English Literature
As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying

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The Influence of Southern Gothic and Modernist Themes in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

In his 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner tells the story of the Bundren family as they journey through rural Mississippi to fulfill their deceased mother's dying wish. The novel's blend of irony and dark humor captures the struggles and obstacles faced by the family, making it a notable work of Southern Gothic and Modernist literature.

Faulkner's Background and As I Lay Dying

As a native of Mississippi, Faulkner's personal experiences in the Southern United States greatly influenced his writing. Set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, As I Lay Dying addresses prevalent issues of the time, from poverty and racism to classism, while also showcasing the culture and struggles of Depression-era Mississippi.

The Bundren Family: A Chaotic Quest

The novel follows the Bundren family, consisting of Addie (the deceased), her husband Anse, and their five children. As they encounter natural disasters, injuries, and their own complicated family dynamics, the family's journey is revealed through the inner thoughts of fifteen different characters. This use of stream-of-consciousness narration established Faulkner as a pioneer of Modernist writing.

Parallels with the Odyssey and a Mocking Quest

The title of the novel, As I Lay Dying, is a reference to a line in Homer's Odyssey, symbolizing the classic story of a quest. However, Faulkner uses this as a way to satirize the Bundren family's self-centered and ultimately fruitless mission to bury Addie. This title also highlights other connections between As I Lay Dying and the Odyssey.

A Summary of the Story

The novel begins with Addie on her deathbed, watching her son Cash build her coffin outside her window. She passes away that evening, and a flood washes away the bridge needed to reach Jefferson, where she wished to be buried. Undeterred, the family places Addie's un-embalmed body in the wooden coffin and sets off on their journey. Along the way, they face many challenges, such as losing their mules and Cash breaking his leg. They also encounter obstacles in towns, including Dewey Dell's struggle with an unwanted pregnancy and Darl's arrest for burning a barn.

Fulfilling a Last Wish

After nine days of traveling with Addie's decaying body, the Bundren family finally arrives in Jefferson, determined to fulfill her dying wish. Despite their hardships, they borrow shovels to dig her grave, marking the end of their tumultuous journey.

The Genre and Style of As I Lay Dying

As a pioneer of Southern Gothic and Modernist literature, William Faulkner created a unique and influential novel in As I Lay Dying. This Southern Gothic, Modernist work breaks literary conventions and incorporates gothic elements such as the macabre and supernatural. Its use of stream-of-consciousness narration and multiple perspectives also make it a standout example of modernist literature.

Defining the Genre

Faulkner played a significant role in the Modernist literary movement, which emerged in the early 19th century and aimed to challenge traditional conventions. As I Lay Dying exemplifies this modernist style, with its nonlinear, stream-of-consciousness narration and multiple perspectives.

Faulkner was also a pioneer of the Southern Gothic genre, which features grotesque or unsettling imagery, harsh depictions of Southern society, and elements of madness, mystery, and the supernatural. As I Lay Dying brilliantly embodies these gothic elements through its portrayal of Addie's decaying body, Cash's broken leg, and the Bundren family's fractured relationships.

The Writing Style

The unifying style of As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's use of stream-of-consciousness narration. This technique allows readers to experience the inner thoughts and perspectives of each character, providing insight into their anxieties and insecurities. The writing style also varies within each character's chapters, reflecting their unique inner voice and thought patterns.

The Complex Characters of As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner's critically acclaimed novel, As I Lay Dying, presents a unique literary style that immerses readers in the minds of its diverse characters. While the novel may be challenging to follow at times, its nonlinear structure effectively captures the complexity and raw emotions of the Bundren family. With fifteen different narrators, each offering their perspective, the novel delves into themes of family, duty, and human nature.

The Bundren Family: A Dysfunctional Unit

The novel centers around the Bundren family, whose matriarch, Addie, sets the events in motion with her death. Her embittered narration reveals her resentment towards her family, particularly her selfish and neglectful husband, Anse.

Anse's lack of responsibility and emotional detachment towards his children is evident in his eldest son, Cash, who sacrifices his well-being for the sake of their journey to bury their mother. Meanwhile, Jewel, Addie's favorite child, manipulates his mother's love for his own benefit despite her devotion to him.

Dewey Dell, the only daughter, is consumed by her pregnancy and her desire for an abortion, neglecting the emotional needs of her family. Vardaman, the youngest, struggles to understand his mother's passing. Through their diverse perspectives, the novel explores the complexities and conflicts within a family unit.

Other Narrators: A Glimpse into Rural Life

The fifteen narrators also include characters outside of the Bundren family, providing insight into rural life in the 1920s. Vernon and Cora Tull, friends of the Bundrens, offer a critical perspective on the family's actions. Peabody, a doctor, attends to Addie and later helps Cash. Throughout their journey, the Bundrens encounter various characters, such as farmers Samson, Armstid, and even corrupt pharmacists, like Moseley.

Themes and Quotes

Family Dynamics

"It's Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell," says Anse with pride, introducing his children to their new stepmother immediately after burying their mother. This quote showcases the dysfunctional family dynamic and the lack of genuine affection and love between them. While they share a common goal, their relationships are fraught with miscommunication, self-interest, and resentment.

Human Nature and Duty

The novel also explores the theme of human nature and the duty we have towards our family. Despite their flaws and conflicting personalities, the Bundren family is united in fulfilling their mother's dying wish. The novel raises questions about the extent of our responsibility towards our family and the sacrifices we make for them.

Raw and Unedited Writing Style

Faulkner's writing style, with its grammatical errors and inconsistencies, adds to the raw and intense emotions of the novel. The rapid writing and lack of corrections in just six weeks convey the urgency and intensity of the Bundrens' journey, further emphasizing their raw and unedited experiences during this time.

A Unique and Immersive Reading Experience

As I Lay Dying is a thought-provoking novel that delves into complex themes and explores the dynamic relationships within a dysfunctional family. With its diverse narrators and raw writing style, the novel provides a unique and immersive reading experience that will leave a lasting impression.

As the only chapter told from her perspective, Addie conveys her resentment towards her husband and children for trapping her in a life she despises. In her dying moments, she requests to be buried far from her family in her childhood home.The theme of language is prevalent throughout As I Lay Dying. Addie believes that words are inadequate and cannot accurately convey experiences, as they are created by those who have not truly lived them. This is reflected in the characters' struggles to communicate, as their inner thoughts are lengthy but their spoken words are few and often misunderstood.Religion also plays a significant role in the novel, with all characters being religious and numerous biblical references throughout. Cora, a devout Christian, questions the role of humans in judging sin and highlights the importance of seeking God's grace instead.Irony and selfishness are fundamental themes explored in As I Lay Dying. The characters' actions and beliefs often contradict each other, revealing the complexities of human nature. This is foreshadowed in the first chapter by the minister, who is having an affair with Addie and has fathered her son, Jewel.Existential questions are also raised, particularly through the character Vardaman, who struggles to understand the concept of death. He compares his mother's passing to the transformation of a fish he once caught, and other characters also grapple with their mortality as they accompany Addie's decaying body on a nine-day journey.Mortality is a central issue in the novel, with Addie's deteriorating body serving as a constant reminder of the physical breakdown after death. As the Bundren family struggles to fulfill Addie's dying wish, each member must confront their own mortality in their own way.The title, As I Lay Dying, comes from a line in Homer's Odyssey, foreshadowing the novel's themes of death and journey. Inspired by his upbringing in the South, Faulkner paints a vivid portrait of southern characters and themes. The novel is narrated by fifteen different characters, providing multiple perspectives on the events and adding depth to the themes of irony, selfishness, and mortality.In the end, the Bundren family reaches their destination and buries Addie, but their journey has changed them. Anse, the patriarch, reveals his own selfishness by marrying the woman he had borrowed shovels from and presenting her as the children's new mother. This final act of irony further underscores the recurring themes in the novel.In summary, As I Lay Dying is a thought-provoking exploration of human nature, revealing the irony and selfishness that exist within us all. Through the Bundren family's journey and their contemplation of mortality, Faulkner prompts readers to reflect on the complexities of existence and the true nature of humanity.

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