AS THE READER DIED READING AS I LAY DYING
So a quick recap: The story starts with the eldest kid of the Bundren family making his mother’s coffin and the mother watching through the window. People gathered around her are depicted as buzzards that are waiting for her to die. Addie Bundren soon after fulfills their silent wish and dies, but not before making her husband, Anse, promise to bury her in her home town Jefferson, 40 miles away. The family waits 3 days for the wagon, and spends a long time in search of a standing bridge since the monstrous storm has collapsed them all. They finally try to cross through the ford and partially succeed in doing so: they do make it to the other side with the coffin however, the mules all drown and the eldest son, Cash breaks his leg. They stop in a town on their way to Jefferson in where while the rest looks for cement to build a cast for Cash, the daughter, Dewey Dell goes into a pharmacy to seek medication to abort her pregnancy. The only person who is aware of her predicament is her brother Darl, whom she hates for knowing. She returns to the wagon empty-handed and they go on their way to Jefferson. In addition, it’s been many days since Addie’s death and buzzards, different from the ones who swarmed around her as she lay dying, are following the decomposing body. On their last stop, Darl sets fire to the barn where the mother’s coffin is stored and Jewel, whom Addie brought to life by committing adultery, saves her. In the end they bury the coffin and Darl is sent off to an asylum. Whew ! Not your average story, is it?
This story revolves around a somber fog of insanity that reveals itself in almost every chapter. Darl, who is not present in the room at the time, narrates Addie’s death; Addie watches her coffin being fashioned while she lies dying; there are buzzards following Bundrens because of the rotting corpse; Addie has a chapter after her death… Every author leaves some spaces in his work for the reader to fill; these spaces seem abundant in Faulkner’s work. The reader always has to put some part of her imagination in the equation since the fog of insanity is indecipherable. This book makes the reader want to run for the hills but the craziness also adds to the flavor of this novel since how else is the reader going to understand a dead character without reading her own chapter? Moreover, Faulkner never makes the story seem dull, his cunning writing skills allow the story to always build some feeling of suspense, the impending rain that doesn’t cease once is starts for instance, always allows the reader to conjecture that something big is about to happen. His descriptions of nature always astound the reader:
“It would be black, the shelf black, the still surface of the water a round orifice in nothingness, where before I stirred it awake with the dipper I could see maybe a star or two in the bucket, and maybe in the dipper a star or two before I drank.”
I know no other author who can make drinking water sound this beautiful.
Even with its ludicrous points, the storyline seems ordinary: no one slays any dragons, no lawyer tries to defeat racism…It’s only the story of a family that tries to bury its recently deceased mother. However, As I Lay Dying is no ordinary novel. Even though some say that it is about the chemical changes the body undergoes after death, any reader who reads between the lines can clearly see that this novel actually is about so much more than the final journey of a corpse. Reading between the lines isn’t even necessary, the way Faulkner depicts the actual burial is proof enough.
“But when we got it filled and covered and drove out the gate and (…).”
The first quarter of a sentence is the famous burial of Addie the reader waited for throughout the novel? This anti-climax clearly shows that this story is not really about Addie’s corpse. I believe that while writing the book William Faulkner struggled with the concept of human nature and the famous question of “What happens to the rest of the world when we’re no longer in it?” The story is told by multiple consciousnesses and this makes it truly difficult for the reader to clearly piece the events together. Each narrator has a distinct voice which shows how well written the novel is however; this trait also causes the story to lack an objective third person narrator, rendering it impossible to discern reliable narrators and thus the actual story. Every narrator has his/her own personal problems or concerns to deal with; they tell the story of Addie’s death in between their individual streams of consciousness, making a person’s death so very trivial with the demanding life calling for them. Dewey Dell has her pregnancy to take care of, Anse, the father, wants to get new teeth, even the toddler wants a toy train… When Dewey Dell says “I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth”, she confirms that the world doesn’t really care about one’s problems, which is ironic since this thought is about her own problem when it can easily be applied to Addie’s death and Dewey Dell’s only thinking about herself while saying so. Addie’s death affects every individual in some way, however he/she never thinks about Addie, the immediate family--most of them, find ways it can benefit them and the neighbors or people not familiar with the Bundrens who heard, just criticize them or gossip and go back to their personal problems… Every Bundren is so lost in his/her individual thoughts and feelings that no one stops and thinks of what they are actually doing. Darl is the only person depicted as someone who can penetrate this isolation of individuals:
“He is looking at me.(…) It’s like he had got inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes”
As clearly seen in their neighbor’s description, Darl can see through people’s thoughts, and is interested. So he probably understands what a crazy, ignominious thing they’re doing and sets the barn on fire, to finally put Addie to rest. In the end, understanding the crazy human nature, which is so very concerned with itself, tragically, makes him go insane. By writing the story in streams of consciousness, Faulkner allows the reader to be well acquainted with the characters since what better way is there to understand a character fully other than directly seeing into his/her thoughts? Faulkner clearly shows the reader that versions of reality and truth differ from person to person; hence, he remains faithful to life and the true human nature throughout the novel.
In conclusion, in As I Lay Dying William Faulkner plays with the elements of literature, combining them and taking them apart to suit his own interest and being successful in doing so. This creates a sort of fog of craziness that is present throughout the story. Even with its gory details, As I Lay Dying is a unique and successful piece of literature for the way it is candid in revealing human thought and nature.