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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 critique women’s firm in motherhood in a patriarchal system. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Passing away eliminates the power of the matriarchy by denying the impregnated Dewey Dell agency over her present state. While Toni Morrison does not entirely 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 however the abuser. Through the use of their maternal characters and abortion, Faulkner and Morrison condemn the matriarchy, the power of motherhood, and ladies’s company over their own bodies in patriarchal systems.

In William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Addie Bundren is a woman irritated with her sexuality and pushed into maternity by her patriarchal counterpart. Addie states that she did not even want the children but, “when [she] understood that [she] had Money, [she] understood that living was awful which this was the answer to it” (Faulkner 171). The kids become a “infraction of her aloneness”, a curse put upon her by Anse. The only kid in which she discovers solace is Cash, but besides him, Anse rejects her favorable identity as a mother throughout her life. Addie might have gotten away the patriarchal system in her death, however Dewey Dell, a child in which Addie claims is solely Anse’s, perishes within it. Regrettably for the Bundren women, children essentially represent sadness, a responsibility, and even death to the sense of one’s self. Addie felt by doing this about her kids, and Dewey Dell appears to realize this, too, as she looks for a treatment for her condition. Dewey Dell appears to know the expectations the patriarchy has of her, however like Addie, she does not truly wish to enact on them. Like Addie, her sense of self has actually been removed away, and she has actually been conditioned to thinking about herself as bit more than a sexual item or house servant. Dewey Dell is constantly described in primal, even animalistic terms. “Squatting, Dewey Dell’s damp gown shapes for the dead eyes of three blind guys those mammalian ludicrosities which are the horizons and the valleys of earth”(Faulkner 164). This description depicts the way the men in the Bundren patriarchy, Anse in specific, take a look at ladies as not lovely or womanly but just birthing vessels.

Stripped of agency, Dewey Dell is viewed only as an object, no longer even an individual. She is abused by her daddy and bro’s absence of acceptance of her sexuality and therefore condemned by it. Within her family of men, Dewey Dell feels embarassment and shame not just in her impregnated state but in her sexuality, itself. The patriarchy of her own household seems to make the most of her sex, but so does the daddy of her infant. After benefiting from Dewey Dell, Lafe offers her 10 dollars to get an abortion and abandons her. She is left feeling tricked, pregnant, and hesitant of the power of men. In the middle of the unique, Dewey Dell talks about a dream, which appears to represent her sensations about sex with Lafe. She reviews her remembrance of this dream: “When I utilized to sleep with Vardaman I had a problem when I thought I was awake however I couldn’t see and could not feel the bed under me and I couldn’t believe what I was I could not consider my name I couldn’t even believe I am a woman … Vardaman asleep and all of them back under me again and going on like a piece of cool silk dragging across my naked legs” (Faulkner 121). These sensations 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 fear is reasonable as she seeks abortion, and the “pharmacist” claims to have medication for her, but all he does is rape her. She tries to terminate 3 different times but patriarchal figures prevent her each effort. The last patriarchal stroke of violence versus Dewey Dell occurs when Anse removes the abortion money; thus, removing her of all firm forcing her into indentured servitude in the Bundren patriarchy.

In Morrison’s Paradise, almost every family in Ruby is managed by an effective daddy figure possessing hegemonic authority, like Anse in As I Lay Dying. Rather than acting as the protector of ladies, males become their abusers. Morrison shows that men 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 example, K.D.’s abuse of Arnette who suffered his blows and conceived with his kid. When representatives of the town satisfy to talk about the assault on Arnette, it is a group of guys, including K.D., who attempt to figure out the proper strategy. When the guys come to a conclusion, Arnette’s father is asked if his daughter will consent to the terms. He states “I’m her father. I’ll organize her mind” (Morrison 61). Since Arnette is left out of the conference, this scene explains the patriarchal system of Ruby, in which females are denied a voice, staying belongings of the men. Arnette attempts the miscarriage in order to try to escape the patriarchal hold that K.D. has on her, however the matriarchy of the Convent fails her.

When Connie rejects her an abortion, Arnette responds by “celebration [ing] the out of [her child] (Morrison 250). Like Dewey Dell, Arnette associates motherhood with grief, pain, and suffering at the hands of the patriarchy. She deserts her function as a maternal figure, “revolted by the work of her womb,” and instead tries to go to college to escape, but 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 consulted with little resistance. At her wedding, Arnette reflects that her fiancé, K. D., is “all she understood about her self- which is to state everything she knew of her body was connected to him (Morrison 148)”. Arnette’s identity has actually been stripped away and changed by the perfects in which the patriarchy wanted to impart in their females folk.

Through characters such as Dewey Dell and Arnette, Faulkner and Morrison condemn the matriarchy at the hands of a patriarchal system. Both women stop working to obtain company in maternity or perhaps abortion, resulting in their submission to the patriarchal systems in which they are indentured to. Morrison constructs a patriarchal system that demonstrates its defects, promoting womanist perfects as Faulkner seems to construct his system in an attempt to say that females will always be subject to the patriarchy. Within the patriarchal systems of As I Lay Dying and Paradise, abortion can either end up being an escape or a condemnation to the system in which removes them of their firm and identity.


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

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