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As I Lay Dying

In one of William Faulkner’s greatest novels, As I lay Dying, the character’s
selfishness is revealed. As I Lay Dying is a detailed account of the Bundren’s
family trek across Mississippi to bury Addie, their wife and mother. As Addie is
dying, all the characters go through a different state of emotions, all of which
are explained in fifty-nine chapters. An analysis of William Faulkner’s As I Lay
Dying reveals the importance of goals, mishaps, and characters as they look on
the death of Addie. During the initial stage after Addie’s death three main
goals are exposed: burying her, getting new teeth for Anse, and getting an
abortion for Dewey Dell. According to George Wolfe, “Addie’s section is
narrated in tense, cryptic, and expository prose because Addie is a person who
has tried to solve some of the basic problems of life and has failed”
(203). To Cash, his mother is his world, and he does not realize she dies
because he is too busy trying to build her a coffin. The family is able to deal
with Addie’s death as a whole, although Vardaman has a harder time, while Dewey
Dell is anxious for other reasons all together. According to Warren,
“Throughout Addie’s life, she lived with a man that was emotionally dead
from the beginning, and it basically killed her” (172). Anse was always a
selfish man, so, it is no surprise he is ready to get to Cooper 2 Jefferson
County for his own selfish reasons, his teeth. Dewey Dell is just as anxious to
reach Jefferson County to have an abortion. During the Journey to Jefferson
County, they face mishaps, a flood and a fire, which temporarily keep the family
from being able to bury their loved one. The Yoknapatawpha River floods and
forces them to use an alternate bridge, this event turns out to be a major
mistake, because regardless of the damage done to the bridge by the flood, they
cross it. In turn Cash breaks his leg and they almost lose Addie to the river.

They also have to buy new mules for the rest of the trip. Before they get to
Jefferson, the family spends the night at Gillespie’s Place. In the middle of
the night, the barn catches fire, and Addie is saved by Jewel. Vardaman swears
that he saw something, but Dewey Dell tells him not to say a thing. From the
beginning to the end, the characters reveal their emotions about the death of
Addie. From Darl’s longest chapter to Vardaman’s, “My mother is a
fish,” They all feel lost and incomplete without Addie. Warren remarks,
“Anger, hatred, jealousy, loyalty, reverence, fear- Faulkner creates a
panorama as he presents the characters dramatically” (290). Anse, being one
of the laziest characters, believes that people are put on earth to care for him
now. Cash is the oldest of the children. According to Warren, he refers to
himself as “The builder who sacrifices himself for his family” (290).

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Darl, who is the most complex, yet oddest character, is the most involved. He is
confused on how he feels about his mother’s death because he was always denied
her love. Hillgrass states, “He was able to accept that he was the
“unwanted” and “motherless” child (64). Jewel, who is not
Anse’s child, loves his mother. He is the one Cooper 3 who saves her through the
flood and the fire. He, by a considerable amount, was his mother’s favorite
child. Dewey Dell, the only girl, was never close to her mom. She, like her
father, only goes to Jefferson County for personal reasons. She can never think
of one thing for a long time; her mind jumps from all around. Last, Vardamanm
who is the youngest child was not born out of love, but to replace another
child. Being the youngest, he is the most affected by his mother’s death. He has
weird experiences that consist of handling a dead fish, dealing with the death
of his mother being caught in the barn, and unable to breathe. The whole family
seems to be affected, yet each in his own way. Bryfonski states, “The
entire structure of As I Lay Dying is dialectical, involving a continual and
fructifying movement between inner and outer world…” (Bryfonki 205). Even
though the family has a frustrating time getting to Jefferson County to bury
their loved one, the family makes it together and buries Addie. As I Lay Dying
is a unique novel, based on the lives of an odd family during the 1900’s. It is
a bizarre, yet powerful story of a family’s struggle to work together to resolve
its conflicts. Modern readers can recognize the aspects of the dysfunctional
family that Faulkner depicts and learn from the interactions of the unusual
members. A critic remarks “Faulkner the humanistic realist is never
sensational” (Bryfonski) 172-73) As I Lay Dying surely insured Faulkner’s
place in writing history.


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