|BARRON'S BOOK NOTES
AS I LAY DYING
^^^^^^^^^^WILLIAM FAULKNER: THE AUTHOR AND HIS TIMES
No one who knew William Faulkner in high school would have voted him "most likely to succeed." He dropped out in the eleventh grade. "I never did like school," he said, "and I stopped going as soon as I got big enough to play hooky and not be caught at it."
Failure seemed attached to him like a tin can. His girlfriend married a man whose prospects were better than Faulkner's. The U.S. Army Air Corps wouldn't take him during World War I--he was too short.
In his twenties, he seemed incapable of applying himself to anything. He went to the University of Mississippi, did miserably in English, and quit after a year. Though he managed to get a job running the university's post office, he was so incompetent he was forced to resign. He was even removed as the local scoutmaster because he drank too much. The litany of his shortcomings stretches on: his almost paralyzing shyness, his inability to write memorable poetry, his years as a problem drinker.
And yet, this "failure" produced 90 short stories, 19 novels, and a play that was performed on Broadway. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, the highest recognition any writer can get. Today, he is considered one of the greatest writers the United States has ever produced.
How did this happen? A complete answer would have to take into account Faulkner's special gifts as a writer, developed over a long period of apprenticeship. As I Lay Dying, his fifth published novel, will give you an excellent chance to appreciate those gifts and his unique view of the world. That view stems, partly, from what critics call the Southern Tradition--the myths about the South as a defeated nation that he shared with other Southerners of his time.
GROWING UP William Cuthbert Falkner (he added the u when he became a published writer) was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. For the first four years of his life, he lived in Ripley, a nearby town whose cemetery is dominated by a statue of Faulkner's great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner. Faulkner never knew his great-grandfather--he had died in 1889. But Old Colonel Falkner, as he was called, remained a legendary figure to his descendants.
After the Civil War, Colonel Falkner refused to lick his wounds. He built a railroad, became rich, and wrote several novels, one of them a best-seller. He was shot and killed in Ripley's town square by his former partner in the railroad venture.
The Old Colonel's son, John, was a lawyer and a banker. When John's son Murry and his wife moved to Oxford in northern Mississippi, they already had three sons: William, who was four; Murry, three; and John, just one. A fourth boy, Dean, would be born in 1907. Some readers think that Faulkner's growing up with three brothers may have helped him work out the intricate relationships of the four brothers in As I Lay Dying.
William and John were old enough to be dazzled by Oxford, a county seat of some 1800 people. The electric street lamps--the first they had ever seen--were especially marvelous. Toward the end of As I Lay Dying, the young boy Vardaman visits a town very much like Oxford, giving Faulkner the chance to re-create the sense of wonder the arc lamps gave him in his childhood.
Faulkner's mother, an amateur artist, tried to inspire in her sons a love of learning. There was, of course, no television or radio then, and silent movies became popular late in Faulkner's childhood. So, during the evenings, the family read a lot. Mrs. Falkner introduced her children to some of the great American and European writers.
Mrs. Falkner, a Baptist, took care of their religious education, too. William never had much use for organized religion. But he believed in God and Christian values, and he read the Bible regularly for pleasure. As I Lay Dying contains many references to the Old and New Testaments. Several of the novel's characters reflect Faulkner's understanding of the way Christianity shaped the views of the people he grew up among.
Faulkner seemed to lose all interest in schooling when he got to high school. "He gazed out the windows and answered the simplest question with 'I don't know,'" a classmate remembered. He was an outsider, often lost in daydreams like Darl, the poetic, brooding brother in As I Lay Dying whose neighbors thought him odd.
He quit school in December, 1914, then returned the next fall to the eleventh grade (the last grade his school offered) so that he could play football. When the season ended, he quit school for good and went to work as a clerk in his grandfather's bank.
THE SOUTHERN TRADITION The South--as a region and a state of mind--plays a very important part in Faulkner's work. The South was defeated in the Civil War and occupied for twelve years afterward by Federal troops. Many of the white Southerners who had supported the Confederacy were unable to accept the harsh facts of defeat. Their children--and their children's children, people like Faulkner--were steeped in the myths of the Old South. They heard again and again of the chivalry, heroism, and honor of its defenders. Like the regional dialects that Faulkner uses in As I Lay Dying, the subject of a ravaged homeland was a part of the tradition that these writers inherited.
But the South was changing during Faulkner's youth. Its political leaders were changing, too. Descendants of the aristocratic families of the Old South were losing power. They were being replaced by men who drew their strength from the new class of businessmen or from poor white farmers who feared that they were being left behind.
Faulkner wasn't sure what to make of the upheaval going on around him. He tried to come to terms with it. Like Bayard Sartoris, the main character in Faulkner's third novel, Sartoris, he wasn't sure there was a place for him in this New South.
Faulkner would deal directly with these themes in several of his books. In As I Lay Dying, he approaches them indirectly, suggesting conflicts between the hill farmers--the "rednecks"--and the townspeople.
Here and there in As I Lay Dying, you'll see him betray a certain affection for the myths of the Old South. The character who comes closest to being a hero, Jewel, is a man of action, and he's often mounted on a horse like the South's gallant defenders during the Civil War. And the Bundrens, who hold center stage in As I Lay Dying, are a sort of proud guerrilla band fighting their own rear guard action against a powerful enemy.
LITERARY APPRENTICESHIP Faulkner wrote little more than poetry before leaving Oxford in 1918 to join the Royal Flying Corps in Canada. Most of that poetry, as Faulkner later acknowledged, wasn't very good. "I'm a failed poet," he once told an interviewer. "Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing."
Faulkner didn't take up novel writing until he went to New Orleans in 1925, after he was allowed to resign from his job as a postmaster near Oxford. In New Orleans he made friends with the novelist Sherwood Anderson, who encouraged him to write fiction.
Faulkner's first novel, Soldiers' Pay, was published in 1926. It is the story of an American soldier who returns home to Georgia to die of the wounds received in World War I. His second book, Mosquitoes, published in 1927, makes fun of the artistic and social circles he knew in New Orleans. Light on plot and heavy on hollow talk, the novel embodies a theme that Faulkner explores in As I Lay Dying: the uselessness of words when separated from action.
In 1928, Faulkner wrote Sartoris, which told of the decay of a proud Southern family much like his own. The book is set in Jefferson, a fictitious town in Mississippi that resembles Oxford. Jefferson is the Bundren family's destination in As I Lay Dying. In that novel, published in 1930, Faulkner for the first time gives a name--Yoknapatawpha--to the county of which Jefferson is the political center. (For the derivation of the name, see Note in section 45 of The Story section.)
While Sartoris was being readied for publication in January, 1929, Faulkner wrote The Sound and the Fury. Many readers think that this second novel in the Yoknapatawpha saga is Faulkner's masterpiece. It is a study of the collapse of another proud Southern family, the Compsons. A difficult book, it tells its story in three stream-of-consciousness styles Faulkner had learned from reading the Irish writer James Joyce. Faulkner told the story first through the eyes of an idiot, then through the eyes of two brothers.
Convinced that he would never make any money writing, he returned in his next book to a more conventional way of presenting material. He conceived of Sanctuary as a "potboiler"--a salable mix of sex and violence. When it was published in 1931, it became a best-seller.
Before Sanctuary came out, however, Faulkner wrote and published As I Lay Dying. Its plot is relatively straightforward, the story of a poor family's journey from the hills of Yoknapatawpha County to Jefferson to bury one of its members. But the story is told in a way that is anything but straightforward. Like The Sound and the Fury, the novel has no single narrator. Instead, it has 15 narrators--family members and outsiders--who piece together a funeral journey in 59 unnumbered sections. The result is a tour de force, a work of art that displays Faulkner's incredible technical skill as a writer. Even more incredible is the fact that he wrote the book in just 47 days!
That's a story in itself. In June 1929, he had married Estelle Oldham Franklin, a girlfriend who had turned her back on him 11 years earlier. He took a job as a supervisor at the University of Mississippi's power plant. It was night work and consisted of firing the boilers with coal until about 11 P.M., when the students went to bed. There was no more work to do until 4 A.M., so each night Faulkner wrote a chapter or more of As I Lay Dying on a wheelbarrow he had turned into a desk.
A quarter century later, Faulkner recalled the experience:
Sometimes technique charges in and takes command of the dream before the writer himself can get his hands on it. That is tour de force and the finished work is simply a matter of fitting bricks neatly together, since the writer knows probably every single word right to the end before he puts the first one down. This happened with As I Lay Dying. It was not easy. No honest work is. It was simple in that all the material was already at hand. It took me just about six weeks....
Faulkner took the novel's title from a line in Homer's Odyssey: "As I lay dying the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyelids for me as I descended into Hades." The line is spoken by the dead King Agamemnon. Odysseus meets him in the underworld and is moved by his story. The king had been killed by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover, Aegisthus. As he died, Clytemnestra--"the woman with the dog's eyes"--demonstrated her heartlessness by refusing to close his eyes and so ease his descent into the underworld. With Faulkner, you can get into trouble trying to make literal sense of titles. Still, when you finish the novel, you may want to return to the title and try to make your own sense of it.
Once you get into the novel, you should have no trouble enjoying it. "Of all Faulkner's novels," the critic Irving Howe said, "As I Lay Dying is the warmest, the kindliest and most affectionate.... In no other work is he so receptive to people, so ready to take and love them, to hear them out and record their turns of idiom, their melodies of speech."
Faulkner had more than three decades of work ahead of him after he finished As I Lay Dying. In 1930, he began contributing short stories to national magazines. He published thirteen of them in book form in 1931, the year he gained some fame--or notoriety--with Sanctuary.
Unlike Sanctuary, As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury failed to reach wide audiences. When As I Lay Dying appeared in October 1930 reviewers generally praised it, even when annoyed. But readers found Faulkner's stream of consciousness techniques hard going and the world of Yoknapatawpha County as foreign as Mars.
In 1932, Faulkner couldn't sell the magazine rights to a more conventional novel, Light in August. So he took a job writing film scripts in Hollywood. He would write films, off and on, for the next 22 years. None of the films was especially memorable. Writing them kept him from his family for long stretches. Yet the movies helped him pay his bills.
He wrote a succession of fine novels after Light in August--Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and The Unvanquished (1938) among them. During most of the 1940s, however, it was hard to find any of his novels in bookstores.
The Nobel Prize for Literature he won in 1950 changed all that. His publishers put his books back in print. And although his great creative period had ended in 1938, even the weaker novels he now wrote sold well.
Faulkner died of a heart attack in 1962, a little more than 32 years after he wrote As I Lay Dying. Some years before he died, he recalled the goal he had in mind when he wrote the novel: "I said, I am going to write a book by which, at a pinch, I can stand or fall if I never touch ink again."
As his reader, you are the final judge of his effort. Did he succeed in his aim of writing a book that his reputation could rest on?
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: THE PLOT
Addie, a schoolteacher, marries Anse Bundren, a tall man with a humped back who has a farm in the hills of Yoknapatawpha County. They have a child, Cash, who makes Addie feel less alone and whom she loves.
Her contentment with one child is shattered when she finds herself pregnant with her second child, Darl. She feels that Anse has tricked her with words of love, which she is sure he cannot feel. In revenge, she secures a promise she knows will be nearly impossible to keep. She makes Anse promise to bury her next to her relatives 40 miles away in Jefferson, the county seat, when she dies.
One summer, Addie has a brief, passionate affair with Whitfield, a preacher. They have a son, Jewel, whom Anse raises as his own. To make amends to Anse for her unfaithfulness, she has two other children, Dewey Dell and Vardaman.
When Vardaman is eight or nine, Addie lies dying on her corn-shuck mattress. Outside her window, Cash, now a 29-year-old carpenter, carefully fashions her coffin as a gesture of love. While the Tulls--neighbors--are visiting, Darl convinces jewel to take a trip with him to pick up a load of lumber. Darl knows that Jewel is Addie's favorite child. The trip for lumber is a contrivance--Darl's way of keeping Jewel from his mother's bedside when she dies.
Their absence with the family's wagon presents a problem. In the July heat, dead bodies decompose rapidly. A wheel breaks, and before Darl and jewel can replace it, bring the wagon home, and load Addie's body onto it for the trip to Jefferson, three days have passed.
By this time, heavy rains have flooded the Yoknapatawpha River and washed out all the bridges that cross it. The Bundrens travel past the Tulls' house to the Samsons', then back to the Tulls' again to ford the river at what had been a shallow place before the flood.
The river is vicious. The Bundrens' mules drown. The wagon tips over, dumping Cash and breaking his leg. Jewel, on horseback, manages to keep the wagon and its load from drifting downstream.
They stop at the Amstids' on the other side of the river. Anse trades Jewel's horse and Cash's eight dollars--he had been saving for a wind-up phonograph--for a new mule team.
To reach Jefferson, the Bundrens have to drive out of the county to Mottson. Addie's rotting body outrages the townspeople. The Bundrens buy a dime's worth of cement to make a cast for Cash's leg. Dewey Dell, who is pregnant, tries and fails to buy some abortion pills in the local drugstore.
They spend the night at the Gillespies' farm. Darl sets fire to the barn where Addie's body is stored in an effort to spare his mother more degradation. However, Jewel saves her coffin with a heroic act. Dewey Dell, who hates Darl because he knows she is pregnant, realizes that Darl set the fire and tells the Gillespies.
The Bundrens reach Jefferson nine days after Addie's death. They dig her grave with borrowed shovels and then get on with their own lives. They commit Darl to the state insane asylum rather than pay the Gillespies for a new barn. A dishonest drugstore clerk takes advantage of Dewey Dell, who fails to get the abortion pills she wanted. Anse takes money from Dewey Dell, buys a set of false teeth, and marries a "duck-shaped" woman.
Faulkner provides you with two basic perspectives on the characters, allowing you to view them through their own interior monologues and through the eyes of others. You must sort through the different views to arrive at your own understanding of the Bundrens and their neighbors.
What follows is an exploration of the 15 characters whose interior monologues make up the novel. The seven Bundrens are presented first. The numbers after the characters' names refer to the sections they narrate. Faulkner didn't number the sections. They are numbered here to help you match your copy of the novel with the section-by-section discussion in this guide. (See the Note on Numbering the Monologues at the beginning of The Story section.)
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: ANSE BUNDREN [9, 26, 28]
Anse is a hill farmer who inherited his parents' farm just south of the Yoknapatawpha River, which crosses the southern end of Yoknapatawpha County. A lazy man, he has convinced himself that if he ever sweats, he will die. He is so ineffectual when confronted with obstacles that his sons have to make many of his decisions for him.
Yet he seems to mean well. When Addie dies, his grief appears genuine, although he can express it only clumsily. In at least one place--while staying at Samson's--his resolve to honor Addie's wish to be buried in Jefferson wavers. But in general he sticks to the promise he made to her 28 years earlier, at Darl's birth, and insists on taking her body to Jefferson, which he has not visited for 12 years.
Selfishness is one of his major motivations, and he is adept at deceiving himself: Some readers see Anse as a comic figure--a sad clown. Others view him as a villain, able to act only from selfish motives. But to people such as Addie, he's a "dead" person, substituting empty words for experience.
You should try to see whether Anse grows or otherwise changes during the course of the action. Study his words at the end of the book to determine whether he has gained insights into himself or anyone else since he first appeared in section 3.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: ADDIE BUNDREN 
Though Anse's wife, Addie, is given only one monologue, her presence, even in death, dominates the novel. Born and raised in Jefferson, her father taught her that the purpose of living is to prepare for death. Her parents were dead and she was teaching school when she met Anse. She married him--"I took Anse," she said--in hopes of making the sort of intense, violent contact with another person that would give her life meaning.
Anse couldn't provide that experience. He could only talk about it--not the same thing at all, Addie points out. Cash, her firstborn, does penetrate the circle of solitude around her, and she loves him. Her attitude toward her children, whether love, hostility, or indifference, helps them define themselves and their response to her death.
About ten years after Darl's birth, she has a passionate affair with a preacher named Whitfield, who fathers her favorite son, Jewel. She makes amends to Anse by having two more children.
Despite her negative qualities, Addie may be visualized as a life force. She craves passionate encounters, violations of her "aloneness." Some readers have identified her with the myth of Demeter, the major goddess of fertility, and her daughter, Persephone, goddess of spring and thus also of fertility.
Other readers stress the barrenness of her life--her father's destructive teachings, her loneliness, her vengefulness, her rejection of Darl and her indifference toward Dewey Dell and Vardaman. These readers feel that Faulkner may be turning the Demeter-Persephone myth on its head, making Addie in death as well as in life a sort of goddess of infertility.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: CASH BUNDREN [18, 22, 38, 53, 59]
Cash, at 29 or 30 Addie's oldest son, is a carpenter. His name is short for Cassius. His mother loved him, and he returns that love, painstakingly crafting her coffin outside her window in the opening scenes. A recognizable country type, his unexpected responses--to pain, for example, and to a question about the height of his fall from a church roof--are a source of humor. At the end of the book, his insights into the family relationships and Darl's sanity reveal him to be the wisest of the Bundrens, and perhaps the one most changed by the journey.
His lameness suggests to some readers a parallel with Hephaestus (also known as Vulcan or Mulciber), the Greek god of fire. Hephaestus was a kindly, peace-loving god, patron of handicrafts. Though lame, he made weapons and furnishings for the other gods.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: DARL BUNDREN [1, 3, 5, 10, 12, 17, 21, 23, 25, 27, 32, 34, 37, 42,
46, 48, 50, 52, 57]
Darl, about 28 years old, narrates a third of the book and is easily the most perceptive of the Bundren children. A sort of mad poet, he is a type that always intrigued Faulkner and with whom he often identified. The neighbors consider him odd. He is clairvoyant, that is, able to understand unspoken thoughts and to describe scenes he doesn't witness.
Addie's rejection of him is the central fact of his life. His rivalry with Jewel, Addie's favorite son, is evident on the first page and continues to the end of the book. His sensitivity stems, at least in part, some readers think, from the wounds inflicted by his mother's rejection of him.
Why he sets fire to the barn is, like his sanity, a matter of debate. Many readers believe that he wanted to end the journey by burning Addie's decomposing corpse perhaps as an act of love, "to hide her away from the sight of man." Others see his setting of the fire as a mark of insanity, justifying his being committed to an asylum at Jackson at the end of the book. You will have an opportunity to offer your own explanation as you learn more about Darl.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: JEWEL BUNDREN 
Jewel, Addie's son by Whitfield, is 18 years old. Like Pearl, the product of Hester Prynne's adulterous affair in Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter, Jewel's name is a symbol of the value his mother places on him. The favoritism that Addie showed him is responsible for the antagonism between him and Darl.
A blend of inarticulateness and action, Jewel personifies Addie's preference for experience over words. He is always in motion. He expresses himself best through actions. When he verbalizes his love for Addie--in his single monologue--he does so with a violent fantasy about hurling down stones on outsiders. Elsewhere, he expresses his love for her through deeds, not words.
His relationship with his horse is equally intense. Like the Greek god Dionysus, with whom some readers associate him, Jewel is both virile and cruel. (See the Note in Chapter 1 of The Story section for further discussion of Jewel as Dionysus.)
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: DEWEY DELL BUNDREN [7, 14, 30, 58]
Dewey Dell, Addie's fourth child, is 17. Unable to complete a thought, she seems at times like a mindless animal. By her name and actions, Faulkner identifies her with the earth and with fertility--a "wet seed wild in the hot blind earth." Perhaps because of her mother's indifference to her, she seems unmoved by Addie's death. She is pregnant and eager to go to Jefferson because she hopes to buy abortion pills there.
Dewey Dell has a vindictive side. She hates Darl for knowing that she is pregnant and seeks revenge by betraying him. With Vardaman, however, she shows maternal feelings.
Some readers associate Dewey Dell with Persephone, the goddess of spring and queen of the underworld in Greek myth. They point out, however, that once again Faulkner may be turning the Demeter-Persephone myth on its head. By seeking an abortion, this goddess of fertility is denying her own powers.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: VARDAMAN BUNDREN [13, 15, 19, 24, 35, 44, 47]
Eight or nine years old, Vardaman is the son Addie gave Anse to "replace the child I robbed him of." She is looking at him when she dies. He is so traumatized by her death, he at first blames Doc Peabody for it, then confuses Addie in his mind with a huge fish he caught the afternoon she died.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: WHITFIELD 
Addie's lover and Jewel's father, Whitfield is the preacher who heads for the Bundrens' farm when he hears that Addie is dying. Perhaps fearing Addie will confess their brief affair on her deathbed, he intends to admit the transgression himself.
Addie dies before Whitfield arrives, and he decides that God will accept his intention to confess in place of the actual confession. His monologue, full of empty religiosity of the sort Addie detested, suggests that Addie may have misjudged him some nineteen years earlier.
He presides over her funeral. The impression he gives Tull--that his voice is not part of his body--calls attention to the disparity between his words and actions.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: VERNON TULL [8, 16, 20, 31, 33, 36]
Vernon Tull--or just Tull--is a neighbor who lives four miles from the Bundrens. You can trust his observations because, unlike his wife Cora, he never judges what he sees, he merely reports.
Try as he might, he can't not help Anse. "I done holp him so much already I cant quit now," he says.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: CORA TULL [2, 6, 39]
Cora, like Addie a former teacher, is a well-meaning woman who lectures Addie on the need to repent her sins. Despite her empty piety, some see Cora as a sympathetic character, one that Faulkner makes you care about. She doesn't have much use for the Bundrens but believes, as her religion teaches, that it is her duty to help her fellow mortals.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: DOC PEABODY [11, 51]
Seventy years old and weighing more than 200 pounds, Lucius Quintus Peabody (Faulkner gives the full name in his novel Sartoris) is, like Tull, a reliable narrator. Early in the novel, he makes a house call to the Bundrens' to see Addie. He introduces one of the novel's themes--that death is felt not by those who die but by their survivors. Toward the end of the novel, in Jefferson, he treats Cash's broken leg.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: SAMSON 
Samson owns a farm eight miles from the Bundrens'. When Anse and his family are unable to cross the river by bridge, they stay at Samson's overnight. His firmness tempered by understanding, Samson suggests that they bury Addie in nearby New Hope. But Anse, prodded by Dewey Dell, ignores the advice. Samson's wife, Rachel--an emotional and, to Samson, unpredictable woman--is outraged by Addie's treatment.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: ARMSTID 
Armstid, a farmer on the north side of the Yoknapatawpha River, lends Jewel his mules so that the Bundrens can move their wagon away from the river. The Bundrens stay at Armstid's farm one night, and down the road from it a second night. One of the most generous people the Bundrens meet, Armstid offers them more aid--food, lodging, and the extended use of his team--than they are willing to accept.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: MOSELEY 
Moseley runs the drugstore in Mottson. A righteous man, he refuses to sell Dewey Dell anything to abort her child. He reports the townspeople's view of the rest of the Bundren clan, who were waiting outside a hardware store while Darl bought cement for Cash's cast.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: SKEET MACGOWAN 
MacGowan, a druggist's assistant in Jefferson, takes advantage of Dewey Dell's naivete and seduces her.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: SETTING
As I Lay Dying takes place in or just outside Yoknapatawpha County, the "apocryphal kingdom" in northern Mississippi where 15 of Faulkner's 19 novels are set. Faulkner never disguised the fact that he modeled Yoknapatawpha after his own Lafayette County, where he lived for most of his life. Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha's county seat, is much like Oxford, Faulkner's hometown.
Yoknapatawpha is sparsely populated. Faulkner once put its population at 15,611, and its land area at 2400 square miles. The Bundrens' closest neighbors in the pine hills, the Tulls, live four miles away. One of the themes of As I Lay Dying is isolation-the isolation even of people who are united in a common effort. The distance between the farms in Yoknapatawpha's hill country advances that theme. The Tulls, Samsons, Armstids, and Bundrens are all part of the same community, yet each family operates within its own orbit, and within that orbit each individual lives locked in the "cell" of his own consciousness.
The Bundrens' journey to Jefferson takes them from the world of farmers and woodsmen to the world of storekeepers, mechanics, doctors and lawyers. The worlds are as different as day and night. Indeed, Faulkner suggests that the Yoknapatawpha River is a dividing line as significant to the Bundrens as the mythological River Styx was to the ancient Greeks. The River Styx, in Greek mythology, separated the world of the living from the world of the dead. Conflict between town and country folk is a motif that crops up throughout the novel.
Finding obstacles to put in the Bundrens' path wasn't difficult. "I simply imagined a group of people and subjected them to the simple universal natural catastrophes, which are flood and fire," Faulkner said in 1956. Rain and flood dominate the first two thirds of the book, adding to the Bundrens' stress and enabling Faulkner to study their response to crisis.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: THEMES
Here is a list of the major themes that readers have found in As I Lay Dying. You will have a chance to explore them further in the section-by-section discussion of the novel. Some of these themes are contradictory. It is up to you to sort out those you think are valid from those you think invalid.
1. DEATH SHAPES LIFE
Addie, in death, motivates the living. She causes her family to bear the struggle of the Journey to Jefferson. Her different attitudes toward her children dictate their different responses to her death and prompt one--Jewel--to perform feats of heroism. The rivalry between Jewel and Darl continues long after Addie's death. Even her decaying corpse motivates the living--to flee.
2. LIFE IS ABSURD--A JOURNEY WITH NO MEANING
The purpose of the journey, from Addie's point of view, is revenge. But Anse isn't allowed to understand that. Nor is he perceptive enough to understand that the journey is senseless. He could have buried Addie at New Hope and bought false teeth another day. This interpretation was popular in the 1950s, especially among French Existentialists, members of a philosophical movement that holds the universe to be absurd.
3. HUMANS HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO BE INVOLVED WITH OTHERS
Some readers interpret Addie's longing for intense personal contact--her "duty to the alive, to the terrible blood"--as support for this theme. Such involvement with others gives meaning to existence. The help the Bundrens are given by their neighbors and the help they give each other demonstrate the importance of involvement.
4. ALL HUMANS LIVE IN SOLITUDE AND SOLIDARITY AT THE SAME TIME
We live in our own cells even while acting in unison with others to achieve a common goal--a goal as simple as moving a body about 40 miles to a cemetery. The 59 interior monologues that make up the novel are clear demonstrations of the cells in which individuals live. "Man is free and he is responsible, terribly responsible," Faulkner told an interviewer in 1959. "His tragedy is the impossibility--or at least the tremendous difficulty--of communication. But man keeps on trying endlessly to express himself and make contact with other human beings."
5. LANGUAGE IS VANITY WHILE ACTION--EVEN "SINFUL" ACTION--IS THE
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: TEST OF LIFE
This is a theme of great importance to Addie, for whom words are "just a shape to fill a lack." "Words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless," she says, while "doing goes along the earth, clinging to it...." In various ways, Anse, Cora, and Whitfield exemplify the emptiness of words when compared with action. On the other hand, the most inarticulate character in the novel, Jewel, is all motion. He expresses himself through action, not words.
6. TRUTH IS ELUSIVE, SINCE FACTS ARE SUBJECTIVE
Each of the novel's 15 narrators has a perspective on reality that may or may not be accurate. Is Darl sane or insane? Is Vardaman's mother a fish? Is Addie's sin, as Cora says, the sin of pride, and the log that struck the wagon "the hand of God"? Does Anse have some feeling, a lot of feeling, or no feeling toward Addie? Since Faulkner provides no narrator to help you sift through the various characters' perceptions, you are left to draw your own conclusions.
Readers have also identified several secondary themes in As I Lay Dying. Among them are the following.
1. THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE POOR WHITE FARMERS AND THE TOWNSPEOPLE
These two groups are at odds throughout the novel, from the "rich town" lady's rejection of Cora's cakes to Dewey Dell's seduction by the slick druggist's assistant in Jefferson.
2. DARL'S PREOCCUPATION WITH JEWEL
Darl, the unwanted son, is obsessed with Jewel, the favorite son, from the first sentence of the novel almost to the end.
3. THE POWER TO ACT
Some characters have this power, some don't. After reading As I Lay Dying, you might want to rank the characters according to their ability to act. Most readers would place Jewel at the head of the list, Anse at the bottom.
4. THE POWER TO LOVE
Some of the characters have this ability, some can only talk about it. Perhaps more than anyone, Addie and Jewel have this power--one which Jewel, by saving his mother twice, merges with his power to act. As the Bible would have it, he does "not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth" (1 John 3:18).
5. THE ROLE OF SEX
It is a source of tension between men and women, an antidote to loneliness, and a method of achieving immortality. Addie lives on through her children and through children who, like Dewey Dell's, are yet unborn.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: STYLE
Faulkner is a difficult writer. His style--the way he expresses things--is often closer to poetry than to prose. Like a poet, he tries to capture the emotion of an experience as well as the experience itself.
Faulkner deliberately withholds meaning to keep his options open, to keep his story in motion. In the opening section, for instance, he describes an odd competition between Darl and Jewel but never tells you whether it really is a competition or what it's all about. You have to read many more sections before you can make sense of that first one. In Addie's section , her thoughts jump from experience (her history) to ideas (her theory of the distance between words and deeds) and to unanchored impressions ("the terrible blood, the red bitter blood boiling through the land") whose meaning you must almost guess at.
The beauty of As I Lay Dying is that its structure permits Faulkner to create numerous voices. Dewey Dell's breathy rush of unfinished thoughts is one distinct voice. Vernon Tull's folk dialect is another, and MacGowan's wise-guy patter is still another. The repetitive structure of Whitfield's monologue  mimics Psalms in the Old Testament. In large part, this demonstration of Faulkner's virtuosity in handling a number of voices comfortably is what people are talking about when they call As I Lay Dying a tour de force, an expression of an author's technical mastery.
Keep an eye out for Faulkner's startling use of imagery. It would be useful for you to jot down the first ten images that make an impression on you and ask yourself why they are memorable. Much of Faulkner's imagery is visual (pertaining to sight). But his imagery can also be olfactory (pertaining to smell), tactile (touch), auditory (hearing), gustatory (taste), and even abstract in its appeal to the intellect.
The lyric description of drinking water from a cedar bucket [section 3] provides examples of these forms of imagery. "Warmish-cool, with a faint taste like the hot July wind in cedar trees smells" mixes gustatory, tactile, and olfactory imagery in one sentence. A paragraph later, Faulkner mixes auditory and tactile imagery: "I could lie with my shirt-tail up, hearing them asleep, feeling myself without touching myself, feeling the cool silence blowing...."
It's Faulkner's abstract imagery that may give you the most trouble. "I cannot love my mother because I have no mother," Darl says in section 21. "Jewel's mother is a horse."
Faulkner makes imaginative uses of figures of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another (metaphor) or in which one thing is likened to another (simile). In section 21, Jewel shapes a horse in his imagination "in a rigid stoop like a hawk, hook-winged" (simile). Darl describes the floating log that topples the wagon "upright... like Christ" (simile), and later Cora calls the log "the hand of God" (metaphor). Extending the Christ image, Darl speaks metaphorically of "the bearded head of the rearing log." Earlier Faulkner uses metaphor to suggest that Jewel's horse is Pegasus--"enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings." What he is doing here, as elsewhere, is implying analogies between his characters and those from ancient myth.
In a consideration of style, it's important to remember that all the action is described through interior monologues thought processes presented as speech. Interior monologues play three key roles. They (1) move the action forward, (2) reveal the characters' private thoughts, and (3) comment on what the other characters do. They also permit some of Faulkner's characters to use, in their unspoken thoughts, some highly sophisticated language. "The lantern," Darl observes in section 17, "...sheds a feeble and sultry glare upon the trestles and the boards and the adjacent earth." In section 13, the young boy Vardaman sees "the dark... resolving him out of his integrity, into an unrelated scattering of components." When they speak aloud, however, these characters are country folk through-and-through. "You mind that ere fish," Vardaman tells Tull.
The folk dialect of Tull, Anse, and Cash seems to take some of the horror out of the journey. Tull describes Vardaman's boring holes through the lid of Addie's coffin: "When they taken the lid off they found that two of them had bored on into her face. If it's a judgment, it ain't right...."
As one reader says, Faulkner "crosses farce with anguish" in As I Lay Dying. And a lot of the farce, or slapstick humor, is in the language--Faulkner's style.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: POINT OF VIEW
As I Lay Dying is made up of a succession of first-person narratives, with the action seen and interpreted by fifteen characters. The narrators are subjective--they convey their own feelings and thoughts as well as report the action. None of them is detached from the action for long.
Seven of the narrators are Bundrens, totally caught up in the events and unable to make complete sense of them. Darl never ceases to try, however, and Cash gains some perspective at the end.
The other eight narrators are outsiders. Faulkner uses them to show you how observers--some of them neutral (Tull, Peabody, Samson, Armstid, Moseley), some of them not so neutral (Cora, Whitfield, MacGowan)--view the Bundrens.
Since all the narrators are wrapped up in the action, you ought to question their reliability. Anse says he is "beholden to no man," but we learn he is. Cora is convinced that Jewel and Anse forced Darl to leave his dying mother's bedside. She is wrong. What you've got to do is test the narrators' perceptions against each other, then draw your own conclusions.
One of the major themes of the novel is that because facts are subjective, truth is elusive. It's not easy to make sense of the action with so many competing points of view. You must sift the evidence and make up your own mind about what happened and why.
Faulkner surely has an opinion of each character. But even when his characters are most vile--when Anse, for example, takes Dewey Dell's money, or MacGowan seduces her--Faulkner refuses to criticize them. He portrays his characters, warts and all, with affection.
The use of multiple narrators is an effective substitute for an omniscient (all-knowing) narrator. Omniscient narrators allow novelists to present several perspectives on events. The fifteen narrators in As I Lay Dying permit Faulkner--and you--to work with fifteen perspectives.
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: FORM AND STRUCTURE
As I Lay Dying is divided into 59 soliloquies, or interior monologues--the characters' thoughts expressed as if they were spoken. They are delivered by 15 different people.
The basic plot and the controlling image of the novel is that of a journey--in this case, the journey from the Bundrens' home to the cemetery plot in Jefferson. As some readers have pointed out, the story echoes many of the well-known journeys in history and myth. The story of Odysseus wandering for years before he reaches home is suggested by the novel's title, a quote from Homer's Odyssey. Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece is another epic voyage called to some reader's minds. Also, in 1290, England's Edward I made a famous funeral journey from Nottinghamshire to London with his dead queen, Eleanor of Castile.
Faulkner's story of a poor family's funeral journey wasn't intended to compete with those grand tales. Yet they form the backdrop against which Faulkner plays out his story.
For the most part, the story is told chronologically. It begins just before Addie's death and proceeds, after a three-day delay, with the tortuous journey to Jefferson. Later, flashbacks fill in some of the pieces that are missing from the puzzle of the Bundrens' lives.
The novel's form is an expression of its content. The characters work together and live together--if not in the same house, at least in the same community. Yet their isolation from one another is almost total, and it is exemplified by the 59 monologues. For the most part, the fifteen soliloquists are unable to make meaningful contact with one another. They cannot penetrate each other's "aloneness."
^^^^^^^^^^AS I LAY DYING: THE STORY
Not numbering the 59 monologues is Faulkner's effective way of suggesting continuous action, but it makes any section-by-section discussion of the novel difficult. To eliminate that problem, you might want to number the monologues in your own copy of the novel to make it easier to match your text with the discussion that follows.
In this opening section, Faulkner carefully establishes the setting of As I Lay Dying and introduces you to one of the novel's central conflicts--the rivalry between Darl and his younger brother, Jewel. You also get your first impression of Darl's mind, another major focus of the novel.
NOTE: AVOIDING CONFUSION Expect to be somewhat disoriented at the outset, much as you would be if you overheard a snippet of conversation between two strangers. You will find few identifying labels attached to the people named in this section. Yet, as the novel develops, the identities and motivations of each character will become clear through clues which Faulkner drops and which you, as a detective, must interpret.
As the story opens, Darl and Jewel are tramping silently across a cotton field toward their house. Faulkner doesn't tell you that they are brothers, or even how old they are. (Darl, you will learn much later, is about 28, and Jewel is about 18.) Faulkner does tell you that Jewel is a head taller than Darl and that, for some reason, they are rivals.
Their silent march is loaded with tension, as if the two were actually competing. Darl is 15 feet ahead of Jewel as the section opens. But when they reach the cotton house, exactly in the center of the field, Darl walks around it. Jewel, however, steps through it--in one window and out another--and emerges five feet ahead of Darl. They keep this pace all the way to the spring, where Jewel pauses for a drink.
Jewel has quit the race--if race it was. Darl continues on, and as he reaches the top of the path, he comes upon a carpenter named Cash. (Cash, we will learn, is at 29 the oldest of the four brothers.) Cash is making a coffin for someone named Addie Bundren. He is completely absorbed in his work, kneeling alongside the coffin to squint at the fit of two planks. Darl's words of admiration--"a good carpenter, Cash is"--suggests no rancor between these two. He walks by Cash up to the house, which holds (though we don't know it yet) the cause, and the object, of the rivalry between Darl and Jewel.
Various clues in the section make it clear that these are poor country people. The section also provides some insight into Jewel's character, or at least Darl's perception of it. He seems unsmiling and stiff, with a "wooden face" and the "gravity of a cigar store Indian... endued with life from the hips down." He seems undaunted by obstacles, too. He "steps in a single stride" through one window of the cotton house and exits, four strides later, out the other.
NOTE: JEWEL AND IMAGERY OF WOOD Darl frequently describes Jewel with imagery of wood, here and elsewhere. Some readers think that in so doing, Faulkner is trying to associate Jewel with Dionysus, the Greek god of fertility and wine who was also a god of trees. Dionysus was conceived in the woods at Nemi. Jewel was also conceived in the woods, as you will learn in section 40.
Dionysus was both violent and cruel--two primitive characteristics that Jewel will exhibit in both thought and action. He was also very manly. Jewel's virility is hinted at with the reference to his being "endued with life from the hips down," and in section 8 it is suggested that he is somewhat of a ladies' man.
You can choose to ignore this interpretation. Most readers do. If you follow such parallels, however--even if they lead to dead ends--you will learn something about Faulkner's method of weaving references to ancient myth into his works. You'll learn more about this method in the discussion of sections 3 and 11.
Finally, the opening section gives you a glimpse of Darl's mind and of his special powers as an observer. He describes with geometric precision the setting of the silent race, almost as if he were in a helicopter looking down at the scene. The path runs "straight as a plumb-line" and goes around the "square" cotton house "at four soft right angles." He is aware of everything--the spaces between the coffin planks "yellow as gold" and the "chucking" sound of Cash's adze (a curved, handled tool used to dress timber and planks). He even knows what's going on behind him!
What sort of a person is Darl, judging from the way he sees things? Here, he will probably strike you as someone whose mind is uncluttered, despite its capacity to accumulate details. His vision seems absolutely clear. He appears to be an accurate reporter, someone whose perceptions you can trust.
Be careful, however. Darl will narrate almost a third of the book. As the novel progresses, he may not always appear rational and trustworthy.
NOTE: TONE AND COMIC EFFECTS Before leaving this opening section, assess its tone. Darl's attitude seems matter-of-fact, accepting. He doesn't criticize Jewel, or even comment on the tension between them. His entire tone is one of understanding and sincerity. He makes no obvious attempt at humor.
And yet, there's something gently comic about the whole scene. Most readers find themselves smiling at the silent march across the field, at Jewel's abrupt passage through the cotton house "still staring straight ahead," and at Darl's comment that "Addie Bundren could not want... a better box to lie in. It will give her confidence and comfort." If you find yourself smiling at these points, take a moment to ask yourself why.
This section introduces you to the Tull family--Cora, her husband Vernon, and their daughters Kate and Eula--and it gives you your first glimpse of Addie Bundren. It also gives you, in Cora, a look at the unfelt, shallow piety that, you learn later, repulses Addie.
Though she is an object of humor, Cora has characteristics that can draw you to her. "So I saved out the eggs and baked yesterday," her monologue begins. She was baking, it turns out, in hopes of selling cakes to a lady in town. But the lady called off her party and Cora is stuck with her cakes.
Does the turn of events bother Cora? Her pride is hurt ("They turned out real well") and so is her pocketbook ("I could have used the money real well"). But Cora, being Cora, refuses to admit to any loss. The lady who made the order "ought to taken those cakes anyway," Cora's daughter Kate remarks--not once, but four times.
NOTE: CONFLICT BETWEEN COUNTRY AND TOWN A recurring theme throughout As I Lay Dying is the conflict between the hill people and those who live in towns, especially Jefferson, the county seat. The episode of the spurned cakes is the first instance of this conflict. "Those rich town ladies can change their minds. Poor folks cant," Kate tells her mother. You may want to write about this conflict later, so keep an eye out for signs of it as you read the novel.
Through it all, Cora uses her religion, never too convincingly, to comfort herself. "The Lord can see into the heart," she says. "If it is His will that some folks has different ideas of honesty from other folks, it is not my place to question His decree."
It's not until halfway through the section that we learn how almost sacrilegious Cora's self-pity is. She rises out of her concerns--petty to the reader, major to her--to take note of Addie for the first time. And you learn that she is sitting by the bedside of a woman whose dying is of less importance to her than her couple of dollars' worth of cakes.
Addie is not far from death. "Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks," Cora says. It's a painful, yet perfectly apt description--the sort of matter-of-fact simile you might expect a country woman to come up with.
Addie has been propped up so that she can look out the window at Cash building her coffin. Cora instinctively links her to her own concerns about the rejected cakes. "They turned out real nice," Cora says. "But not like the cakes Addie used to bake."
Cora's eye falls on the dirty pillow case, giving her a chance to mentally criticize Addie's daughter, who sits by the bed fanning her mother. (In later sections you will learn that the daughter's name is Dewey Dell, and that she is 17 years old.) In the next breath, Cora praises Addie's baking and makes a lame attempt to reassure everyone that "first thing we know [Addie will] be up and baking again." Cora's monologue ends with Darl's entrance into the house.
Take a moment to analyze the way Faulkner creates Cora. He puts the technique of the interior monologue to excellent use here, mixing spoken and unspoken thoughts with sometimes hilarious effect. To see how Faulkner uses this technique, go back over this section and read only those lines that were spoken aloud. The spoken thoughts leave you with no humor at all--just a mother and her daughters exchanging small talk at the bedside of a dying neighbor.
In this section, Faulkner gives you a second glimpse of the workings of Darl's remarkable mind. He exposes you to Jewel's violent nature and his ambivalence toward his horse, the one possession that sets him apart from the other Bundrens.
At the end of Cora's section, Darl walked toward the back of the house. Now, you see where he was heading--to the back porch for a drink from the water bucket.
Vernon Tull, Cora's husband, is sitting there with Anse Bundren, Darl's father. Anse asks, "Where's Jewel?" and Darl, savoring this "warmish-cool" water that he is drinking from a gourd, takes a long time answering.
The water sets off a chain of associations. It brings back memories of hot nights during Darl's childhood and the almost mystical experience of taking a drink, alone, under the starry sky. In one of the many poetic passages in the novel, Darl recalls "a star or two in the bucket, and maybe in the dipper a star or two before I drank."
His thoughts float naturally from the sensual pleasure of the water's taste to an early period of sexual awareness, when he would keep himself awake until the others had gone to sleep. Then "I could lie with my shirt-tail up,... feeling myself without touching myself, feeling the cool silence blowing upon my parts...."
NOTE: SEXUAL THEMES IN AS I LAY DYING Sexuality plays an important role in this book, as in most of Faulkner's works. This theme was alluded to in an early description of Jewel and in Cora's section. It will recur again and again in As I Lay Dying--as a source of tension between men and women, as an antidote to loneliness, and as a bid for immortality, by projecting oneself into the future through children and grandchildren. Some readers see sexuality here both as a source of temptation and sin, and as a force for the renewal of life.
Darl finishes drinking and makes an observation about the weather before finally answering Anse. Jewel, he says, is "down to the barn.... Harnessing the team."
But he knows that isn't true. A clairvoyant (someone who can see objects or actions removed from natural viewing), Darl can see Jewel "fooling with that horse." Study Darl's description of the violence Jewel inflicts upon the horse--violence that seems to be Jewel's way of expressing love. Darl reports Jewel cutting off the horse's wind supply with one hand and, with the other, stroking its neck. All the while Jewel curses the horse "with obscene ferocity." What kind of person is this?
NOTE: ALLUSION TO GREEK MYTH The horse is no ordinary animal, and Jewel's relation to it is rather special, too. Faulkner makes sure you know that with two fleeting references to ancient myth. As the horse stands on its hind legs, slashing at Jewel, "Jewel is enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings...." Suddenly, the horse has become Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. Pegasus and his rider, Bellerophon, shared many adventures until Bellerophon tried to ride to the throne of the gods atop Mt. Olympus. Zeus, angered, caused Pegasus to throw Bellerophon to the ground. Crippled and blind, the humiliated Bellerophon wandered alone until he died.
In the next paragraph, Jewel mounts the horse and, together, the two become another mythological creature a centaur. (Centaurs--half men, half horses--were among the lesser gods in Greek myth.) On horseback, Jewel "flows upward in a stooping swirl like the lash of a whip, his body in mid-air shaped to the horse."
These two references are fine examples of Faulkner's use of what the poet T. S. Eliot called "the mythical method." By evoking characters from Greek and biblical myth, Faulkner offers yardsticks against which you can measure his modern characters. In a sense, he is suggesting parallel narratives--stories that serve as backdrops to the one he is telling. Jewel is neither Bellerophon nor a centaur, exactly. Nor is he exactly Dionysus, as is suggested elsewhere in the novel. But you understand him better when you know how much like these mythical characters he is, and how much he and his actions differ from theirs, too.
Will Jewel risk the gods' wrath on his Pegasus? Will he prove to be a savage, coarse centaur? You may want to write a report on his relation to myth, so stay tuned.
This brief, passionate section provides the only glimpse you'll get of the way Jewel's mind works. His anger, his hatreds, and his love for his mother clog his consciousness.
One way to get a grip on this section is to tote up the targets of Jewel's anger: (1) Cash enrages him by his "hammering and sawing on that goddamn box." Perhaps jealously, he mocks what he sees as Cash's attempt to win Addie's praise by crafting a coffin outside her window. (2) The Tulls and Dewey Dell, "sitting there, like buzzards" also infuriate Jewel. Even the fanning makes him angry, because it keeps "the air always moving so fast" on Addie's face. (3) People who might pass on the road get him mad, too. Jewel imagines them stopping and praising Cash's carpentry.
What he really wants is to be Addie's lone protector during her last moments of life. In the violent passage that ends the section, Jewel has a fantasy: "It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down... at their faces... until she was quiet...."
Despite the violent imagery, this is really a touching section. So far, Jewel offers the only genuine expression of love for Addie that you've seen.
NOTE: ECHOES OF THE OLD TESTAMENT The biblical references in As I Lay Dying help to explain Faulkner's purpose. Some readers stress the importance of the novel's few Christian images, which appear in later sections.
Other readers find echoes of the "pre-Christian" Old Testament throughout the book--in the cadences of some of the soliloquies, the themes, and some of the characters' attitudes. Indeed, it is possible to find strong overtones of the Book of Job in the novel. God permitted Satan to test Job, "a perfect and upright man" in God's view. Everything Job owns is destroyed, and he is afflicted with sores. Four friends gather round him, ostensibly to comfort him. But their comfort consists of accusations that Job cannot be just, as he claims, and that he must be guilty of arrogant pride.
The parallels here will become obvious as the story unfolds. It's possible to see Addie as Job, and people such as the Tulls, who gather around her ("like buzzards," Jewel says), as Job's quarrelsome friends. The subject of the Book of Job is the problem of good and evil in the world. "Why do the just suffer and the wicked flourish?" the story's prologue asks. Jewel, echoing Job's laments, wonders "if there is a God what the hell is He for." Why, Jewel wonders, doesn't God protect his mother from suffering?
In this key section, Faulkner reveals, in a matter-of-fact way, the promise that propels the entire story forward. At the same time, he pulls back the veil, ever so slightly, on the motivations and foibles of his characters.
NOTE: FAULKNER'S USE OF PRONOUNS Faulkner's stream of consciousness technique requires him to present pronouns without always clearly establishing their antecedents--the nouns which the pronouns stand for. An instance occurs in the first sentence of this section. This potentially confusing use of pronouns annoys some readers, especially in later sections, when Darl and Vardaman use "it" several times in a row, implying a different--and unspecified--antecedent each time.
In using pronouns this way, Faulkner is working toward verisimilitude--representing thought processes as they actually occur. He is merely trying to reproduce, or at least suggest, the mental shorthand that we all use in our private thoughts.
The comical Anse is played against the serious Anse in this scene, giving you a sense of two sides to his character. Darl wants his father to give the go-ahead to a plan to haul a load of lumber. Anse can't make up his mind. He doesn't want his sons away with the wagon because he has promised Addie he will take her for burial to her hometown, Jefferson, as soon as she dies. "She'll want to start right away," Anse says. "I know her."
This man is generally seen as an object of ridicule. In a circus, he'd be wearing a pair of oversized shoes and patched clothes. Faulkner takes Anse's shoes off, gives him a hunchback, and makes him toothless and unshaven. The way he mangles the language--with a touch of pomposity--only adds to his ridiculousness.
And yet, Faulkner portrays this bumbler with affection. He shows that Anse means well and seems sincere about his intention to respect Addie's wishes. What effect does this have on your assessment of Anse?
Anse never really grants permission for the lumber-hauling trip. Jewel impatiently walks off the porch. Anse sees they are going and tries to recoup a measure of dignity by telling them to be back by sundown the next day.
Why is Darl so eager to make the trip at such a critical point? Some readers, noting the tension between Darl and Jewel, have concluded that Darl has an ulterior motive. If you were told that Darl wants to prevent Jewel from being present at his mother's death, what would your reaction be?
Certainly Jewel seems, to Darl, to have been Addie's favorite. "Ma always whipped him and petted him more," he says, because his height made him stand out. "That's why she named him Jewel," Darl says.
Is Darl's perception of Addie's favoritism accurate? Or is he merely throwing you a false clue? It's hard to tell at this point.
Jewel is certainly true to form. He lashes out at Vernon Tull and accuses everyone of "burning hell" to see Addie dead and buried.
Anse misinterprets Jewel's anger, showing how little he understands about Jewel. "You got no affection nor gentleness for her," he says. "You never had."
What do you learn about Addie here? From Darl, we hear she had a favorite child. From Anse, we hear she is a "private woman" and neat, "ever one to clean up after herself."
Notice how the two brothers make their exits here.
Once more, Cora provides comic relief, this time with a syrupy monologue that suggests she is not attuned to the drama that is unfolding around her. Her monologue would be a marvelous set piece (a section of a work of art strong enough to stand on its own) if you could appreciate its humor without reading earlier sections. But the humor depends on irony--our knowledge that she doesn't know what she's talking about.
The first line--"It was the sweetest thing I ever saw"--sets the tone and lets us know we're in for another string of platitudes. Faulkner delays his punch line in this extended joke, so it's a long while before you learn what she sees. By that time, her credibility as a reporter has been so destroyed, you end up wondering if she saw anything at all.
Somehow, Cora has persuaded herself that Darl has gone to haul a load of lumber against his will. "But nothing would do but Anse and Jewel must make that three dollars," Cora says.
What does this misinterpretation allow her to do? Cora wouldn't have expected anything better from Anse, she says. But she is outraged that the lure of three dollars would induce Jewel to turn his back on the mother who showed him "downright partiality."
She exempts Darl from her blanket condemnation. On his way out of the house, he stopped by Addie's door. "He just stood and looked at his dying mother, his heart too full for words."
Dewey Dell gives another version of the same scene in the next section. In its own way, as you will see, her version is as complicated as Cora's. By putting two opposite interpretations of the same event side by side, Faulkner is calling