In As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, the author uses different features in his writing that pertained to his life. In Faulkner’s most famous works, the setting of Mississippi is mentioned. Since Faulkner lived most of his life in Mississippi, it was easy for him to provide depth and details to the portrayal of the characters and setting. Another distinguishing feature is the multiple perspectives used in some of his novels. As I Lay Dying is told through the point of view of the protagonist’s children, which allows the story the freedom to shift through thoughts and feelings.
He wanted to engage in new themes and express different ideas throughout his work. Faulkner has also conjured up a fantasy town in Mississippi where most of his novels take place, even though they might not have any correlation whatsoever.
The novel begins with a description of Cash, Addie Bundren’s oldest son, building a wooden coffin for his dying mother.
The family is aware that they have to begin their journey to Jefferson, Mississippi, since it was Addie’s dying wish to return there in death. They would encounter many physical and emotional obstacles throughout the trip. The family crossed a river that used to have a bridge over it but, the coffin dropped in the water along with their pack of mules. Dewey Dell, Addie’s one and only daughter, was too concerned about her pregnancy to worry about her mother’s death. After Addie was buried in Jefferson, Anse introduced his children to the new “Mrs.
Bundren” while he was out looking for shovels to bury Addie with. The story was one big journey that presented different perspectives and the fulfillment of Addie Bundren’s dying wish.
The central themes in As I Lay Dying are absence of sympathy. Throughout the mother’s passing her children never really cried or mourned her death properly. Also, the brothers and sisters didn’t have sympathy amongst themselves. On page 28 of the novel, which is being told through Dewey Dell’s perspective, she is told by her brother Darl that her mother is going to die. Dell simply asked him when she was going to die. Her reaction showed no emotion or astonishment that the woman who birthed and raised her was going to leave their side soon. Also, while Darl and Jewel were carrying Addie’s coffin to the wagon, Jewel had no regard for the box, handling it very violently, almost dropping the box. In addition, Darl said that they were moving slowly “as though it were something infinitely precious.” The use of the word “were”, allows the assumption that Darl and Jewel do not think their mother is precious or anything close to that matter. The lack of sympathy roaming through the family can ultimately be Addie Bundren’s fault. On page 172 of the novel, which is in Addie’s perspective, she mentions that the word “love” is “just a shape to fill the lack” and that she would never use that word towards when he was a baby. The unsympathetic tendencies tend to run deep in this family, since it all began with Addie herself. She mentioned that she didn’t “ask for them”, referring to her children. The hate or, at the very least, the apathetic mood the children have for their mother is justified. Since she never showed love or support and left the emotional baggage to Anse, the children just didn’t feel enough towards their mother. How could they reciprocate feelings they were never given initially?The absence of sympathy is an undertone in the story. It isn’t mentioned explicitly, but one can make connections through interaction and dialogue. The theme gives the message that even though people can be brought together by certain occurrences, it won’t change who they ultimately are.
The author uses a great deal of direct characterization in the story to represent the absence of sympathy. Faulkner used reactions and thoughts, those of the character’s, to maintain a personality for each character. Jewel is seen as the child who despises his mother the most. According to page 19 of the novel, Anse states that Jewel “got no affection” towards Addie and that he never did. Anse further shows his distaste over Jewel’s treatment of his mother when he says, “It’s little enough for him to do for her.” Anse’s words uphold the notion that Jewel will do anything regardless of whether it’s disrespectful or not to his late mother. Faulkner would do this for characters who also didn’t have a major role in the story. For example the father of Dewey Dell’s baby, Lafe was presented in a certain manner without his character having his own platform. When Dewey Dell was trying to buy drugs for the unwanted pregnancy with ten dollars, the pharmacist was slandering Lafe. Moseley told Dell that if she wanted the drugs that he wished Lafe “would have come for it himself”, so he can have a sliver of respect for him (pg.202). Lafe is already being interpreted as a man that doesn’t take responsibility for his actions or as someone who gives the bare minimum. Him not accompanying Dell shows the store owner that he shouldn’t take her seriously since her own lover doesn’t. Every character in the story shows no compassion in one instance or another. William Faulkner does a sophisticated job of providing three-dimensional characters in a fictional world. The reactions are genuine and natural for the character that is mentioned. The direct characterization made it effortless to understand the character and their true nature.
The title gives off a mysterious, cryptic feeling. The character that was in Faulkner’s mind was Addie Bundren. As I Lay Dying seems like a reference to her experiences. For example, as she lay dying she watched on as her older son built her coffin. As she lay dying, she watched her family gather around her deathbed. As she lay, dying buzzards filled the sky. The title was meant for Addie. The message that is being shown is that this book is inviting the reader into her world as she dies and as her children accomplish her final death wish.
As I Lay Dying is considered a work of literary merit because it provides insight on the characters and on their interactions. The novel mentions important outside features such as, family, death, and religion. It explores these factors through details which can’t be found in anything other than literary merit novels or plays. The novel may not be a classic since it isn’t a story that a lot of people recognize but it definitely deserves a spot as a story that obtains literary merit.
The story stunned me in this one instant. On page 176, Addie said, “…people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too.” This statement further deepened my insight that people will view things differently depending on how much it means to them. Some may view a situation or object as one of the most valuable things in their life and others wouldn’t even glance at it. It’s impressive to know that individuals in the 1930s think the same way as most do in the present. Any book that leaves me stunned will always have an effect on me because I will remember the words and exactly what I felt in that moment.