Sunday, September 4, 2016

As I Lay Dying

77013At the heart of this 1930 novel is the Bundren family's bizarre journey to Jefferson to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Faulkner lets each family member, including Addie, and others along the way tell their private responses to Addie's life.

*May Contain Spoilers*

William Faulkner has always been a favorite author of mine. Especially since I studied at a college with a center dedicated to his works and had a few professors who taught his work in class. As I Lay Dying is one of Faulkner's best works and it's uniqueness is fresh and inspiring. In this book he utilized stream of consciousness writing, giving his narrators freedom to be themselves. As the mother of the Bundren family dies, her husband and children plan to fulfill their promise of taking her to Jackson to be buried. 

Each character has a bit about them that readers can relate to. Though they also have their faults and make a number of mistakes. Looking at Addie first, the mother, readers see that she was never a real loving person. She didn't enjoy motherhood and after she had given her husband enough children, she decided that she was ready to die. Anse, the father, is manipulative and uses his status as a poor man to guilt his neighbors into helping him. I suppose he tries his best, but he's a bit too selfish to be a real likeable character. 

The children are the characters that readers will relate to the most. Cash and Darl are the oldest. Darl fought in the war and struggles to accept his mother's death. Throughout the novel, he slides into insanity, suffering from schizophrenia. Readers will sympathize with his devastating experience of loss and its effects. Cash craves his mother's approval. Readers witness this as he makes his mother's coffin, holding each board up, silently asking if it's good enough for her. He also has some bad luck, breaking his leg halfway through the journey. Readers will certainly feel for Cash as the family lacks the empathy to care for him. Jewel is Addie's son from an affair and has a lot of anger for his mother. It isn't clear whether he knows of his father, but it is hinted at. Readers will understand his anger and also connect a little with Addie because she thinks of Jewel as the only child made of love. 

Dewey-Dell is the only daughter of the Bundren family and she's in a heap of trouble. This adds more conflict to the story and comments on female oppression during that time period. Dewey-Dell is pregnant and doesn't want to have the child. Her boyfriend, Lafe, gives her money to have an abortion but she struggles to find a doctor that will help her. She ends up getting tricked into having a sexual encounter with a pharmacy worker. Readers will have their own opinions of Dewey-Dell, understanding her predicament or disliking her for her choices and wants. 

Vardaman is the youngest Bundren, not wanting to accept that his mother is dead. He mentally turns her into a fish and pretends she's still alive. His rejection of the situation is saddening and no one offers him an explanation for what happened. He receives little comfort from his family. 

As the Bundren family makes their way from their farm to Jackson, they encounter many setbacks and bad luck. As I Lay Dying has a few odd twists and turns that will puzzle readers, implying that there's more to the story than first appears. A surface reading of this novel will not provide the proper interpretation. A deeper look is required. Readers who enjoy analyzing classic literature will enjoy tackling this one as it offers many different interpretations. 

Rating: 3.5/5 Cups

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