As I Lay Dying is a novel written by the American author William Faulkner. The novel was published in 1930, and Faulkner described it as a “tour de force”. It is Faulkner’s fifth novel and is read in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries. The title derives from Book XI of Homer’s The Odyssey, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: “As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades”. Faulkner often recited this quotation from memory.
The novel is known for its stream of consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths; the shortest chapter in the book consists of just five words: “My mother is a fish”.
The book is told in stream of consciousness style by 15 different narrators in 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family’s quest – noble or selfish – to honor her wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson.
As is the case in much of Faulkner’s work, the story is set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, which Faulkner referred to as “my apocryphal county”, a fictional rendering of the writer’s home of Lafayette County in that same state.
* Addie Bundren – Addie is the wife of Anse and the mother of Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. She had an extramarital affair with her preacher Reverend Whitfield which led to the conception and birth of her third child, Jewel. For his illegitimacy, Addie favors Jewel over her other children, as explained in a flashback narrated by Darl. As revenge for her hatred of Anse, she makes Anse promise her that he will have her buried in Jefferson, knowing that the journey will be long and difficult.
* Anse Bundren – Anse is Addie’s widower, the father of all the children but Jewel. Anse is portrayed as lazy and greedy by various characters. He is under (or merely disseminates) the impression that he cannot work because he had a horrible illness as a child, and breaking a sweat will result in his death. He views going to Jefferson as an excuse to get a pair of false teeth.
* Cash Bundren – Cash is a skilled and dutiful carpenter and the eldest son of the family. He is in his upper twenties, most likely between 27 and 29 years of age. His narration tends to be dispassionate and withdrawn, even mechanical; one of his chapters is in the form of a numbered step-by-step list. Addie loves Cash because he is the first child she feels a real connection with, as shown in the chapter she narrates. As Addie’s death approaches, she watches him build her coffin through the bedroom window. Though some characters criticize his proximity as distasteful and discourteous, Cash insists that she enjoys monitoring his work. During the funeral, Addie’s body is placed reversed into the coffin by the town women who have attended her funeral, so that her burial dress fans out in the space where her head should be. Although Cash does not say anything to the women, he is very uneasy and upset about this, as he has put a lot of hard work to create the coffin in a way that fits his mother’s weight and height perfectly; the misplacement of her body in the box causes the coffin to become off-balance. During the novel, Cash breaks his leg, which was previously broken when he fell off a church roof. Anse attempts to “fix it” by pouring cement over the broken leg. The cement heats and swells, essentially cooking Cash’s leg and cutting off blood flow. The family, realizing that his foot will soon fall off, begins to chip away at the cement, obviously causing Cash an enormous amount of pain. By the end of the novel, after Darl’s mental breakdown, Cash replaces him as the reasonable and more objective narrator.
* Darl Bundren – The second eldest of Addie’s children, Darl is about two years younger than Cash. He has with a somewhat intuitive sense, giving him the “ability” to see into someone’s soul. He is initially perhaps the sanest one in the novel despite his knowledge that the journey to bury his mother’s body in Jefferson is madness. Many people, especially Vernon Tull, tend to view Darl as strange. He attempts to burn Addie in her coffin in the barn in an attempt to put an end to the frustrating journey, a fate from which Jewel saves her. Darl is the most articulate character and objective narrator in the book, therefore narrates 19 of the 59 chapters. At the end of the novel Darl goes mad and is placed in an enclosed mental facility in Jackson.
* Jewel Bundren – Jewel is the third of the Bundren children, at about ten years younger than Darl. He is a half-brother to the other children and the favorite of Addie. He is the illegitimate son of Addie and Reverend Whitfield. The novel reveals that Jewel, after sneaking off every night and clearing several acres of his neighbor’s land in order to make the money, has bought a spotted horse. His ne’er-do-well “father”, Anse, disapproves of this, complaining that he’d have to feed the horse. Jewel tells Anse that he would kill his horse before it ate any of Anse’s food. After the mule team drowns as the family attempts to cross the dangerously flooded river, Anse bargains his children’s money as well as Jewel’s horse to pay for a new team.
* Dewey Dell Bundren – Dewey Dell is the only daughter of Anse and Addie Bundren, and at 17 years old she is the second youngest of the Bundren children. She is caught in a particularly problematic situation when she becomes pregnant with her boyfriend, Lafe MacCallum’s, baby. She, Darl, and Lafe are the only characters who initially know about the pregnancy. Dewey Dell is afraid and desperate for an abortion, but is unable to pay for it with the ten dollars given to her by Lafe. She goes to a pharmacist in Jefferson, but is instead treated by a soda jerk named Skeet MacGowan. With dishonest intentions in mind, the “pharmacist” aims to take advantage of Dewey Dell. He provides her with random medication that he claims will help with her problem as well as his own “treatment”, which is in fact sexual intercourse.
* Vardaman Bundren – Vardaman is the youngest Bundren child, and estimates of his age vary widely. He is present as his mother takes her last breath, and from that moment on faces trauma and confusion as he struggles to understand what has happened. Vardaman goes through delusional periods in which he believes that his mother is still alive, in the form of a fish that he had caught, and goes as far as drilling holes in the top of her coffin so that she can “breathe”. He wants to buy a red toy train when he gets to Jefferson, but when he arrives it is not in the store window.
* Vernon Tull – Vernon is a good friend of the Bundrens. He appears in the book to be an average farmer who is not as religious as his wife but often agrees with her. He owns a house and farm near the Bundren house and had a bridge spanning a river that had to be crossed to reach Jefferson. It breaks as a result of heavy flooding, forcing the Bundrens to cross at the ford. A log hits the wagon, tipping it over. This causes Cash to become injured.
* Cora Tull – Cora is the wife of Vernon Tull. She is a neighbor of Addie’s who is with her at her death. Cora is very self-righteous and focuses more on her own salvation and “Christian duty” than she actually does on people.
Throughout the novel, Faulkner presents fifteen different points of view, each chapter narrated by one character, including Addie, who after dying, expresses her thoughts from the coffin. In 59 chapters titled only by their narrators’ names, the characters are developed gradually through each other’s perceptions and opinions, Darl’s predominating.
Like James Joyce before him, Faulkner stands among the pioneers of stream of consciousness. He first used the technique in The Sound and the Fury, and it gives As I Lay Dying its distinctly intimate tone, through the monologues of the tragically flawed Bundrens and the passers-by they encounter. The story helped found the Southern Renaissance and directs a great deal of effort as it progresses to reflections on being and existence, the existential metaphysics of everyday life.
Addie Bundren’s lone chapter helped bring issues of feminism and motherhood in literature to the fore, as her voice is clearly expressed only after her death. Addie regards all her children dismissively save two, Jewel and Cash; it profoundly affects them both psychologically and emotionally. [source: wikipedia]
William Faulkner wrote the novel "As I lay dying" in the 1930s. He wrote it in such a way that the story would tell several characters at once.
The book consists of 59 chapters, and it is told by 15 different characters. This is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and about how her family tried to translate her desire to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi.
At the very beginning, Addie was alive in the state of death. Addy, her family, neighbors, and acquaintances expect her to die soon. Addie sits by the window and watches as her older son builds her coffin. The rest of the family is on the porch. Her only daughter is next to her. All night after Addie's death there is a heavy rainfall that raises the water level in rivers and bridges are washed away. It is through these bridges that the family will need to cross to get to the city. So, the family began its journey with the unaddressed body of Addie in the coffin. On the way, Anse and five children face various difficulties. Almost twice they will lose the coffin of Addie. The first time they cross the river on a washed bridge. The second time was when the barn, in which Addie's coffin was left for the night.
Finally, nine days later the family finally arrives in Jefferson, where the stench from the coffin is easily noticed by the inhabitants of the city. But on arrival in the city, everyone starts to do their own thing. Dew Dell goes to the pharmacy to get rid the unwanted pregnancy. Everyone forgets that the main purpose of the visit was Addie's funeral. Anse wants to lend shovels to bury her. But this, too, is postponed until later. Because the second son, Darl was arrested for setting fire to a barn and sent to a psychiatric hospital. With Addie only just buried, Anse forces Dewey Dell to give up her money, which he spends on getting "new teeth," and marries the woman from whom he borrowed the spades.
The Main Characters
- Addie Bundren: The main character, whose death and begins all the actions in the story. She was presented as stubborn, independent and alone in her own way.
- Anse Bundren: Husband of Addie, that is, a widower. He is the father of almost all children in the family. He was introduced as a simple and very boring person.
- Cash Bundren: The eldest son. He has a logical mindset, and he is very calm. He prefers to act, not speak.
- Jewel Bundren: The third son of Addy. He is physically strong and more than once rescues his mother's coffin. At first glance, it may seem that he did not care about his mother. But his actions say the opposite.
- Dewey Dell Bundren: The only daughter of Addie, who is 17 years old. She is pregnant and is looking for a way to get rid of the pregnancy.
- Vardaman Bundren: The youngest son. He embodies his mother as a fish. He is very creative and eager to spend time outside of everyone
- Vernon and Cora Tull: A close neighbors of Bundren family
- Whitfield: Jewel’s biological father. He is a local minister, he and Addy had a short intrigue to conceive Jewel.
- Lafe: a farmer who has impregnated Dewey Dell and given her $10 to get an abortion.
After relatively unfulfilled early attempts at poetry and prose, Sherwood Anderson advised Faulkner to concentrate on his "native land." This led to the saga of the Joknapatavf district, partly a true regional story based on Oxford, Mississippi, which merged imperceptibly into a single myth. In 1929 Faulkner begins the saga with Sartoris and continues it in "The Sound and Fury" and " As I lay dying."
“As I lay dying" bears in itself the most vivid evidence of his new style. From long and complex paragraphs, the paragraphs were cut down with a clear and unified plot.
William Cuthbert Faulkner was a Nobel Prize-winning American novelist and short story writer. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, his reputation is based mostly on his novels, novellas, and short stories. He was also a published poet and an occasional screenwriter.
The reader can consider 15 different points of view. Each of the storytellers has his own vision and reaction to the events taking place in the novel. Faulkner emphasizes his main theme in that a story is told by many storytellers: each character is alienated from the other. Despite the fact that they have a large family, they almost do not communicate with each other. It is further seen that they cannot even interact with each other. Each character has different guesses about each other and in this regard, there are inexplicable.
Coffin Addie: performance as a physical cargo due to Addi's death.
Fish: Vardaman's vision of his mother. For him, she does not exist after death, as well as during the life.
Water (river): the river is represented as a force that acts against the family of Bundrens like death.
Fire: as a symbol of purification (although he destroys the shed and animals, but does not have time to absorb the coffin.
Tools: personify Cash, because he always works, not just talking.
Roads: The family faces problems on their way and they often have to make decisions.
The Main Idea
Just as "I lay dying" casts doubt on traditional ideas about the meaning of heroism, the novel also complicates the idea of the family. At the beginning of the novel, it seems possible that the Bundren family is a united front, standing together in front of the tragic death of their beloved wife and mother. But having set out on the road, their united front begins to fall apart. The author shows death as a strong force. Addie was dead in the novel but, it is she who moves all living characters here and there. The journey of this family to Jefferson reveals the social beliefs about death and raises the hidden concerns about the truth of human life.
Despite different opinions, critics nevertheless came to the conclusion that William Faulkner is the greatest American science fiction writer. In 1949, William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, after a fruitful career, which included the production of nineteen novels and two volumes of poetry.
Topics for Your Essay
It's no secret that almost every student is obliged to read "As I lay dying" by William Faulkner in the framework of literature class. You can find topics to write your academic assignment right here.
- What are literary devices used in “As I Lay Dying”?
- How is it that Darl is the one to explain Addie's death"?
- How does the text As I Lay Dying show modernism?
- In As I Lay Dying, why does Jewel only get one chapter?
- How do you describe Addie Bundren from “As I Lay Dying”?
- How would you rate the book and why? Give lots of details “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner.
- What are the most prominent social issues in “As I Lay Dying”?