As I lay Dying

Anonymous

The action of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is simple: Addie Bundren dies; and in answer to her wishes, the body is taken for burial to Jefferson, some forty miles away. But the weather intervenes, and floodwaters require that the cortege take detours. Some nine days pass before the coffin, which before long clearly announces its passing to neighboring places, is finally laid to rest. These days involve battling flood water and a fire set by one of the children, the threat of buzzards, the hazards of a broken leg, and other incidental losses and disasters. In the end, after Addie is buried, her bereaved husband appears with the second Mrs. Bundren. She brings with her a gramophone as dowry, and the Bundren family is once again reunited, with the exception of Darl, who has been sent to the state hospital.

Faulkner exposed the Bundren family to two of the greatest disasters known to man: Flood and Fire. But As I Lay Dying is not merely a story of disasters or of a mission nobly achieved in spite of serious difficulties. Nor is it simply a comedy of horrors. Whatever it has of biblical or legendary suggestiveness is a matter of inference. Primarily the novel is a psychological study of several perspectives upon truth, and the truth in this case is not dying, but the circumstances of being born and of the living.

This interpretation of the novel makes Addie imperatively its center. It is her consciousness and her memory of the Bundren past that makes the narrative passages of her family what they are: reflections in both style and point of view of the place of each Bundren in the whole. Addie has only one monologue to herself, but it is the key to the novel. It is ironically placed in the external action after her son, Jewel, has rescued her coffin from floodwaters. The monologue occurs "as I lay dying," but it is revealed to us that she lay dead, her will still powerfully dictating the acts and temperaments of her children.

As the passage begins, Addie remembers her life as a schoolgirl before her marriage to Anse. To get away from the hateful school she took Anse; and she shortly discovered, with the birth of their first child, that "living was terrible and that this was no answer to it. That was when I learned that that words are no good; that words don't ever fit even what they are trying to say." (Faulkner AILD pg.171). These words she remembers are Anse's, and Anse remains a man of words, who shunts aside with words and folk pieties all responsibilities to act. But Cash, the first-born, who arrived before the dissolution of Addie's love and trust, proves a reliable, practical, and a sensible person; in a sense the folk-hero of the novel.

Cash's birth was the dividing line in Addie's relationship with her husband. She now knew "that we had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam."(AILD pg.172). But she is further embittered in the second birth: "Then I found that I had Darl... It was as though Anse had tricked me, hidden within a word like within a paper screen and struck me in the back through it".(AILD pg.172) Her bitterness over the trick is translated into hostility for Darl, who becomes the most vocal, the most strangely upset, and eventually destructive member of the family. His acts and his words are both desperate stratagems to assert himself as a member of the human race and of the family. The rhetoric of Darl's words and the violence of his acts are a direct result of the circumstances of his birth.

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

The birth of Jewel is a consequence of her testing the word sin against the act