Posted on April 15, 2016
Faulkner’s novel “As I Lay Dying” is a unique exemplar of modern literature. The book does not contain any words of the narrator, it is divided into a chain of monologues, sometimes long, sometimes short, and sometimes they even consist of one or two phrases. The plot is introduced by fourteen characters, namely the Bundrens, accompanied by neighbors and poor farmers (Faulkner, 1964). Although in the novel time runs in the natural chronology and is based on the compositional core represented by the monologue of the dead woman, it does not redeem the plot from a hefty verbal chaos. However, Faulkner is not interested in mere the natural representation of human speech, even if sometimes it the technique suppresses the meaning. On the contrary, Faulkner introduces a canvas of private sensations, random episodes and casual views and phrases that form a unique atmosphere described in the book. It is important, therefore, to analyze the essence of the characters of the novel, since each of them represents a separate world with his own interpretation of the occurring events.
While Addie Bundren appears a neutral character that it not likely to leave any impression, it actually proves to be the main character of the novel, since its serves the anchor around which all the events take place. With that, as many Faulkner’s characters, she is described as small, puny, skinny, having an unhappy and painful look, which cannot leave anyone impartial. However, Addie’s characters excites not compassion but rather a feeling of terror. Indeed, her image is unlikely to provoke compassion. This image creates an inhuman and repulsive effect. At the same time, Addie’s character entails something supernatural, but not in the sense of her reminding a ghost from the afterlife. On the contrary, Addie appears the only character who does not resemble a dead person, though she is deceased. In contrast to her relatives, Addie is unusually lively and impartial towards the occurring things, she watches over the plight that befell her family, though no one really notices how she laments and becomes horrified by the indifference of Anse and her children, as well as by Anse’s deep involvement in the swamp of egoism, self-love and self-interest (Faulkner, 1964).
Though represented as a depersonalized object in the novel, Addie actually plays the role of an omnipresent observer and judge who watches every sin of her family, though makes no punishment for the committed acts. Though she acts as the object of discussions and does not take an active part in the ongoing events, it can be argued that Addie is the heart of the plot, though her role is not so clearly manifested. At the same time, Addie’s only monologue confirms her resemblance to all other members of this society that can hardly be called a family, since it is difficult to ascribe the notion of a family to a group and isolated, impartial and aloof persons (Faulkner, 1964).
In the light of these events, it is possible to realize that the Addie is completely permeated with the vice values of the morally corrupted society, and that the surrounding in which she exists has crippled her worldview, as well as the formal attitude towards everything including life. One of the most terrible traits of the society described by Faulkner is just the formality of any deeds of the characters, though it cannot be judged. Perhaps the only formalism that can be interpreted as having a positive character is the formal attitude to death (Watson, Abadie 266-272). If the reader expects the book to be constantly outplaying the theme of death, he will suddenly realize that there is no actual death in Faulkner’s characters, though it is a common practice to discuss this theme and all the details connected with it. This, however, marks a very dangerous tendency that evidences the degradation of society, since a normal community does not host any excited interest in death. Such interest within the frames of one person or society is very close to suicidal intentions. Faulkner’s world, however, bears no actual manifestation of death. Instead, there is only foolish prejudices of Addie’s relatives, since the woman actually died primarily in their conscience, thus establishing a formal cult of death in these characters (Watson, Abadie 266-272).
The world of Faulkner’s characters in actually built with formalisms. Indeed, the formal attitude of the Bundrens towards the highest values renders the reader horrified. Here, the ties of kinship are perceived as a certain burden that can be forgotten. Religious principles here are simply turned inside out, they are adapted to these persons according to their convenience, with only luster and external similarity with their teaching of God presented in their minds. Of course, neither Anse nor any Addie’s child provides the feelings of love and compassion. Instead, the world of the characters is ruled by egoism and self-interest that urges everyone to turn every need into pleasure. The inwardness of Anse and cannot manifest any love to his children, although it is clearly seen on the example of the attitude towards the motherhood of the main character, not to mention the artificial care of Anse who managed to rob his own children (Faulkner, 1964). Furthermore, when Addie realized that she was pregnant she said that she would kill the father of her children, which ruins any hint of love in the characters’ souls (Faulkner, 1964). However, the children inherited this attitude, since Addie appears the same serious burden to them, the burden that is paid no attention to, though the children remember its cumbersome existence.
In the final analysis, the somber atmosphere of the characters’ world is clearly represented in the novel, especially if perceiving Faulkner’s description of the world of these protagonists as a prophecy, a sure prediction for the future, a reminder of the fatal destination chosen by humanity (Bloom 13-21). In this connection, all his words start to sound almost like a call to mass suicide, since it turns out that there is no meaning if life. Faulkner is sometimes judged by the gloominess and despair of the situations he portrays. However, this is not true. Faulkner created this corrupted world of the novel with the aim of not emphasizing the final destination of humanity, but of emphasizing the consequences that can take place due to the existing tendencies of such people represented in “As I Lay Dying”. Though the situation portrayed by Faulkner bears no life-asserting element, it is not hopeless. Despite the way through which he so cynically and vividly depicted his characters, Faulkner still believes in them. In fact, every character bears his own unique character, possesses remarkable abilities and inclinations, a unique worldview, but all this appears to be just of a potential character and is hidden deep within his soul. Cash Bundren, for instance, is a very powerful, tough and strong-willed person (Faulkner, 1964). Jewel is very emotional, gusty and energetic. Dewey Dell is patient, submissive and gentle. Darl is practically a genius who has a unique ability to perceive the world in an unusual way (Faulkner, 1964). With that, even the inexhaustible greed of Anse can be turned into good. Every character introduces the source of a positive energy that, provided it is opened, can change the very essence of these persons, as well as their whole world. Every character described in the novel has its extraordinary potential, it remains only to realize it and turn this energy in the right direction. However, the book does not witness these transformations, whereupon the narration remains to dismal till the very end.
The situation, nonetheless, is not yet hopeless, it is not too late to change something, the characters are not completely isolated in their egoistic worlds and are not totally deprived of all moral values. Through his characters, Faulkner attempts to assure the reader that humanity can still be reunited, people are able to come to unity and harmony, peace and accord, and, what is of most importance, they still can love each other (Bloom 13-21). Faulkner believes that a person will not die because there is no death and because humanity is indestructible. Even the slightest echo of morality will sound eternally, since the human soul is endless and a person is able to endure all the trials that befall him.
Bloom, Harold. William Faulkner. New York: Chelsea House, 1986. 13-21. Print.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Random House, 1964. Print.
Watson, Jay, and Ann J. Abadie. Fifty Years after Faulkner. U of Mississippi, 2016. 266-272.