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Abort the Matriarchy: Failed Mothers of the Patriarchal Systems within Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying and Morrison’s Paradise


Abortion is often a taboo topic that does not appear in American Literature. Yet, Toni Morrison and William Faulkner utilize abortion in their works to review ladies’s firm in motherhood in a patriarchal system. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying takes away the power of the matriarchy by rejecting the fertilized Dewey Dell agency over her present state. While Toni Morrison does not completely disarm the matriarchy in Paradise as Faulkner does, she shows through characters, such as Arnette, that abortion ends up being a bargaining tool in an assertive patriarchal system that no longer works as the protector of women but the abuser. Through making use of their maternal characters and abortion, Faulkner and Morrison condemn the matriarchy, the power of motherhood, and ladies’s firm over their own bodies in patriarchal systems.

In William Faulkner’s As I Lay Perishing, Addie Bundren is a woman irritated with her sexuality and pushed into maternity by her patriarchal equivalent. Addie states that she did not even want the kids however, “when [she] knew that [she] had Money, [she] understood that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it” (Faulkner 171). The kids end up being a “violation of her aloneness”, a curse put upon her by Anse. The only child in which she finds solace is Cash, but besides him, Anse denies her favorable identity as a mom throughout her life. Addie may have gotten away the patriarchal system in her death, however Dewey Dell, a kid in which Addie claims is exclusively Anse’s, perishes within it. Regrettably for the Bundren females, babies basically represent sadness, a commitment, and even death to the sense of one’s self. Addie felt by doing this about her kids, and Dewey Dell appears to understand this, too, as she searches for a cure for her condition. Dewey Dell appears to know the expectations the patriarchy has of her, but like Addie, she does not genuinely want to enact on them. Like Addie, her sense of self has been removed away, and she has actually been conditioned to thinking about herself as little bit more than a sexual item or house servant. Dewey Dell is always explained in primal, even animalistic terms. “Squatting, Dewey Dell’s damp dress shapes for the dead eyes of 3 blind males those mammalian ludicrosities which are the horizons and the valleys of earth”(Faulkner 164). This description depicts the way the guys in the Bundren patriarchy, Anse in particular, look at females as not beautiful or womanly but just birthing vessels.

Stripped of firm, Dewey Dell is seen just as an object, no longer even an individual. She is abused by her dad and bro’s absence of acceptance of her sexuality and thus condemned by it. Within her family of men, Dewey Dell feels embarassment and embarrassment not only in her impregnated state however in her sexuality, itself. The patriarchy of her own household seems to benefit from her sex, but so does the dad of her infant. After taking advantage of Dewey Dell, Lafe provides her ten dollars to get an abortion and abandons her. She is left feeling tricked, pregnant, and hesitant of the power of males. In the middle of the unique, Dewey Dell discusses a dream, which appears to represent her sensations about sex with Lafe. She reviews her remembrance of this dream: “When I used to sleep with Vardaman I had a headache once I believed I was awake but I could not see and could not feel the bed under me and I could not believe what I was I couldn’t think about my name I couldn’t even believe I am a woman … Vardaman asleep and all of them back under me once again and going on like a piece of cool silk dragging across my naked legs” (Faulkner 121). These feelings of loss of control are a direct representation of how she felt in the field with Lafe. It appears that Dewey Dell’s thoughts have actually ended up being consumed by her sexuality and newfound worry of guys. This worry is reasonable as she looks for abortion, and the “pharmacist” claims to have medication for her, but all he does is rape her. She tries to abort 3 separate times however patriarchal figures prevent her each effort. The last patriarchal stroke of violence against Dewey Dell happens when Anse eliminates the abortion cash; therefore, removing her of all company requiring her into indentured servitude in the Bundren patriarchy.

In Morrison’s Paradise, practically every family in Ruby is managed by a powerful daddy figure having hegemonic authority, like Anse in As I Lay Passing away. Instead of acting as the protector of women, males become their abusers. Morrison reveals that males who feel insecure about their status of manhood in the patriarchal system will act violently to gain back ownership of manly strength and power. Take, for instance, K.D.’s abuse of Arnette who suffered his blows and conceived with his child. When agents of the town satisfy to talk about the assault on Arnette, it is a group of guys, including K.D., who attempt to determine the proper course of action. When the men come to a conclusion, Arnette’s dad is asked if his child will consent to the terms. He says “I’m her daddy. I’ll arrange her mind” (Morrison 61). Due to the fact that Arnette is left out of the meeting, this scene explains the patriarchal system of Ruby, in which women are rejected a voice, staying possessions of the men. Arnette attempts the miscarriage in order to attempt to escape the patriarchal hold that K.D. has on her, but the matriarchy of the Convent fails her.

When Connie denies her an abortion, Arnette reacts by “celebration [ing] the out of [her infant] (Morrison 250). Like Dewey Dell, Arnette associates motherhood with sorrow, pain, and suffering at the hands of the patriarchy. She deserts her role as a maternal figure, “revolted by the work of her womb,” and rather tries to go to college to escape, however K.D.’s grasp is too tight on her (Morrison 249). Although submission offers her security, the vacuum of life takes in Arnette and is met with little resistance. At her wedding, Arnette shows that her fiancé, K. D., is “all she learnt about her self- which is to state everything she knew of her body was connected to him (Morrison 148)”. Arnette’s identity has been removed away and replaced by the ideals in which the patriarchy wished to impart in their ladies folk.

Through characters such as Dewey Dell and Arnette, Faulkner and Morrison condemn the matriarchy at the hands of a patriarchal system. Both ladies stop working to obtain firm in maternity or even abortion, leading to their submission to the patriarchal systems in which they are indentured to. Morrison constructs a patriarchal system that shows its defects, promoting womanist perfects as Faulkner seems to build his system in an attempt to state that females will always go through the patriarchy. Within the patriarchal systems of As I Lay Dying and Paradise, abortion can either become an escape or a condemnation to the system in which strips them of their agency and identity.


Cited Faulkner, William. As I Lay Perishing. Vintage International, 2005. Morrison, Toni. Paradise. Vintage International, 2014.

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