In the years after the composition of As I Lay Dying, anthologies of black and white American musical traditions who included Dorothy Scarborough, Howard W. Odom. As I Lay Dying ends with cash imagububg the Bundrens clustering around the new family phono graph, its novel constantly renewed by a stream of mail order records. This conclusion invites speculation as to the particular songs the family members will select and enjoy together. Will the luckless agriculturalist Anse find solace in “”Got the Farm Land Blues”” and will his new wife adjust from town habits to rural ways, appreciate that musical tale of “”hard times in the country””, “”Down On Penny’s Farm””? How could such a woodworker as the eldest son, Cash, resist the lure of a record named “”The House Carpenter””? Might not the bitterly resentful Jewel Pointedly choose “”A Lazy Farmer Boy”” as a critique of the families patriarch? Sing young Vardaman desires and electric locomotive he has flimpsed in a toy shop window, will he lobby for Jimmie Rodgers “”Waiting for a Train””? Pregnant and unwed, would Dewey Dell dare order a song called “”Single Girl, Married Girl””? Regardless of faulkners knowledge of country songs then, the scenarios, recurring topics, and popular verses of commercial hillbilly recordings of the late 1920’s illuminate the implications of the ending of As I Lay Dying.
Even if the author had only a passing familiarity with country music scene of his day. Faulkner and the first generation of country recording artists produced works that engage with the same essential themes, for example, to determinedly traditonalist South’s rapid initiation into modernity and the effects of this initiation upon gender, family, and human identities. The most explict instance of As I Lay Dying debt to country music is that its plot specifically talks about a spousal death, burial, and, rapid remarrriage. That is virtually identical to one stanza of a song recorded by Uncle Dave Macon in April 1926 and released on the Vocalion label that summer. The sixth verse of “”Way Down the Old Plank Road”” runs: My wife died on Friday night, Saturday she was buried, Sunday was my courting day, Monday i got married. Although the Bundrens take ten days to transport Addies coffin to Jefferson for burial, and upon their arrival, the widowed Anse secures a new wife within house, Macon’s blithe lyrics about his spouses death and instant replacement clearly anticipate both the overarching narrative and the climatic twist of Faulkner’s novel.
Whether the author owned Macon’s record, He heard him perform the number on the Grand Ole Opry or simply was familiar with a folk tradition that informed the song is beside the point. Just as Macon’s song capsulate the main storyline of As I Lay Dying, the proposal remembered by Miss Emily speaks about specific elements of the narratives treatment of spousal death and burial. Like the backwoodsman who became wealthy Oxford citizen, the younger Anse is sufficiently affluent and eligible to court the town bred Addie, boasting of his ownership of a new house and a good farm. Like the proposal in Palmers story, Anse and Addie’s marriage ultimately hinges upon a arrangement regarding burial rights, years after their betrothal, Addie is careful to exact a promise from her indolent husband that he will have her buried in Jefferson. No less than Macon’s song and the proposal collected by Palmer, As I Lay Dying lays bare a rural culture in which the hard lives and early deaths of women were so common that courtship and marriage involved considerations of female mortality.
What is particularly striking about the ways in Faulkner’s novel is both Macon’s song and Palmers informant is that As I Lay Dying reverses the emphases of such antecedents, wrestling agency from the male speaker and it instead to the female protagonist. In Faulkner’s story, it is Addie, not Anse, who provides the graveyard humor and articulates a averring convert with funeral rites. in the narratives flashback to the couples courtship, the woman responds to the man’s clumsy overtures with comedy and sharp authority. Although Anse is provincial to be intimidated by his potential brides urban origins, he suggests that he may be able to talk his way into acceptance by her family. “”They might listen”” After all, Addie responds, “”But they’ll be hard to talk to… They’re in the cemetery””.
By joking about her deceased family, Addie both preempts and invites the customary marriage proposal by which a man promises to purchase his spouses coffin. Anse, however, lacks the grimly honest sense of humor, the knowledge of such a tradition, or they will necessary to make such an offer. Where the clumsy rural bachelor is capable only of awkward hints about why he has come to see Addie, the latter asks him saying “” Are you going to get married?”” and as she liters remembers it “”I took Anse””. If Addie’s acceptance of Anse’s Timid proposal seals her into a life of childbearing and childrearing in which she is largely left of power or fulfillment, spousal burial obligations ultimately provide her with agency and leverage. Addie clearly has no expectation that Anse will be willing to expend resources upon the purchase of a coffin, even if it is “”one of the most distinctive and inevitable privileges a husband could normally expect to exercise””. As Dianne Luce noted, Anse rejects the newfangled fashion for store bought caskets and remains committed to the pre-World War 1 tradition of homemade coffins. Anse’s abnegation of this thoroughly modern duty, leaves an opening for Addie to dictate the nature of her funeral rites, by exacting a pledges from her husband to “”take me back to Jefferson when I died””, Addie enacts what she terms her revenge. Not only does she shin the Bundren plot at New Hope in favor of her old family cemetery, but she obliges the sedentary Anse to embark on a forty mile journey, with a coffin, across flooded rivers and through the heat of July.
Symbols in "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner
Can something as simple as symbols and imagery create an outstanding novel? William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying is a story of a family on their forty mile journey to bury Addie, a mother and wife. Their journey is a tragic and long. In William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, Faulkner uses symbols and imagery to fully define the characters and themes.
Throughout the novel, Cash, mentions his tools repeatedly and shows readers how important they are to him. He has returned to the trestles, stooped again in the lantern’s feeble glare as he gathers up his tools and wipes them on a cloth carefully and puts them into the box with its leather sling to go over the shoulder. Then he takes up box, lantern and raincoat and returns to the house (Faulkner 80).
Cash’s tools serve as a symbol of his personality. Cash tends to want to fix things, or make things right. He uses his tools to make his mother’s coffin in her honor because he believes in love and family. Using his tools to build something, or taking his time to do something for someone is a big commitment to Cash. He sees his tools as something very special to him. Cash is a man of action; when they cross the river, Cash is set on saving his tools; Even his family members try to save the tools because they know how important they are to Cash. In this novel, Vardaman catches a fish for dinner and it serves him a major symbol to understand the meaning of death. It was not here. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother..It was not here because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now it’s all chopped up. I chopped it up. It’s laying in the kitchen in the bleeding pan, waiting to be cooked and et (Faulkner 66). A wave of obsessive thoughts arise to Vardaman’s mind when he catches the fish. He makes the connection between the fish and his mother. The fish, and his mother, are in a different state of existence now, other than him, and this makes Vardaman think his mother is the fish.
The thought of the dead fish helps Vardaman grieve over his mother’s death, as he is only able to understand mortality through the fish’s death. The connection between the fish and Addie comes up again during the river part, when Vardaman compares the fish in the river to his mother’s coffin. Jewel has a horse that is very important to him. He works every night to save up for this horse. It’s not your horse that’s dead, Jewel.Jewel’s mother is a horse (Faulkner 94, 196). Jewel’s relationship with his horse shows his decision to isolate himself from the rest of his family. Jewel is not a Bundren child through blood; however, he says his desire to leave the family is strong. In order to buy the horse, Jewel had to work every day, and lied to his family. Darl even says that Jewel’s mother is a horse. When Anse trades Jewel’s horse in for a new team of mules, Anse is stripping Jewel from the family and taking away his independence.
Eyes are described a great deal of times throughout the novel. First, Darl describes Jewel’s eyes, Anse describes his son Darl’s eyes, Cora talks about Addie’s eyes: Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her (Faulkner 8). Dewey Dell has an odd obsession with Darl’s eyes. “”the land runs out of Darl’s eyes; they swim to pinpoints. They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and them my dress is gone: I sit naked on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail”” (Faulkner 121). The symbols of eyes explains bigger plot ideas in the novel. Dewey Dell finds Darl’s eyes threatening because she finds him intimidating because he knows about her baby; He basically sees right through her. Addie’s coffin is a main symbol in this novel.
It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill at their faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill, faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet (Faulkner 15). The coffin serves as a symbol of unbalanced and heavy weight on the whole family, figuratively and literally. As Addie rots in the coffin, the family gets more and more tired of carrying her body. The longer they travel the more they question why they are doing this for her. While they carry the coffin, they break apart as a family. When the coffin is heaved off balance by Addie’s body, the coffin becomes a reason for all of the family’s troubles. Burying the coffin is also important to the family’s capability to return to some sort of a normal state. These four major symbols are extremely important to tying the main idea together throughout the novel. William Faulkner adds these symbols to clue in readers that this family is superstitious. In William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, Faulkner expresses characters and themes through symbols and imagery. How William Faulkner uses symbols in this novel brings the story together and gives readers a deeper connection to the characters.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. First Vintage international edition. Vintage Books, 1990.
Examinations of Philosophy and Identity in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
The story of a dysfunctional family and its epic journey across the South, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is famous for its use of multiple narrators who interpret and recount the journey of the Bundren clan from their own unique perspectives. All of the characters, whether members of the family or outsiders who encounter them on the way to Jefferson, have their own agendas and specific views of the world around them, with each of these perspectives in some small way contributing to the larger themes and ideas of Faulkner’s novel. This paper will examine the philosophies of three of these characters in particular — Anse, Cash, and Darl Bundren — in order to analyze how their differing voices, opinions, and styles of narration allow Faulkner to explore multiple themes and create a more complex novel than would be possible with a single unified narrator. As the father and ostensible leader of the Bundren clan, Anse is the character who seemingly appears to be the most intent on getting his wife to Jefferson and burying her with her family. He seems committed to honoring Addie’s final wishes, saying multiple times that “I give her my promise” because her “mind was set on it,” as well as being the one who insists that the journey must be completed as soon as possible even though that entails making a dangerous river crossing that kills his wagon team and injures Cash (114-15, 125-26). However, Anse’s lazy, hypocritical, and self-interested streak is revealed well before the novel’s shock ending: he claims that “he was sick once from working in the sun when he was twenty-two years old” and that if “he ever sweats, he will die,” although that does not stop him from berating Jewel for being tired and unproductive (17, 130). A firm believer in the sedentary lifestyle, he also places the blame for his misfortunes and those of his relations on the presence of the road, which he sees as an enabler of trouble:Durn that road… a-laying there, right to my door, where every bad luck that comes and goes is bound to find it… when He [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man… because if He aimed for man to be always a-moving and going somewhere else, wouldn’t He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to reason He would (35-6).To Anse, life is a series of tasks that must be completed before a man can finally achieve his ultimate dream of becoming completely stationary, whether that be working hard as a child so that he can earn the right to enjoy a relaxed lifestyle in adulthood or traveling down the very same road he denounces in order to find a wife and settle down (11, 171). Anything that conflicts with his personal comfort, whether it is the death of his wife or the actions of his children, will cause him to take action to rectify the situation, even at the expense of those he supposedly loves. For example, in order to pay for the wagon trip, he steals the money Cash was going to use to purchase a graphophone (190), agrees (without permission) to trade Jewel’s horse in exchange for a new team of mules (191), and tries to guilt Dewey Dell into making her give him the ten dollars for her abortion, saying:It’s just a loan. God knows, I hate for my blooden children to oppose me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful, I give them without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky you died, Addie (246).As Deborah Chappel notes, this quote contains multiple blatant lies: “Anse won’t repay the money, he never gave anything unstintingly in his life, and… he doesn’t at all mind being reproached” (Chappel, 277). In effect, he is so successful in achieving his goals in the novel precisely because he is a master manipulator, one who possesses the capability to control the other characters around him. The continued repetition of the two phrases “would you begrudge her?” and “wouldn’t want us beholden” also indicate his willingness to use the memory of his dead wife as an excuse for his actions, whether it is claiming that Jewel had “no affection or gentleness for her,” convincing Tull to let him loan out his mule, or not leaving the injured Cash in the care of Armstid because he wants to do the burial first (19, 140, 195). He is even willing to address the ultimate inconvenience, the lack of a wife, by remarrying immediately after the burial, thus negating the entire emotional impact of the trip to inter Addie (261). By employing the petty and languid Anse as a narrator, Faulkner allows the reader to better understand the mindset of a uniquely Southern archetype, the poor white farmer. Anse is the author’s attack on the type of provincial bumpkin whose close-mindedness and stupidity had maintained the South’s status as a region disconnected from the greater United States and whose unwillingness to reintegrate into the national fabric would keep it that way unless and until there was a dramatic change in attitude. The character’s emphasis on inactivity and selfishness represents a region-wide malaise and reluctance to break with the identity the South had fashioned for itself from the post-Civil War period up until the time of Faulkner’s writing in the late 1920s. Anse Bundren is the South at its very worst, with him and his family representing the staleness and stagnation that beset the region as a result of its self-imposed isolation. Unlike Anse, Cash is the hardest worker in the family, as well as the only one who has managed to learn a trade beyond mere sustenance farming. However, his narratives in the first half of the book do not deal with the emotional trauma of losing his mother or even give a linear account of the events going on around him; rather, they are discourses about the engineering principles that went into creating the coffin. This unique philosophy makes him the most analytical and level-headed member of the Bundren clan, but it also indicates that he lacks the emotional ability to address his mother’s death directly — and that it is only by focusing his grief into his carpentry that he can truly express himself. When Anse calls him into the house to inform him of Addie’s death, Cash doesn’t know to respond:Cash does not look at him… Cash does not answer… Cash looks down at her face. He is not listening to pa at all. He does not approach the bed. He stops in the middle of the floor, the saw against his leg, his sweating arms powdered lightly with sawdust, his face composed… After a while he turns without looking at pa and leaves the room. Then the saw begins to snore again (50).That he enters the room caked in sawdust and carrying a saw indicates the centrality of his profession to Cash’s identity, that even when faced with personal tragedy he must perceive it through the lens of his job in order to truly comprehend it. In effect, he can only empathize with Addie’s passing by turning it into a job involving wood, nails, and tools, which is why immediately after viewing her corpse he resumes sawing the planks for the creation of the coffin. As a result, this coffin becomes a physical manifestation of his grief and emotionality, thus explaining why he becomes so obsessed about making everything about it as perfect as possible. Extra time is invested in beveling it despite the torrential downpour he must work through (79), while he also frets about the fact that Addie was laid in the coffin in the opposite direction from which he intended, saying “I made it to balance with her. I made it to her measure and weight” (90). His constant repetition of the admonition that “it is not on a balance” is more than a logistical concern; instead, it is him expressing a fear about the safety of his beloved mother and the wooden tribute he has made to her life. Another interesting element of Cash’s personality is his need for the tools of his trade: when the family wagon is hit by a log and capsizes in the middle of the river, he is knocked unconscious at precisely the same time as he loses them. According to Tim Poland, “with the near loss of his tools comes the near loss of Cash’s identity, the tenuous, relative identity that is the chief commodity in which the Bundren family trades” (Poland, 118). Without his tools, Cash loses his defining feature and the items that make him an active part of the narrative, the result of which relegates him to the status of a secondary character who can only lie in the back of the wagon alongside the rotting corpse in the coffin he himself created. It is only when they are retrieved from the water that he returns to consciousness, but with a “newfound awareness of the relativity of that identity and how deeply it is rooted in his function as a carpenter” that causes him to “reassess his own identity… and the fragile reality of all identity” (Poland, 119). This new Cash is a more balanced and descriptive storyteller, capable of recounting events with a more advanced level of perception than the formulaic lists he provided in his early chapters. He also takes over the role of most competent narrator from Darl, who seems to descend into lunacy at exactly the same moment that Cash reappears with his (literally) retooled understanding of the world. Although his chapters lack the profound insight that Darl’s provide, Cash’s later accounts are more level-headed and reasonable than any other family member’s up to that point, which is why Faulkner has him recount the ultimate ironic shock of his father’s hasty remarriage. By having the most sensible character describe these final events, the sense of anti-climax is magnified and further emphasizes just how irrelevant the family’s epic journey really was. In contrast to the rest of the Bundrens, Darl is in some way disconnected from the others both in terms of identity and geography, having actually left the South to serve in France during World War I. As a result, his narrations are the most complex and intellectually rich, and he even possesses the ability to describe events, such as Cash constructing the coffin, that are transpiring while he is physically in another location (75-81). This intangible distinction he possesses, which in some way separates him from his other family members, tends to unsettle people like Vernon Tull, who describes him as “queer”:He is looking at me. He don’t say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of his that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said anything so much as how he looks at you. It’s like he has got inside of you, someway” (125).As a result of his unique ability to peer into people’s minds and witness proceedings that he is not tangibly a part of, Darl’s philosophy is highly intertwined with concepts of identity and self-perception, both his own and others. When Vardaman asks him where his mother is, Darl replies, “I haven’t got ere one… Because if I had one, it is was. And if it is was, it can’t be is. Can it?” (101). The use of the past and present forms of “is” suggests that Darl defines existence based on a more advanced level than the rest of his family, who still refer to Addie’s corpse as “her” even though she has already died. He is aware of the divide that death creates between being and not-being that renders Addie’s identity into something different from what it once was, just as he is more perceptive than the other Bundrens in his own self-characterizations. His alternate uses of the first and third persons to describe himself are representative of Darl’s innate knowledge about things he really should not be privy to, whether that be Dewey Dell’s tryst, Jewel’s illegitimate status, or even his own existence. Darl somehow knows that he is being observed and followed by some outside source (the reader), and that this switching of perspective between his own personal “I” and the outsider’s “He” indicates his awareness of this situation. He is cognizant of the fact that he is a participant in a story and that this knowledge separates him both from the other characters — who consider him “queer” because of the special information he possesses — but also from the audience, of whom he is in some part conscious even though he cannot fully reach them; he knows that he still belongs in the world of the narrative. This idea is corroborated by the lack of any real relationships he has with other figures in the novel, be it within the family or in the wider circle of the Bundrens’ neighbors and acquaintances. Jewel curses him frequently, Anse becomes upset over his decision to make an extra $3 while Addie is dying, Dewey Dell notifies the police about his barn arson, and even Cash has no problem with sending him to a mental institution, saying that it would be a “better” situation for him (17, 237-38). In this sense, Darl is a representation of Faulkner himself: his profound statements, narrative voice, and consciousness of the world around him all belong to the author who is broadcasting them through a source within the story itself. By analyzing the differing philosophies present in the chapters described by Anse, Cash, and Darl Bundren, three of the primary narrators in the novel, it is possible to trace how these differing voices make it possible for Faulker to fully emphasize several different facets and themes in the novel. With his steadfast belief in remaining sedentary and his exploitative personality, Anse represents the zealously backward Southerners who embrace their region’s status as a backwater and who refuse to reintegrate into the rest of the country with an almost inbred sense of stodginess. In contrast, the workmanlike and analytical Cash sees the world through the lens of his profession, even to the point where he is incapable of expressing emotion unless he manifests it in his carpentry. However, the shock of losing his tools — and by extension his identity — forces him to undergo an emotional and intellectual transformation that turns him into a more balanced, likeable chronicler, making him the ideal choice to deliver the ultimate ironic twist that ends the story. Finally, the most prominent figure in the book is Darl, who, with his special ability to peer into the psyches of others and observe events far away from his present location, is more aware of the gradations of identity that exist than are the other figures in the book, even to the point where he is capable of recognizing the multiple viewpoints from which his own life is being viewed. His ideology is reminiscent of Faulkner himself, and by employing it in tandem with Anse and Cash (as well as every other speaker in the book), the author has modified the form of the novel to give it greater complexity as well the ability to explore more ideas and themes than would be possible with just one narrator. By emphasizing these multiple philosophies and the way in which they influence the way in which the characters who adhere to them view the world, Faulkner is reflecting on the fundamental lack of an objective truth at the heart of the novel. Every one of his characters is an unreliable narrator with his or her own individually twisted and skewed take on life. The result of those perspectives ultimately leads readers to question what they really do and do not know about the events taking place in the story.Sources:Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. Modern Library Edition. Modern Library, 2008. Print.
“Violent Love” and Other Notions of Dysfunctional Relationships in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
In typical modernist fashion, William Faulkner experiments in his work with a number of nontraditional stylistic and thematic characteristics, including brokenness, fragmentation, despair, pessimism, perception distortion, and the rejection of societal norms. In his novel As I Lay Dying, he focuses on a sense of alienation and separation, particularly within the Bundren family. Members of the Bundren family exhibit various dysfunctional relationships with one another, with their lovers, and even with God. Examples of these relationships include husband and wife, parent to child and sibling to sibling; in many of these cases, the Bundrens display seemingly violent affection toward each other. Addie and Anse, the heads of the Bundren household, do not provide an example of the ideal marriage. In fact, this duo is the epitome of a broken communion. Each treats the other as more of a burden than someone to rely on; both may even prefer independence to the company of their spouse. Their indifference toward one another begins as soon as they are engaged, and for good reason. Addie’s decision to marry Anse occurs without much consideration. Upon realizing that he owns a small piece of property, falsely believing that he is a hard worker with a “good honest name,” Addie decides to take him up on his offer; as she nonchalantly puts it: “So I took Anse” (Faulkner 171). Soon thereafter, however, misery sets in. After giving birth to Cash, Addie claims that her “aloneness” has been violated. Addie detests motherhood almost as much as she comes to despise her lazy, useless husband. After discovering that she was pregnant with Darl, Addie “believed that [she] would kill Anse,” she was so upset (172). Addie believed that Anse had tricked her into having another child by his use of words. The use of the word “love” was nothing more than a tool of manipulation in Addie’s eyes. From that point forward, he is dead to her. Anse’s “love” for Addie results in the unhappiness that derives from sleepless motherhood. Even as a schoolteacher, Addie hates the children; in fact, she enjoys hating the children and loves having the privilege to whip them.Addie’s hatred for her husband grows to the point that she lay awake at night, alone in her self-pity, thinking, “Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse” (173). She longs to be rid of him and misses her innocence, along with the shape of her virgin body, both of which were intact before meeting him. At this juncture, once Anse had “died” to her, Addie makes the conscious decision to sin against God and her husband. Driven by her misery, Addie finds herself sinning in the arms of the ordained priest, Whitfield. Addie falls deeply in love, for the first time in her life, with Whitfield. But the affair ends as suddenly as it began. The only remaining fragment of Addie’s broken heart comes in the form of a third baby boy, appropriately named Jewel. Though Addie decidedly mistreats her husband, Anse’s regard for his wife is not much better. He views his marriage more as a well thought-out business deal instead of a committed acknowledgement of love and devotion. Anse seeks out Addie for her looks and perhaps a salary that would pay to his advantage. His proposal to Addie occurs without any additional knowledge of who she is as a person; therefore, clearly, adoration and respect never had the opportunity to develop. Once Addie gets sick, Anse waits until it is too late before calling Doctor Peabody, more concerned with saving money than his dying wife. Confused and outraged, Peabody asks, “Why didn’t you send for me sooner?” and, upon hearing Anse’s explanation, exclaims, “Damn the money. Did you ever hear of me worrying a fellow before he was ready to pay?” (44). Author of the article “As I Lay Dying: Faulkner’s All in the Family,” Linda W. Wagner narrows in on Anse’s “non-action” as “parasitic mockery.” Wagner points out that Anse is, ironically, able to endure — outlasting the more active and ambitious — despite his laziness, indifference, and even negligence (Wagner 73). Anse goes as far as selfishly claiming that his wife’s misfortune is simply the consequence of “bad luck,” seemingly lacking any sort of sympathy. Anse seems to believe this bad luck of his comes from living by a road “where bad luck prowling can find it and come straight to my door, charging me taxes on top of it” (Faulkner 36). Upon Addie’s deathbed, Anse cannot even find it within himself to shed a tear, or show any sort of sadness for that matter. After awkwardly staring at his dead wife for a brief moment, he apathetically remarks, “God’s will be done. Now I can get them teeth” (52). Even the neighbors’ daughter, Kate Tull, recognizes Anse’s lack of appreciation for his wife and predicts that once Addie dies, “he’ll get another one before cotton-picking” (34). Though Anse may not outwardly detest Addie as she does him, he does clearly lack any sort of affection for his wife — dead or alive. The Bundren adults are not the only dysfunctional members of this family, however; the Bundren children also exhibit displays of abnormal affinities with each other. Instead of having bonded compassion for their siblings, they each demonstrate a form of hostility toward one or more other members of their family. Darl and Jewel, for instance, quite obviously dislike each other. Darl’s distaste for his brother derives from the evident understanding that Jewel is their mother’s most beloved accomplishment. Darl’s jealously causes him to treat Jewel with distain. Fully aware that his mother will die in their absence, Darl more or less forces Jewel to accompany him on a mission for three dollars because, “I want him to help me load,” he says (28). Darl furthers his brother’s pain by callously repeating, “Jewel, do you know that Addie Bundren is going to die? Addie Bundren is going to die?” (40). Wagner explains that, “For Darl, his mother’s preference for Jewel is continual torment […] Jewel’s misery is Darl’s delight, cut off as he has been from Addie’s affection by the taciturn younger boy. Darl lives in Jewel’s emotions” (Wagner 75). Addie’s poor moral characteristics have been passed on and affect her children in more ways than one. Perhaps if Addie had given all of her children more attention and equality, they would not have grown to treat each other with such resentment. Addie’s maladjusted nature trickles down to her naïve, adolescent daughter, Dewey Dell, whose relationship with Darl has its flaws as well. Darl, with his uncannily clairvoyant abilities, is particularly in tune with Dewey Dell. After she sleeps with Lafe and becomes pregnant, Darl makes a point to somehow silently inform Dewey Dell that he knows what occurred and is not happy about it. In her own words, “I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words […] and I said ‘Are you going to kill him?’ […] and that’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows” (Faulkner 27). Darl’s knowledge of his sister’s circumstances causes her to abhor him. She is embarrassed and ashamed of having conceived out of wedlock, especially considering the era, therefore Darl’s knowledge is an additional burden for her to bear. She would rather endure this problem unaccompanied; she even refuses to tell Lafe. Darl’s comprehension leaves Dewey Dell feeling exposed, naked even. She feels him watching her, his eyes “swim[ming] to pin points. They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone.” Dewey Dell becomes inflicted by her brother’s understanding to the point of having nightmares about him. She once dreams that she “rose and took the knife from the streaming fish still hissing and [she] killed Darl” (121). Clearly, Dewey Dell is so distraught by this twist of fate that she would prefer her own brother’s death to his realization of her mistake. Darl is not the only person Dewey Dell seems to have an impractical relationship with, however. The dynamic between Dewey Dell and her lover, Lafe, is also very uncomfortable and atypical. First, take into consideration the manner in which Dewey Dell conceives. The act of sleeping with Lafe occurs impulsively and without confirmation of his love. Especially for this time period, losing her virginity without notions of love and under unwed circumstances was unheard of. The decision, to her, seems liked the next unavoidable aspect of her day on the farm. She leaves the fate of this life-changing decision up to the current state of her daily chore in the manner of a little girl playing “he loves me, he loves me not.” She says, “if it don’t mean for me to do it the sack will not be full and I will turn up the next row but if the sack is full, I cannot help it” (27). Therefore, once the sack was full, her decision was made for her. Her attitude toward the situation after the fact further demonstrates the immature quality of their relationship. The pair lacks any sort of closeness or bond that allows Dewey Dell to be comfortable with Lafe and the unfortunate outcome of events. She does not even want to tell Lafe about the baby and repeatedly remarks, “He could fix it all right, if he just would. And he don’t even know it. He could do everything for me if he just knowed it” (63). This quote confirms that she wants nothing to do with Lafe’s baby, and yet she refuses to mention this consequence to him even though she needs his help taking care of the situation. The fact that she is not only willing but also desperate to be rid of the child inside of her further proves that she does not love Lafe; what happened between them was just an inevitable incident. Perhaps, as she has grown up witnessing her parents’ lack of affection toward one another, this notion of “settling” has been portrayed as acceptable to her. Additionally, since Addie has proved to be an insufficient mother to her children, including Dewey Dell, her daughter has not been exposed to typical motherly nature. Therefore, Dewey Dell has no desire to raise a family of her own because of her mother’s own dislike for her given role. The negative effect of Addie’s disposition on all of her children is apparent; her indifference (toward all but Jewel) leaves them feeling just as alone as she does even as they pine for her affection. The repercussions of her favoring of Jewel are most noticeable in Darl. The silent bond that Jewel and Addie share causes Darl to jealously treat Jewel poorly. Wagner claims that “the character of Darl himself — in all his mockery, hurt perception — is only further evidence of the power of Addie’s acts” (Wagner 75). Vardaman, as the youngest, is also deeply devastated by his mother’s death — mostly likely because he was never given the opportunity to be loved by her. Now that she’s gone, he feels like he has failed in earning her attention and will not be able to try any longer. After her death, his speech and actions drift toward insanity; Wagner explains, “The grief-crazed child parallels Jewel in that he can bear his mother’s death only through action […] In despair at this mother’s absence, Vardaman runs Peabody’s team, hides, walks four miles to the Tulls’ house, opens his mother’s window so that she can feel the rain, and finally augurs holes into her coffin (and face) for the same purpose” (Wagner 77). Throughout the novel, he confusingly denies his mother’s death, and at one point believes that she is a fish and her death was his responsibility. Obviously, if Addie is dead then she has no need to “feel the rain,” but Vardaman rejects this possibility. After she passes, he says, “Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not blood on my hands and overalls. Then it wasn’t so” (Faulkner 52). His confusion for what he has done to the fish and what has happened to his mother is great. As time passes, the two incidents mesh completely into one, and a complete section of Vardaman’s only says, “My mother is a fish” (84). As the youngest child, Vardaman’s reaction to his mother’s death is the most drastic and dramatic. The remaining children react more subtly. The relationship between Dewey Dell and Addie is so insignificant that she barely takes time to mourn her mother’s passing, consumed as she is by her own problem. Jewel, on the other hand, taken by his mother’s exclusive affection, grows to resemble her characteristics most closely — particularly her subtle and silent temperament. Darl comments, “That’s why she named him Jewel”; he was her most cherished object, comparable to a precious gem (18). Both are violent, quiet, and have an unspoken and deep love for the other. The devastation, grief and psychological damage Addie has caused her children in her wake are direct consequences of the way she treated them individually while alive. Addie is acutely aware of the effects of her actions and even remarks, “Cora Tull would tell me I was not a true mother,” and yet she does nothing to change this truth. Her favoring of Jewel and neglect of the others creates a cycle of insecurity and hostility among her children, but Addie remains indifferent. Various characters in the novel also have interesting perceptions of their relationship with God. Many of these relationships are egocentric and self-righteous while being judgmental of others. Take Addie, for instance. Unlike most women of this era, she believes that her infidelity with Whitfield is worth the sins she commits. In fact, she shows no remorse at all for her actions; Addie feels that she deserves this transgression. God and man owe her the right to be happy with another man. Her notion of sin is explained by the following: “I would think of sin as I would think of the clothes we both wore in the world’s face, of the circumspection necessary because he was he and I was I […] I would think of him as thinking of me as dressed also in sin, he the more beautiful since the garment he had exchanged for sin was sanctified” (174-175). Sin was something that had to occur in order for her to make it through another day; sin was a beautiful escape. “Sin is just a matter of words,” she says, “to [people] salvation is just words too” (168). She also recognizes that the sin they commit together is intensified by the fact that he is an ordained minister; however, instead of feeling bad about this fact, Addie sees it as a turn-on. To her, this makes him all the more beautiful because he is sacrificing his vows and lifestyle for her company. The fact that Whitfield consents to these relations is proof that he too has an unsettling relationship with the God he purports to serve. Anse, like his wife, makes no religious effort and does not hide this fact. He too thinks that the world owes him something, despite his laziness and apathy, and believes that the God should take care of him — especially since He placed him by the bad luck of a road. He considers himself to be a good man, commenting:I have heard men cuss their luck and right, for they were sinful men. But I do not say it’s a curse on me, because I have done no wrong to be cussed by. I am not religious, I reckon. But peace is in my heart: I know it is. I have done things but neither better nor worse than them that pretend otherlike, and I know that Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that falls. But it seems hard that a man in his need could be so flouted by a road (28).His quote is filled with contradictions, first claiming he is not a sinful man then claiming he is a sinful man but he is no worse than other sinful men that pretend they are not. Obviously, his ideas of right and wrong, good and bad have become obscured throughout his lifetime. The final, most interesting aspect of the dysfunctional relationships within As I Lay Dying derives from Faulkner’s experimental blurring of the lines between what is considered normal or not. Faulkner meshes the connotations of affectionate love and violent hatred to create some sort of violent affection. Violence is present in some of the less loving relationships as well. The relationship between Addie and her beloved Jewel involves this twisted paradox. Darl, always observant, understands his mother’s bias for Jewel and notes “that’s why ma always whipped him and petted him more” (18). It would seem that if a mother adored one child more than the rest, then that child would not receive as much reprimanding, but that does not hold true here. Action of any kind was for the Bundrens an expression of their affection for one another. Jewel at one point silently wishes that “it would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling rocks down the hill at their faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill faces and teeth and all by God” (15). Jewel believes that sharing this violent act with his mother would be enjoyable and advantageous for the two, almost as one would consider going to the park or getting ice cream with their parents: just something that should occur to take everyone — and their misery — out of the picture. Faulkner also demonstrates “violent love” through characters who may not even realize it. Vardaman sincerely believes that he is sweetly helping his mother by drilling holes in her coffin; however, the audience is left with a gory vision of a dead women’s face being unknowingly destroyed. The imagery of dead Addie and Vardaman’s dead, bloody fish becomes entangled together by the boy’s grief, expressing contradictions of love for his deceased mother and the violent, confused destruction of his fish.Lastly, Dewey Dell’s situation presents contradictions as well. An act typically performed out of love and happiness leads to intense pain and suffering for Dewey Dell, both physically and emotionally. She is so wrapped up in her worry that she has little time to think of anything or anyone else. Her baby, a symbol of unconditional love and adoration to most, is her leading source of strife; therefore, she plans to take care of this problem by having an abortion: “That’s what they mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of spreading bones, the hard girdle in which lie the outraged entrails of events” (121). William Faulkner, experimental and groundbreaking as a modernist writer, plays with the notion of brokenness and fragmentation by confronting the family system. Each member of the Bundren family has his or her own set of vices — particularly against one another — within his novel As I Lay Dying. He characterizes notions of dysfunctional relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, sibling and sibling, and even God and man. In a number of these relationships, violence and sadism become very prominent as means of destruction and, paradoxically, affection. Works CitedFaulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage, 1990. Print.Wagner, Linda W. “As I Lay Dying: Faulkner’s All in the Family.” Galileo. JSTOR: College Literature. 1974
Semantics and Modes of Communication in As I Lay Dying
At the crux of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is the issue of communication. The characters’ methods of communicating are many and vary, in some cases, depending upon the characters’ relationships with one another. Verbal communication is curt and generally without special significance; the very value of words – the vehicle by which verbal communication moves – is called into question both explicitly and through Faulkner’s nuanced semantic games. As a counterpoint to the potentially problematic mode of verbal communication, more esoteric and pure forms are postulated: Darl and Dewey Dell are able to communicate notions and facts without words in something akin to telepathy; looks reveal undiluted emotional truth, and characters are occasionally able, through gaze alone, to see very profoundly into those who surround them. The question becomes: How does the novel ultimately reconcile these differing modes of communication and what light does this reconciliation shed on words and communication at large, in the world?Conversation is infrequently used to express anything of substance in As I Lay Dying, rather it is relegated to the realm of the banal and practical. When the local men convene on the Bundrens’ porch the day of Addie’s funeral, they speak not of Addie’s death or of the futility of Anse’s proposed journey to Jefferson, but of the weather and of Cash’s fall: “’You feeling this weather, aint you?’ Armstid says,” “’A fellow can sho slip quick on wet planks,’ Quick says” (90). This banter is vacuous and uninteresting even to those engaged in it. Faulkner counterpoints that which is spoken aloud with alternate italicized text representative of what the speaker would like to have expressed. Tull marvels – mentally – at Anse’s foolishness in insisting on waiting for Darl and Jewel to return with the Bundren team and not instead borrowing Tull’s and setting off to Jefferson days sooner, before the route had flooded: “ [Addie] laid there for three days in that box, waiting for Darl and Jewel…on the third day they got back…and it already too late…’Take my team, Anse.’ ‘We’ll wait for ourn. She’ll want it so’ (92). It is as if there exists an understanding silently acknowledged by the characters that one should not speak aloud of such matters, for in doing so some misplaced sense of propriety would be violated; it is only appropriate to speak superficially of matters mundane and irrelevant. Alternately, Darl is given to frequent challenging and abstract interior musings, focusing heavily on matters of being. “I don’t know if I am or not,” he says. “Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not” (80). (To fully grasp his meaning, one may need to read such lines very carefully and/or more than once.) Darl is utilizing the only tool at his disposal to narrate his thoughts: semantic expression. His ruminations become gradually more difficult to follow: he asserts that when one begins to fall asleep, he “empties” himself of being. Darl concludes that because he is awake and has not emptied himself, “…I am is” (81). He says, “Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be” (80). The divers formulations of “to be” that Darl here employs become so complicated and pregnant with meaning and double entendre that they cease to mean anything and become self-reflexive. The attention is as much on the transmutations of the verb as on its suggested meanings; one questions if indeed the meanings are not so abstract as to no longer have any worldly application or referent. Faulkner uses Darl’s penchant for metaphysical rumination to draw attention to words’ brittleness: the form of to be can only signify and suggest so much before falling wholly apart. For this reason, Darl is unable to very lucidly render his thoughts; language is his limitation.Addie Bundren, the Bundren family matriarch, has a profound distrust of words. She is offended by words such as “fear”, “motherhood”, “pride” – “I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear” (172). The word itself is meaningless, a superfluity: all words, even love, are “just a shape to fill a lack…when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for [love] anymore than for pride or fear” (172). She knew that Anse did not truly love her because he used the word. “Love” is a shape to fill a lack: Anse lacked the true feeling, the real sensation that love signified, and so he used the word in an attempt to disguise this; using the word is then, in effect, a mode of trickery. Addie and her son Cash, her first child, did not need to use the word – the sensation was sufficiently meaningful. Her ideas about the naming – wording – of feelings and its inherent meaninglessness is comparable to her understanding of the names of human beings: Anse’s or Cash’s or Darl’s name, once pondered for a time, melts away and becomes a shape, an empty container for the person whom it signifies – this container devoid of meaning when divorced from its referent, and therefore without inherent meaning. “It doesn’t matter what they call them,” Addie says (173). Samson, a man who gives shelter to the Bundrens for a night, thinks of a man he knows, MacCullum, yet whose first name he cannot recall: “Durn it, the name is right on the tip of my tongue” (113). This is a man with whom he has “traded off and on for twelve years”, whom he has known “from a boy up” – “But durn if [he] can say his name” (119). There is a disconnection between knowledge of the signified – a living, breathing human being in this case – and the signifier – that human being’s name: knowledge of the name does not necessarily indicate knowledge of the man, and by the same token one may know the man without knowing the name. The name is an abstraction, the concrete thing – its human referent – is the object of value and meaning.Because the characters of As I Lay Dying are hostile to language and names (things used to verbally communicate in the world), non-verbal communication is the preferred method by which feelings – and secrets – are expressed. “I always kind of had a idea that [Darl] and Dewey Dell kind of knowed things betwixt them,” Cash says. Darl knows that Dewey Dell has been impregnated, yet she has told no one. The novel posits that this type of communication has more value than verbal communication: the non-verbal, almost telepathic, connection that they use to communicate has consistent veracity where the information passed via verbal communication is subject to human error and general subjectivity. This mode bypasses issues of propriety and fear which might inspire attempts to occlude truth. Dewey Dell says: “…and then I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words, and I knew he knew because if he had said he knew with the words I would not have believed that he had been there and saw us” (27). Dewey Dell affirms the telepathic communication’s authenticity. She only knows that Darl truly knows of her sexual encounter with Lafe and the subsequent pregnancy because of the wordless method by which he communicated it to her. She, like her mother, distrusts words; people can use words to lie and deceive. Her bond with Darl, however, supersedes such things as that: it is a sophisticated method of communication, not affected by human fallibility; it operates on a higher plane.The eye is a motif in As I Lay Dying; it is a vehicle for truthful non-verbal communication of impressions, thoughts, and feelings. Looks, stares, and flashes of life and color convey meaning more truthfully and holistically than does language. Nearly every page of the novel, regardless of who is narrating, is peppered with allusions to characters’ eyes: “pale rigidity of his eyes” (128), “his eyes fumbling” (132), “her eyes, the life in them, rushing suddenly upon them” (48). Gaze has the power to reveal feeling in a distilled, simplified manner. Dewey Dell has specific reasons for needing to get to town and Samson’s attempts to coerce Anse into giving up the trip infuriate her: “…and then I found that girl watching me. If her eyes had a been pistols, I wouldn’t be talking now” (115). “…I sholy hadn’t done nothing to her that I knowed,” Samson says; though he cannot locate why her gaze projects such anger, her eyes betray absolutely her feelings.Darl’s eyes – his gaze – Tull theorizes, are what “makes folks talk” about him; they are true culprit of his attaining the status of “other” within the community. “I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you” (125). Darl’s gaze then has communicated something to those with whom he has come in contact, some part of himself has become evident through his mode of looking. What is communicated, however, is unexpected and unsettling. The eyes are the window into a person, the space through which one must pass to access another human being; therefore, the significance of the look in As I Lay Dying is immense. Through their respective gazes, Darl and Cash are able to connect in this way: “…he and I look at one another with long probing looks, looks that plunge unimpeded through one another’s eyes and into the ultimate secret place where for an instant [we] crouch flagrant and unabashed…alert and secret and without shame” (142). The two are “without shame” in this instant; they are in supernatural and complete communication – a communication in which words play no part – and they achieve a kind of peace through it. Tull says that Darl’s way of looking is “like he had got into the inside of you, someway” (125). What is unsettling then is that the person being seen will enter into a kind of unwilling (and unfamiliar) communication in which Darl is able to see and understand that individual in a, perhaps, disturbingly complete way. Language is an imperfect means of expression: under its strictures, emotions and human beings are reduced to abstract signs (words and names, respectively) and complicated ideas are often unable to be properly brought to fruition, the shallow signs collapsing under the weight of the ideas’ levels and nuances. The people who populate the novel (the Bundrens, the Tulls, the various neighbors and others) do not have great respect for the spoken work, their conversations reflecting this in their terseness and general irrelevance. The characters’ instinct is that it is inappropriate to speak of certain things in certain contexts (this sense of propriety part of a unique code of American Southern cultural mores that Faulkner draws on) and, even with command of and will to use language, for certain things it is flatly insufficient. To counterpoint the reductive and faulty mode of conventional verbal communication, other marginal modes of expression, modes bordering on the supernatural in some cases, are presented. Holistic and perfect modes of communication – Darl’s beyond-human telepathy – do not exist in reality; human beings in the world face the same communicative problems as do the characters in As I Lay Dying. Darl, the one character who mastered the esoteric art of “[getting] into the inside” of people and communicating in a pure non-semantic manner, is in the end institutionalized – his mode of seeing the world too provocative and upsetting. And despite being occasionally abetted by the undiluted truth in an involuntary gaze or flash in one’s eye, the remaining characters must – as all human beings must – cope with the imperfect, human modes of communication, modes stifled by issues such as shame, propriety, and subjectivity; however, an attempt must also be made to exploit as fully as possible these limiting communicative modes – as Faulkner has – in the hopes of revealing some kind of fundamental truth.
Jewel’s Development in As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner uses multiple narrators in As I Lay Dying, a technique that enables him to illustrate different mindsets on events and ethical questions. Some narrators’ motivations are clear: Dewey Dell is determined to get an abortion, for example, and Vardaman longs for a toy train and bananas. Jewel is more difficult to understand, and is the only member of the Bundren family who gives no personal narration following Addie’s death. Because the reader can only understand Jewel through the accounts of others, she may be particularly confused as to why Jewel would help Anse, a man to whom he has neither biological nor affable ties, by giving up the horse that has long been his only outlet for expressions of love. The explanation is that Jewel realizes he must compromise his principles to achieve anything, and that he becomes increasingly willing to question his immediate reaction to situations.In order to understand Jewel’s final decision to help Anse, one must examine the relationship between Jewel and both his mother and horse. The filial relationship between Jewel and Addie is unique both emotionally and genetically. While Cash, Darl, Vardaman, and Dewey Dell are all the children of Anse and Addie, Jewel is the child resulting from the affair between Addie and Father Whitfield. As such, Addie favors Jewel over all the other children. Addie even admits to Cora that Jewel “is [her] cross and he will be [her] salvation. He will save [her] from the water and from the fire” (168). On the other hand, Addie’s opinion toward Cash and the rest of her children is made apparent in Addie’s own narration when Addie claims, “And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it” (171). Addie considered having children with Anse both punishment and preparation for death as opposed to something from which to derive pleasure and love. Nevertheless, as a mother, Addie knew that she had to treat all of her children equally, and hated herself and Jewel in a way for forcing her to deceive the others into thinking she loved them all equally when love was a word she could not even comprehend. In this sense, Addie “whipped” Jewel more, disciplining him to make up for her overly-expressed love toward him. Since Jewel’s only source of love was that disguised by Addie’s anger, Jewel has also learned to love in such a way. To his horse, Jewel’s “tough-love” is reciprocal of his mother’s “teachings.” Jewel’s treatment of the animal that he bought with his own money with curses and pushes mixed with spoils and treats is Jewel’s highest form of expressing love.Jewel’s love for his mother is obvious in his sole narration “dedicated” to Addie. Although Jewel’s hostile proclivity is thoroughly on the surface, his underlying intentions of wanting the best for his mother are obvious. Jewel goes as far as to wish that “it would just be [him] and her on a high hill and [him] rolling the rocks down the hill at [everyone’s] faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill faces and teeth and all by God” in response to the constant attention by all that Addie is receiving on her deathbed. Furthermore, Jewel, except for “crazy” Darl, is the only one of the Bundren family that goes to Jefferson in order to bury his mother with no selfish side-intentions. Jewel’s love for his mother cannot be explicitly stated, for, like his mother claimed, the word love is only used by those who have never felt it. However, he would do nearly anything for her; Jewel would even break into a burning barn to rescue her coffin. While Jewel’s hostility toward anyone creates uncertainty about his character, he undoubtedly lives by one guiding principle: to do whatever it takes to please his mother.However, when Anse asks Jewel to give up the horse in order to buy another team to continue on the way to Jefferson to bury Addie, Jewel must then decide between the two loves of his life: his horse and his mother. For Jewel to choose the horse, his mother would have to be buried near Armstid’s house, disregarding her last wish. If Jewel chooses his mother, she could make it to Jefferson, but he would lose the living animal for which he had cared so deeply. Contrary to Armstid’s belief, Jewel does not choose to help Anse because Anse just has “something” about him that makes any man want to help him. Jewel does not help Anse for Anse’s sake; he merely realizes that the love for his mother, without which he would never have lived to be able to have a horse to love so, is more important than his love for his horse. The entire journey to Jefferson would have been pointless if he refused to relinquish his horse, a disrespect Jewel does not wish to give his mother. Despite his immediate reaction to run away to avoid giving up his horse, Jewel learns a new lesson in giving the horse to Snopes: to consider all the consequences of his actions before they are made. He realizes that his natural inclination to run away contradicted his overall desire to do the best for his mother. At the same time, his demand to put the coffin in the wagon without a balance led to its falling in the river, a complete disrespect of his mother. Thus he begins to question all his reactions to situations. This lesson is exemplified by Jewel reconsidering his anger toward the man whom he thought commented on his mother’s smell in Jefferson. Instead of punching the man as he normally would, Jewel goes as far as to apologize for his outburst. With the two he held most dear gone, Jewel realizes that his hostility has not gained him anything, although the losses themselves may not necessarily have been preventable. As such, giving up his horse is perhaps the beginning of a new outlook on life for Jewel, one in which he attempts to act in a loving way. Although Jewel cannot yet stop this aggression, he has undoubtedly begun an internal conflict in which he must recover from the loss of his two loves and learn a new way to live.
Subjectivitiy in As I Lay Dying
One of the central thematic elements of As I Lay Dying is the distinction between fact and interpretation of fact. Clearly, any objective fact can result in a multitude of subjective interpretations because the characters all have individual points of view. Their perspectives of any empirical truth depends upon their prejudices and perceptions; as a result, nothing that is said can be fully trusted or assumed to be pure in its objective truth. Though the novel is structured on the basis of the fact that each character experiences the same events, they all differ in their interpretations and perspectives. Since each character possesses a point of view that the reader cannot know for sure is entirely accurate and truthful, the theme of As I Lay Dying may be that there is no such thing as objective truth. To raise this question of reality, William Faulkner introduces two literary techniques in As I Lay Dying that draw into question the validity of the information being provided. Faulkner not only engages in the use of a wide variety of narrators, but he also utilizes stream-of-consciousness to heighten the inability to distinguish between fact and interpretation. The technique of stream-of-consciousness allows for narration to be introduced as if the thoughts are being read as the characters are thinking them; ideas and memories arise without premeditation and as such bear the mark of immediacy. In addition, because it is the character’s thoughts rather than dialogue with another, the first instinct is to believe them, since thoughts are usually unfiltered. The use of stream-of-consciousness also serves to obscure the journey toward finding an objective truth. For instance, Cora Tull’s perspective on the relationship between Addie and Darl or Addie and Jewel is significantly dissimilar than the perspectives of those characters, themselves. Thus, any supposedly objective truth that exists in any circumstance cannot necessarily be found in just one particular point of view. Another instance of this shifting perspective is in how Jewel and Peabody consider Addy in terms of being victimized, where as Anse clings to his reality that places him as a victim. Another technique that Faulkner uses is to structure the novel in the form of disconnected monologues. For example, consider the difficulty of constructing an accurate timeline of events from the monologue in which Dewey Dell faces off with Vardman in the shed. Faulkner writes: “”You durn little sneak!” My hands shake him, hard. Maybe I couldn’t stop them. I didn’t know they could shake so hard. They shake both of us, shaking. “I never done it,” he says. “I never touched them””(Faulkner 383). Both characters insist and believe in their own innocence, but clearly both cannot be innocent. In addition, they are each so wrapped up in insisting upon their version of the story that the sequence of the actual circumstances is confused within their own consciousness. Dewey Dell believed that Vardaman was covertly watching her, whereas Vardaman labored under the impression that Dewey Dell was going to tell him off. The result is a blending of the past and the present and the inability to come to anything even close to an objective reality. In another instance, the reality of exactly what was taking place between Cora and Darl remains forever locked in mystery because the perspectives presented are contradictory. As Faulkner writes, “He did not answer. He just stood and looked at his dying mother, his heart too full for words” (Faulkner 355). Cora views Darl through the rosy lens of being a loving mother; she also thinks he is Addie’s favorite. From Darl’s perspective, however, he seems to be completely unresponsive to his mother and the three dollar load. Furthermore, most of the others believe that it is Jewel who is the favorite. This utter disconnect serves to call into question the reliability of the narrators. What the characters think and which words they speak, meanwhile, create a foundation upon which to build yet another subjective reality: the reader’s. Faulkner also builds the reader’s sense of his or her own, individual perspective by making use of figurative language in describing scenery and characters. Characters often resort to using metaphors and similes as well as other stylistic turns of phrase. For example, when Darl seeks to incite Dewey Dell, his attempt is not explicit. Rather, it is accomplished through the use of double entendres. The double entendre is a microcosm of the shifting realities of the story: The phrases have factual meaning, but can be interpreted in various ways. For example, Darl remarks, “Those cakes will be in fine shape by the time we get to Jefferson” (Faulkner 483). “Cakes” serves as a metaphor for Dewey’s pregnancy. It is Darl, in particular, who employs these descriptive flourishes in his narrative; his talent causes some to consider him strange. Thus, Faulkner employs word choice not only to allude to the shifting realities of the novel, but, also, to delineate the differences between the characters. The unique language used by characters in the novel often is a revelation more profound than the textual content of their narratives. Indeed, the words that each character speaks provide the only real insights into the objective reality of the novel. For example, there are Tull’s multiple references to religion and scripture. It is important in understanding her to pay attention not only to the fact that she is referencing religious iconography, but to how she makes those references. Her manner is to voice them almost like a child would repeat a catechism he does not fully understand. It becomes obvious that Tull herself does not fully comprehend the profundity of the religion she clings to. Neither does she seem to fully understand what is taking place among her family. In contrast, Jewel regularly uses obscene language and speaks quite insensitively, and his quick temper is mirrored by the violence of his language. The Bundren family cannot agree on an objective reality because they make little attempt at arriving at any genuine understanding of each other. Just as the novel is a collection of individual narratives and memories, the Bundren family refuses to be a cohesive unit; they are simply a set of disconnected individuals who happen to share a common ancestry. The great irony is that what seems to at last bring about their unity is not a celebration of life, but an occasion of death. Yet even this attempt at a final reconciliation is only tenuous, as each family member has their own personal and private motivations that they refuse to share with each other. Usually, in fact, they seem to be callously disregarding the fact that Addy is simply a rotting corpse. In perhaps the most perverse reversal of subjective truth, some of them are repulsed by the stench of death–yet the buzzards flying overhead are drawn to the scene exactly for that stench. Objective truth is merely the result of intensely personal subjectivity; what is appalling to one person will be appealing to another. Thus, As I Lay Dying presents even the dead member of its cast of characters in a subjective light by questioning whether objective truth can exist. Addie’s true qualities as a human being remain a mystery; some may view her as a character treading in the icy waters of evil, while others may arrive at the conclusion that she is the only character worthy of any admiration. The multiple viewpoints and the stream-of-consciousness technique all create a work that is purposely subject to interpretation. There is no objective truth to the novel any more than there is any objective truth to the events that take place within it. Faulkner’s engagement of multiple narratives also serves to become a filter that is necessary for sorting out lies and opinions from factual events. The result is naturally unsettling and confusing–but, as Faulkner desires to make people ask tough questions about the nature of reality and the search for an objective truth, that is exactly his intent.
From Fish to Horses, What is Love?: The Bundrens’ Definitive and Unusual Answer
“He had a word, too. Love, he called it.” Although Addie Bundren dismisses the word love when used by her husband, Anse, as “just a shape to fill a lack,” her other relationships are not as empty (172). In As I Lay Dying, Faulkner reveals the nontraditional love of Addie’s children after her death as the family ventures to bury her body in a nearby town. Often irrational, her four children struggle to cope with the death of their mother, especially when coupled with the disgraces heaped on her dead body by her selfish husband. The compassion of Vardaman, Cash, Jewel, and Darl toward their mother, however uncommonly shown, proves the authenticity of their sentiment in a way words could not. Vardaman’s immaturity and lack of guidance leads him to express his legitimate grief in unhealthy and often incomprehensible ways. Initially, Vardaman seeks to find the cause of the expected death of this mother. His ignorance and emotional turmoil lead him to blame Doctor Peabody due to his recent visit. By blaming Peabody for having “kilt” his “maw,” Vardaman reveals the anguish caused by the death of the mother he loves (54). In his emotional state, Vardaman, drawing on a past dramatic experience, believes Addie needs air to survive, which forces him to ask Cash if he is going to “Nail it? Nail it?” (65). No strong adult figure emerges to explain the reality of death or counsel Vardaman, who is obviously distraught. His desperate and misguided love and loss, rather than reducing him to a melancholy stupor, instead leads him to “save” his mother by drilling air holes in the coffin and her face (67). However, the link Vardaman creates between his mother and the fish he caught and subsequently slaughters is illustrative of the love he maintains for his mother. Initially after Addie’s death, Vardaman mistakenly believes the disappearance of his large fish and the “disappearance” of his mother are inextricably linked. The fish becomes a symbol whose existence must be verified by Vernon, a neighbor who previously sees Vardaman and the fish. Because Vardaman strongly believes that “with both of us it will be and then it will not be,” there is no doubt of the emotional significance of the fish to Vardaman (67). As this thought matures the details are simplified until Vardaman bluntly proclaims that his “mother is a fish” (84). Although not a traditional comparison used to remember loved ones, Vardaman is only capable of expressing his complex emotions in terms of events he understands.Like Vardaman, whose personal experiences shape the way he displays love, Cash’s technical skills allow him to grieve his mother’s death in equally potent though more subtle ways. In an attempt to show Addie the respect she deserves, Cash painstakingly constructs her coffin, using his wood-crafting skills to display his love and devotion. Although some characters view Cash’s decision to build Addie’s coffin within her sight as disrespectful, the “Chuck. Chuck. Chuck. of the adze” undeniably comforts Addie, who understands Cash’s affectionate action (5). Unsurprisingly, however, Cash’s logical mind is unwilling to accept the motives of his precise crafting. Instead of admitting he bevels the edges because he wants to give his mother the best, rather he enumerates thirteen reasons why a bevel is the most practical option. The closest he comes to voicing the truth is his vague thirteenth point: “It makes a neater job” (83). Even after the creation of the coffin, Cash continues to fret over its maintenance, strengthening the symbolic relationship between the coffin and his mother. After a piece of mud is flung from the road onto the coffin, Cash “scours at the stain with the wet leaves” in an effort to preserve the sanctity of the coffin, as well as the memory of his mother (109). While Cash does not feel the need to verbalize the strong love he has for his mother throughout the novel, it is Addie’s section which proves this to be an inherent characteristic of Cash, not a product of his grief. The relationship between Addie and Cash did not necessitate the verbalization of their shared emotion, love. Because Addie recognizes that “Cash did not need to say it to me nor I to him,” Cash finds other outlets, such as viewing the coffin symbolically as his mother, to express his love (172). Although Jewel, like Cash and Vardaman, uses a physical object to represent his mother, he also allows his anger to color his actions and decisions. While Cash is making the coffin outside of Addie’s window, Jewel exhibits his first sign of aggression in regard to his mother’s memory. Instead of recognizing Cash’s true motives for crafting the coffin, Jewel angrily demands Cash “go somewhere else,” as if the creation of the coffin expresses Cash’s desire to see “her in it” (14). This unprovoked anger, undoubtedly a coping technique, is soon augmented by the symbolic significance Jewel places on his horse. Great thought is not required for the other characters to determine that “Jewel’s mother is a horse” (95). When Darl carries the assertion farther, reminding him that “it’s not your horse that’s dead,” Jewel erupts in anger, almost as if he can not bear to allow others to witness the depth of his devotion to his mother (94). Once the arduous steps required of Jewel to purchase the horse are revealed, the importance he places on it falls into perspective. Even with his beloved horse, however, an all encompassing anger is omnipresent in Jewel’s interactions. Many of Jewel’s selfless actions–like saving Addie’s coffin from the river and barn fire–seem to be prompted by his love-provoked anger. Even as his mother’s body rots in her casket, Jewel defends her honor, intentionally provoking a fight and risking bodily injury (228).While the other Bundren brothers have physical manifestations of their mother, Darl lacks these concrete links and instead views the matter philosophically. Without Addie, or at least a physical representation of her, Darl’s own life loses focus and meaning; the continuity once present is erased. Initially, Darl even struggles with the idea of loving his deceased mother. Darl concludes, “I cannot love my mother because I have no mother” (95). This definitive statement does not settle Darl’s active mind, however, and he quickly expands upon his notion. When discussing the subject with Vardaman, who is still comforted by his concrete fish symbolism, Darl thinks only of Addie as a “was,” and because of this he concludes she “can’t be is.” More importantly, from this Darl proclaims, “Then I am not” (101). Linking his own existence with that of his mother is his subtle way of displaying love and grief. It is not until much later that Darl allows these thoughts to affect his actions. After more than a week tolerating the torture of Addie’s dead body, Darl expresses his love through selflessly sacrificing his own freedom to end the disrespect being paid his mother. In a desperate effort to allow his mother the peace she deserves after death, Darl sets fire to Gillespie’s barn, effectively trying to burn his mother’s rotting carcass. Vardaman’s comforting words–“Jewel got her out. You needn’t to cry, Darl.”–are ironic when Darl’s intentions are considered (225). Through accepting the inevitable consequence, imprisonment, of his action, Darl proves his love in a way the other characters cannot even begin to comprehend. Despite the common perception, Darl’s actions were not insane, but rather those of a son desperate to save his mother, even after death. While the other characters may keep their mother alive through physical manifestations that hold special significance, it is only Darl who truly thinks about the best interests of Addie. The ways in which Vardaman, Cash, Jewel, and Darl express love for their dead mother are, if not uniform, closely related nonetheless. With the exception of Darl, Addie’s other sons rely on personally meaningful objects to provide a method of displaying their affection. While Darl refrains from using symbols, he instead takes direct action and unfortunately pays the price. Although the love of Addie’s sons towards their mother is manifested in peculiarly non-traditional ways, at least they did not rely on empty words.