AS I LAY DYING, William FaulknerQuestions for Study 1. Which are the most intelligent and sympathetic voices in the novel? With whom do you most and least identify? Is Faulkner controlling your closeness to some characters and not others? How is this done, given the seemingly equal mode of presentation for all voices? Darl is the most intelligent voice in the novel. He often seems to play the role of omniscient narrator, because he describes events that took place when he was not present. For example, he describes Addie’s death, even though he was not with her when she died.
Darl appears to be the character that knows the most about what is going on and has the most consistent voice in the novel. The character that seems to be the most sympathetic is Jewel. The clearest example of his sympathy is demonstrated in his unwillingness to leave Addie when she was on her death bed. His desire to be with his mom makes Jewel stand out as the most sympathetic character, because basically all of the other siblings just wanted to make money, and did not care or pay much thought to their mother’s death.
Faulkner seems to be controlling the closeness of some characters. For instance, as mentioned, Darl and Jewel are the most intelligent and sympathetic characters. Darl is the most common narrator and Jewel shows his caring side when he wants to be with his mother. These instances make the reader connect with them more than the other characters in the novel. The other characters are first introduced with things that are not as relatable or even as likeable. The worst instance of this is how Anse is introduced sawing his mother’s coffin.
This action makes the reader believe that Anse is devoid of showing the proper emotion in the time of his mother’s death, because he was making Addie’s coffin right outside the window of the room she was in. 2. Even the reader of such an unusual book may be surprised to come upon Addie Bundren’s narrative on page 169, if only because Addie has been dead since page 48. Why is Addie’s narrative placed where it is, and what is the effect of hearing Addie’s voice at this point in the book? Is this one of the ways in which Faulkner shows Addie’s continued “life” in the minds and hearts of her family?
How do the issues raised by Addie here relate to the book as a whole? Addie’s narrative was placed in the center of the book because by that point in the novel the characters are so focused on getting Addie to her resting place that they seem to almost forget about Addie’s character entirely. Faulkner does not really introduce Addie in the beginning of the story, other than establishing the point that she is the dying mother of the Bundren clan. Her narrative helps the reader to relate to Addie, and realize that she was a person with emotions and opinions just like anyone else.
Placing the narrative so far after her death helps the reader to take a moment away from the ensuing drama of getting to Addie’s resting place and remember that Addie is the reason why they are doing this, and that she was an actual person with human emotions and characteristics. The issues raised by Addie relate to the book as a whole, because after reading Addie’s narrative she is no longer just a burden or an inconvenience, but rather a person and a strong figure in the Bundren family. 3.
Faulkner allows certain characters—especially Darl and Vardaman—to express themselves in language and imagery that would be impossible, given their lack of education and experience in the world. Why does he break with the realistic representation of character in this way? Darl and Vardaman speak beyond the potential of an uneducated man in order to describe particular events in the story that called for a more detailed explanation. Education and intelligence of the characters relate directly to how well the reader can comprehend the story because the narrator is the one telling the story.
So basically, the reader is limited to the understanding (or lack of) of the characters. Darl and Vardaman express themselves in a way that exceeds what the reader would expect from uneducated men. Faulkner’s point in doing this was to present the reader with an articulate omniscient narrator on whom they could rely. Darl, the main omniscient narrator, explains events to the reader that he did not witness first hand. Also, Vardaman is only a child, and strangely enough provides insight about the life of a big family, that no other character was able to do. 4.
What makes Darl different from the other characters? Why is he able to describe Addie’s death [p. 48] when he is not present? How is he able to intuit the fact of Dewey Dell’s pregnancy? What does this uncanny visionary power mean, particularly in the context of what happens to Darl at the end of the novel? Darl has fought in World War I; why do you think Faulkner has chosen to include this information about him? What are the sources and meaning of his madness? Darl is different from the other characters because he is the omniscient narrator in the novel. Being able to describe his mother’s death hen he was not present proves that Darl had insight that other characters in the novel did not. Darl has the ability to connect and comprehend more than any of the other characters in the story who are limited by their sparing education. Darl states he has such a deep understanding of events because of his closeness and deep connection with them. For example, his knowledge of Dewey Dell’s pregnancy and his admittance in an insane asylum support his claim. 5. Anse Bundren is surely one of the most feckless characters in literature, yet he alone thrives in the midst of disaster.
How does he manage to command the obedience and cooperation of his children? Why are other people so generous with him? He gets his new teeth at the end of the novel and he also gets a new wife. What is the secret of Anse’s charm? How did he manage to make Addie marry him, when she is clearly more intelligent than he is? Anse manages to command the obedience and cooperation of his family by being the patriarch figure. His children respect him solely because he is their father and it is expected of them. He really has nothing going for him that would command respect.
He doesn’t like to work hard or sweat, and is constantly blaming his problems on other people. I guess, he is a religious man, and so that may command some respect from them. People are generous with him because of his condition. He has a hunched back and no teeth, and so he has a lot of trouble doing things. The secret to Anse’s charm is that he always finds a way to get what he wants, even if it means manipulating others. Anse managed to make Addie marry him simply by asking her, they did not even get to know each other before hand. . Some critics have spoken of Cash as the novel’s most gentle character, while others have felt that he is too rigid, too narrow-minded, to be sympathetic. What does Cash’s list of the thirteen reasons for beveling the edges of the coffin tell us about him? What does it tell us about his feeling for his mother? Does Cash’s carefully reasoned response to Darl’s imprisonment seem fair to you, or is it a betrayal of his brother? Cash’s list describing the coffin shows a side of his personality that is rather insensitive.
It makes him seem very callous and indifferent to his mother’s death, because he describes the coffin so simply. This leads the reader to believe that Cash did not have a great deal of affection for his mother, because he did not view constructing his mother’s coffin any different than he would view another common project. Throughout the book, Cash seems very frigid and devoid of any emotion or compassion, even if his responses were often correct. 7. Jewel is the result of Addie’s affair with the evangelical preacher Whitfield (an aspect of the plot that bears comparison with Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter).
When we read Whitfield’s section, we realize that Addie has again allied herself with a man who is not her equal. How would you characterize the preacher? What is the meaning of this passionate alliance, now repudiated by Whitfield? Does Jewel know who his father is? Preacher Whitfield is spineless. He kept his affair between himself and Addie a complete secret, that is, until he felt that God was calling him to confess. However, the real reason he is spineless lies in the fact that when he went to confess, he found out that Addie had passed away, and so he decided not to say anything.
This speaks volumes about his character, it says that he is deceitful and is able to block out his incriminating conscious. Addie allied herself with a man that lived in denial and avoided the truth, and when he finally admitted that he had done wrong, he still didn’t have the backbone to admit it to the family. As for Jewel, he had no idea that he had a different father than his siblings, though it is hinted at that he is different from them. 8. What is your response to the section spoken by Vardaman, which states simply, “My mother is a fish”?
What sort of psychological state or process does this declaration indicate? What are some of the ways in which Vardaman insists on keeping his mother alive, even as he struggles to understand that she is dead? In what other ways does the novel show characters wrestling with ideas of identity and embodiment? Vardaman stating that his mother is a fish indicates that he is struggling to come to terms with the idea that his mother is gone. He tells himself that his mother is a fish so that way he can have something alive and tangible that takes her place in his mind, that way he does not have to live without her.
He has a hard time accepting Addie’s death, and this is also apparent in the way he sleeps next to her coffin every night and constantly associates her with living things to help him not deal or come to terms with the fact that she is dead. 9. This is a novel full of acts of love, not the least of which is the prolonged search in the river for Cash’s tools. Consider some of the other ways that love is expressed among the members of the family. What compels loyalty in this family? What are the ways in which that loyalty is betrayed? Which haracters are most self-interested? The moment when Jewel gives up his beloved horse to replace the mules lost in the river was one of the biggest acts of love in the story. Jewel nearly worked himself to exhaustion raising money to purchase that horse, and it was his most prized possession. However, his loyalty to his family was greater than the love of his horse and so he gave I up in order to help his momma’s final wishes come true. Both Darl and Jewel show a devout loyalty to their family and work to see their mother’s wishes met.
While Anse is more of a selfish character, and loyalty is betrayed when Darl is sent into the insane asylum. 10. The saga of the Bundren family is participated in, and reflected upon, by many other characters. What does the involvement of Doctor Peabody, of Armstid, and of Cora and Vernon Tull say about the importance of community in country life? Are the characters in the town meant to provide a contrast with country people? The characters outside of the family show the importance of community in country life. Everyone of them has their own memories of Addie and the rest of the Bundren family.
They also had their own relationship with Addie, and therefore they can offer their own unique perspective of an outsider. They can offer a different view point on Addie’s death than the immediate members of the family can, because they were not as close to her. These characters are able to reflect on the past without getting caught up in the emotional loss of a loved one. They serve to show how important the community was in country life, everyone works together and helps each other out when times get tough. These characters are able to leisurely reflect on the past.
They contrast with the town’s people because they are strangers to each other, and never feel the need to help anyone but their immediate family. 11. Does Faulkner deliberately make humor and the grotesque interdependent in this novel? What is the effect of such horrific details as Vardaman’s accidental drilling of holes in his dead mother’s face? Of Darl and Vardaman listening to the decaying body of Addie “speaking”? Of Vardaman’s anxiety about the growing number of buzzards trying to get at the coffin? Of Cash’s bloody broken leg, set in concrete and suppurating in the heat? Of Jewel’s burnt flesh?
Of the “cure” that Dewey Dell is tricked into? Faulkner does deliberately combine horror and grotesque with humor and irony. Anse, for example, preaches all throughout the story that he has bad luck, which is ironically supported by several horrific events in the novel such as the death of Addie. He blames it on bad luck, because the road was too near to his house, which later lead to the drilling into her face. All of the grotesque moments in the book are, according to Anse, caised my his bad luck which follows him like a plague. Other instances includes the birds and Cash’s injury. 12.
In one of the novel’s central passages, Addie meditates upon the distance between words and actions: “I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, 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; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words” [pp. 173-74]. What light does this passage shed upon the meaning of the novel?
Aren’t words necessary in order to give form to the story of the Bundrens? Or is Faulkner saying that words—his own chosen medium—are inadequate? This excerpt means that actions are louder than words, and that promises mean nothing unless they are followed by action. Faulkner is saying that it is easy to say that you will do something or say that you will change, what is hard, is actually taking the time to see it through and do it. Words are inadequate unless they are followed by action that support their meaning Speaking words is easy, and it doesn’t do or mean anything.
Words need to spur on action! This relates to the Bundren family in the verbal promise that Addie would be buried where she wished. That was not enough, this verbal promise needed to be seen to the very end to have any meaning, and that is why the family went through so much to see that it was fulfilled, because if they had not, the promise would have meant nothing. 13. What does the novel reveal about the ways in which human beings deal with death, grieving, and letting go of our loved ones? The novel reveals that everyone has their own unique way of coping with death.
Vardaman, for example, deals with his grief over his dead mother by questioning reality and existence. Faulkner shows how each of the characters react to Addie’s death in different ways, making a statement that everyone deals with death differently. Another example would be how Anse saw her death as bad luck. Some characters made little out of Addie’s death, while others were affected by it immensely. The whole novel is a statement on how everyone deals with death differently, some with denial, others The story reveals how humans deal with death and grieving differently; either by denial, aggression, depression, or acceptance for example.