Set during the Great Depression, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying explores the nature of existence while also denouncing the nature of humanity. Acclaimed for its stream of consciousness writing and use of multiple narrators, the novel challenges conventional grammatical and thematic ideas by showing the instability and unreliability of reality.
The Bundren family consists of Anse (the father), Addie (the dying mother), and their children: Cash, Jewel, Darl, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. The novel follows the Bundren family on their ill-fated journey from the (fictional) Yoknapatawpha County to Addie’s native Jefferson, Mississippi, ostensibly to bury her there as her last wish. In reality, each family member has a different, private reason for wanting to travel to Jefferson, and these desires come to light over the course of the novel.
In contrast to typical works of the time period, the Bundren family is shockingly dysfunctional. Each family member absolutely detests every other member, and, when faced with any problem, they will not hesitate to betray or place the blame on someone else. The lack of definitive parental influence only highlights this disparity between the ideal and the actual.
On a broader scale, As I Lay Dying investigates themes of mortality and inevitability. From Vardaman’s infamous statement when faced with his mother’s death (“my mother is a fish”) to Darl’s monologues on is and was to Addie’s narration of her story from beyond the grave, the novel considers the truth of life and death, and what it means to be alive, making it an interesting read.
– Mahak M.