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The Book Club

William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying

1. So many narrators, so many perspectives, so many chapters. Faulkner’s novel can be quite confusing – especially in the beginning – with its extensive assortment of characters and narrators. Each chapter is actually considerably short, and the characters take turns in narrating the events from their points of view; with Darl dominating most of the narration. To add to the perplexity, the chapters do not progress chronologically (with many of them being recollections or flashbacks), so it took me some time of grappling before I could make sense of the plot. To help myself, along the way, I drew up a character sheet to trace the relationships between one another; once the character web was up it helped tremendously in terms of comprehension and keeping track.

2. Faulkner’s choice of narrative style. The narrative style is interesting; beyond granting greater diversity and multiplying perspectives, the reader gets to hear from characters individually. This allows one to understand their psychology and moral yardsticks more clearly, and to a certain extent place fairer judgements whenever there is tension or a conflict between the stakeholders. The monologues, as expounded upon earlier, renders plot progression more inconsistent; however, concentrating on their actions, speeches and interactions produce more wholesome portraits of the characters. Individual consciousness is an important aspect of the entire novel. What also makes the novel more intriguing is the fact that the actions of the Bundren family members often do not correspond with their thoughts and true feelings.

3. Tull’s observations of Darl; of him thinking too much. “Now and then a fellow gets to thinking about it. Not often, though. Which is a good thing. For the Lord aimed for him to do and not to spend too much time thinking, because his brain it’s like a piece of machinery: it won’t stand a whole lot of racking. It’s best when it all runs along the same, doing the day’s work and not no one part used no more than needful”. Such an observation is particularly interesting when it seems to be corroborated by Darl’s genuine contemplations – revealed in his monologues – over his mother’s death.

4. Darl Bundren. As the individual who dominates most of the novel, the reader experiences his intellect, intelligence, and great sense of sensibility and practicality. Through his monologues one comprehends the internal conflict that he faces; and his belief that the family’s mission to bury his mother is actually tearing the family apart reflects the aforementioned. He is like Faulkner’s version of Hamlet. His contemplations and reasoning which lead to his actions – such as the abandonment of the coffin at the river and the burning of the barn – are sound, but they are hardly understood by the people around him. There is a profound sense of alienation that surrounds him; and sadly the lack of understanding from his torn family proves to be his undoing at the end.

5. Jewel Bundren. Jewel epitomises the saying “action speaks louder than words”. Just as Darl’s introspection alienates him from others, Jewel’s lack of monologues creates considerable distance between him and the reader. Comprehension of him as a character is done through evaluation of his actions through other individuals’ perspectives. In the beginning, he is presented to be aloof of family affairs and defiant of his mother; but at the later stages his actions show him to be deeply protective of his mother and family. Addie’s love for his son his not unrequited, as asserted He is constantly looking at the bigger picture; for instance, willing to sacrifice his hard-earned horse to pay for the coffin’s transportation. Even though he contrasts greatly with his brother, Darl; both their actions, convictions and dedication to their personal cause vary deeply with their incorrigible father and the despicable, selfish Whitfield.

6. Is Darl really insane, Cash wonders? Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it”.

7. Life and disillusionment. Addie’s single chapter sounds eerily similar to Darl’s consistent contemplations; as she sees her commitments to her husband and family as being empty and pointless concepts. However, she treats life with a laissez-faire attitude, as evidenced from her affair with Whitfield, and her enunciation that “the reason for living [is] to get ready to stay dead a long time”. Even though she is present in narration for a brief moment, her presence as a corpse (with the coffin) persists to haunt and divide the family in their seemingly-ridiculous pilgrimage to bury her far away.

8. The comedic effects of selected scenes. “As I Lay Dying” is a considerably tragic tale; fissures within the Bundren family are ruthlessly revealed, the pain of going through the entire journey of burying Addie Bundren, Darl’s arrest and mad laughter at the end et cetera. However, the extent of Cash’s perseverance despite the multiple accidents is respectable but seemingly improbable; Anse Bundren’s turnaround immediately after his wife has been properly buried; and the entire satire of the rural poor in the South. Quintessentially, the novel is a subtle cross of a tragedy and comedy.

9. Peabody’s thoughts on death. “I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind – and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town”.

10. Anse Bundren’s despicability and failure as a father. The reader’s perception of Anse Bundren as an individual and as a father is rather unbiased in the beginning, though other characters such as Tull do offer their criticisms indirectly. There might even be a tinge of sympathy on the part of the reader, given that his wife had utterly given up on life; and even had a relationship with another man. Through the journey, his mistakes and inaction are aplenty, but the reader tends to forgive him. Nonetheless, towards the end, after his children and family has braved natural elements and human humiliation to bury his wife, he emerges sheepishly with a brand new set of teeth, and a new wife. With that act of selfishness, the novel ends on a tragic and heartbreaking note.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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