Weeks have passed since I finished reading William’s Faulkner’s classic novel As I Lay Dying, yet I’m still taken aback by its brilliance.
My first experience reading Faulkner was with The Sound and the Fury, which was required reading for a literature class I took two semesters ago. Although I did enjoy it, the stream of consciousness writing style and the multiple perspectives proved difficult to fully understand. However, these same characteristic aspects of Faulkner’s work form a much more accessible story in As I Lay Dying. It still challenges the reader to put the pieces of his plot puzzle together, but the rewarding ending makes all of the effort worthwhile.
Faulkner’s more experimental writing style is a key part of the effectiveness of this novel. He focuses primarily on inner thoughts and monologues, which is why streams of consciousness appear frequently in this work. Nearly every character acts as a narrator at one point or another, meaning that a chorus of personal thoughts, stories, and perspectives are gradually revealed to the reader. Though the members of the Bundren family can be considered the “main characters,” each voice telling the story has an opportunity to stand under the spotlight. Moreover, each character has a distinct voice unlike any other, so much so that I could probably identify the narrators without their names at the beginning of each chapter. Darl’s voice is more intellectual and educated, Vardaman’s is that of a young boy, Cora’s is intensely religious, Anse’s exudes a desperate tone, etc. Not only do these distinct voices help the reader distinguish between the characters, but they also make the narration feel more authentic and they provide a plethora of different perspectives of this single stay.
What at first seems like a simple tale of burying the deceased Addie Burden soon turns into an account of Bundren family dynamics and life in the South in the early twentieth century. Set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, As I Lay Dying addresses a multitude of topics ranging from poverty and religion to family and gender. Each character struggles with his or her own issues, which then intertwine with and contribute to the overarching plot at hand. There are so many topics to discuss alongside this novel that I would be rambling for days if I tried to include them all!
One of the most interesting and rather jarring issue face by an individual character is that of Dewey Dell, the only daughter in the Bundren family. When they stop in different towns she always sneaks into the local drugstore to inquire about how to get an abortion. These scenes are both sad and infuriating: sad because Dewey Dell is at a loss for words when it comes to describing her “condition,” and infuriating because the men she speaks with treat her like a foolish imbecile. Abortions and childbirth out of wedlock were clearly frowned upon back then, but it’s startling to recognize the resemblance this bares to our modern-day society. As much as we would like to think otherwise, these topics are still often considered “taboo” today. This similarity is one of the many reasons why As I Lay Dying remains a relevant, valuable piece of literature.
Out of the many remarkable elements this novel possesses, the one that has stayed with me the most is the very last line. As son as I read it I was struck by how deceiving human nature can be, even when you are supposedly reading people’s innermost thoughts. It made me realize that each of the characters has had their own motivations for embarking on a journey to bury Addie from the beginning. Believe it or not, my immediate reaction was a desire to turn back to the very first page and read the entire novel again. This is the sort of work that take on additional meaning at a second glance. Though I haven’t reread it yet, I am looking forward to doing so soon.
Overall, As I Lay Dying has officially converted me into a devoted Faulkner fan. His writing style is challenging but rewarding, and I’m fascinated by the southern setting of his work. This novel in particular has often been described as a “tour de force,” a title with which I wholeheartedly agree. I was not expecting to become so invested in this story, yet here I am still thinking about it months later.
Well played, Faulkner. Well played indeed.
My Rating: :0) :0) :0) :0) :0) 5 out of 5
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Yes! Although it can be confusing at times, so they would have to be in the mood for a more challenging read.
I could honestly talk about this novel at great length, so you’ll likely be seeing many more posts about it in the near future!
What are your thoughts on As I Lay Dying or on William Faulkner in general? Have any other Faulkner recommendations? Let me know in the comments section below!