[2015] Madeline Dang (AP Literature): As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

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[2015] Madeline Dang (AP Literature): As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

By William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying

Motifs and SymbolsAnimals: Animals represent a problem that different characters struggle with. For Vardaman, the fish represents Addie and her death. For Jewel, his horse acts as a surrogate for Addie for him to love since Addie loves him the most of her children and he loves her just as much. For Dewey Dell, the cow that is full of milk represents to her a burden. Dewey Dell is carrying the burden of a child, which she wants to get rid of, and the cow wants to be milked, which is the burden she is trying to rid.Tensions between Social Classes: As the Bundrens head to Jefferson, they experience issues every time they enter a town: one town tells them to leave because of the corpse’s smell, Jewel almost gets into a fight with a man, and Dewey Dell gets tricked by the store clerk when trying to get medicine for an abortion. They don’t experience this at home with their neighbors and the farmers they meet along the journey are the ones who allow them to stay the night at their homes. The townspeople seem to look down on the family because they are farmers from a rural area. Hatred for childbearing: Addie and Dewey Dell both struggle with the concept of having children. Addie has no love for her own except for Jewel. She only has children because she feels that it is her duty as a wife. To her, children are a problem, a burden. She wants to be independent, but not as a single woman, where she would be considered shameful and unimportant since that is the primary role of women. However, becoming a wife and mother only makes her part of a family. Dewey Dell does not want her child. She focuses only on getting an abortion and keeping her pregnancy a secret from everyone. Being a single mother would bring her shame. Like her mother, she believes that a child is an obligation or her duty.

The novel begins with Addie close to death. She soon dies. The family begins a trip to Jefferson to bury Addie with her relatives according to her dying wishes. Their first obstacle is a flooded river, in which they almost lose the coffin. During the journey, the audience learns of some of the family’s many issues: Dewey Dell is secretly pregnant and Jewel is not Anse’s son, but Minister Whitfield’s. They arrive in a town called Mottson where the people are disturbed by them and drive them out. Dewey Dell tries to buy medicine for an abortion there but the clerk refuses. The climax of the story occurs when the family stays at a house of a man named Gillespie. During the night, Darl tries to burn down Gillespie’s farm but Jewel saves the coffin. The story begins to resolve as Darl is taken away to a mental institution, while the family continues the journey. They reach Jefferson and bury Addie. Dewey Dell tries to buy medicine for an abortion again, but this clerk tricks her into buying pills filled with talcum powder. In the end, Anse marries a woman he meets while looking for shovels to bury Addie.



In society, the role of women is confined to reproduction, which women then see as a burden or source of shame rather than a source of joy and love.Because both one’s life and one’s identity can easily be taken away, life is absurd and almost pointless.

Setting This story takes place in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County in Mississppi, sometime in the late 19th century.

CharactersAnse - father of the Bundren family. He is a selfish, neglectful, and terrible father. The only reason he insists on burying Addie in Jefferson is so he can get false teeth.Addie - mother of the Bundren family. She dies in the beginning of the novel. She is spiteful and bitter, and puts all of her love in her favorite child, Jewel.Cash - oldest child of the family. Cash seems to be the most “normal” of the family. He is a suffer in silence type of person, focusing more on completing the journey than his broken leg. Darl - second child of the family. Darl seems to be the most intelligent, or at least well-spoken, in the family and narrates the most sections. He believes the whole journey is pointless and absurd, causing him to go insane. Jewel - third child of the family. He is Addie’s favorite child and the result of an affair between Addie and Minister Whitfield. Jewel is very independent and is an outsider in his family. However, he truly loves Addie and always ends up saving her coffin.Dewey Dell - fourth child and only daughter of the family. She is pregnant and tries to get an abortion twice during the journey. She views having a child as a burden. Vardaman - youngest child. As a way of understanding, he likens Addie’s death to a fish he kills for dinner. Although strange, this shows he is wise for his age, but still innocent.

"My mother is a fish" (84).

“ ‘What you got in you aint nothing to what I got in me, even if you are a woman too’ … He [Peabody] could fix it all right” (63).

" 'It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell,' pa says, kind of hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. 'Meet Mrs Bundren,' he says" (261).

In this quote, Vardaman tries to comprehend his mother’s death. Just before Addie’s death, he kills and cleans a fish for dinner, noting how it is a fish and then it is a “not-fish.” So when the same thing happens to his mother, he decides that she is the same as the fish. His thoughts are strange, but they illustrate his trauma, especially at such a young age. This quote demonstrates the theme that life can easily be taken away, making it absurd and pointless.

In this quote, Dewey Dell is talking to a cow in the barn who needs to be milked. She complains that being pregnant is much worse than being full of milk and Dr. Peabody could help her get an abortion. She wants desperately to get rid of her child, which is her only goal throughout the novel. This quote illustrates the theme that the role of women is to reproduce, making children a burden for them.

At the end of the novel, Anse marries a lady he meets while looking for shovels to bury Addie. He introduces her to the remaining children and life simply continues for the Bundren family. This quote shows the theme that since identity can be taken away so easily, life is pointless and absurd. This is definitely absurd because Anse has just buried his first wife, but is already ready to marry again. The audience can also see how easily it is for Addie to be Mrs. Bundren one moment and then for there to be a new Mrs. Bundren the next.

Style and Point of View The novel is told through the streams of consciousness of the characters; therefore the point of view is first person omniscient. The narration switches between different characters as the story progresses. The style varies from character to character, but overall, they all demonstrate how the human brain processes information and what they experience. Each character’s style reflects different factors, including their level of education, personality, mental state, and trauma.


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