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As I Lay Dying: A Façade Of Selflessness And The Perception Of Kindness


On the surface area, the county of Yoknapatawpha seems to be a close-knit community that supplies a support system for the Bundrens in the aftermath of Addie Bundren’s death. While this is technically real, it is not as rosy a photo as Blackman makes it seem. Blackman’s remark that the goodwill displayed in the novel is “reflective of some faith in mankind” implies that their goodwill is authentic. This is just not the case. Almost every character in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Passing away gains some physical or psychological benefit by helping others. This reward, in mix with a strong inner voice, moves them to lend a helping hand, not a sense of community.

The Bundrens are in desperate state throughout the novel. They barely have any money, and are travelling down a long and unknown roadway in order to bring matriarch Addie Bundren to Jefferson for burial. Due to the pure absurdity of the mission, Anse’s poor management as a father, and department amongst the various family members, they are in consistent need. Due to the fact that of this, individuals they meet along the way tend to feel forced to what they can to make the journey smoother for them. Nevertheless, it is not simply out of the good of their hearts, however due to the fact that they feel an obligation– as Christians and as southerners– to do what they can to assist. A single person that exemplifies this state of mind is Armstid, a neighbor who provides the Bundrens food and shelter after their disastrous ordeal crossing the river. Armstid, like Samson’s household earlier in the unique, would really choose not to offer the Bundrens the help they desire– in this case the use of his mules– but is obliged to do so by the rules of southern hospitality and Christian duty. When in the beginning, Anse mentions that he needs a team and suggests, in his normal self-indulgent style, that Armstid must permit him use of his mules in response, Armstid is reluctant. Then Anse, when thinking about a trade with Snopes says, “He’s a close guy to trade with … However I reckon I can talk him around … A man’ll constantly help a fellow in a tight, if he’s got ere a drop of Christian blood in him” (185 ). Anse shamelessly utilizes the occupants of Christianity to manipulate the already-generous male into lending him much more. He understands that this is a trump card that will definitely get him what he wants when all else fails. Armstid understands this too, demonstrated by the truth that immediately after Anse’ remark, he uses his team of mules: “‘Naturally you’re welcome to the use of mine,’ I said, me understanding just how much he believed that was the reason” (185 ). Any kindness revealed out of pure obligation can not be considered real, and therefore is less a sign of a strong sense of neighborhood and more to what extent conventional values dominate southern life.

Likewise, Cora only lends aid to the Bundreds to reaffirm her own piety and moral character. She does not, in truth, care about the Bundrens or their plight, and never hesitates to disparage them. In spite of this, she does not think twice to come to their aid once she thinks that Addie has actually passed away, although Tull wants to wait until someone sends out for them. “It’s my Christian task,” she says on p. 69, “Will you [Tull] stand between me and my Christian duty?” She wants everybody to know that she has actually attempted “to live right in the sight of God and guy” (23) by always being the very first to assist the Bundrens when they need it. This allows her to play the function of the archetypical good Samaritan in her eyes, her neighbors’ eyes, and God’s eyes (or so she appears to think). For Tull, on the other hand, this has merely become a habit, and one that is difficult to break. He states on p. 33, “Like a lot of folks around here, I done holp [sic] him a lot already I cant [sic] stop now”. While he too, sometimes slams his weird neighbors (specifically Anse), he does not feel needed to help them by the laws of Christianity, and has no qualms about refusing to do so when he feels they are requesting for excessive. This is exemplified by the truth that he does not let Anse utilize his mules to cross the river, understanding that attempting to cross the river is a foolish venture in the first place. Tull is perhaps the only individual in the book who acts out of pure decency. Characters in As I Lay Dying only serve others in order to somehow fulfill themselves; they want to feel or seem better or more ‘Christian’.

The Bundrens themselves are no exception to the selfish-altruism phenomenon, and in truth, their mindsets aren’t nearly so dignified. Even when performing the passing away desires of their own wife/mother, each Bundren’s true factor for going is to gain something on their own. Ralph Waldo Emerson mentioned in his essay “Settlement” that, “It is one of the most lovely compensations of this life that no man can truly attempt to help another without assisting himself …”. The Bundrens are timeless examples of this theory. Other than for Jewel, each member of the Bundren household has ulterior motives for going to Jefferson. Cash is trying to find a gramophone, Anse wants to purchase false teeth (and is perhaps currently preparing to get remarried), Dewey-Dell is wanting to get an abortion, and Vardaman desires bananas and a toy train. Outwardly each pretends that they are embarking on this mission because Addie wanted it, however it is obvious that they are just doing it in order to benefit themselves. The most egregious example of this is Anse’s response to Addie’s death on p. 52: “‘God will be done,’ he [Anse] states. ‘Now I can get them teeth'”. Right away his mind is set on his own self-centered desires instead of on his better half’s death, or his kids’s psychological wellness. Most of the kids have a comparable mindset, and this is the real impetus for their journey to Jefferson. Darl is the just one that sees the journey as absurd, and expresses his discontent by messing with his siblings’ heads throughout the book. Since the inspiration behind the journey is inherently selfish, dispute in between the siblings builds up as they get further and further into the journey. Even though the Bundrens are expected to be a family unit, they lack cohesion, as each member has a greatly different character from the rest. This, in addition to their varying goals put numerous members of the family at chances with each other.

Darl in specific is a dissentious figure. His jealousy of Gem’s position as their mom’s favorite child leads him to purposely annoy him. One example of this is how he drags Gem along on the wood-delivering trip, so that he will miss out on Addie’s death. Dewey-Dell has a vitriolic hatred for Darl due to his ability to read her mind and know her every idea and action. She feels broken by this mental probing and is bitter over the truth that she can keep no secrets from him; she even pictures eliminating him one day. On the other hand Vardaman, who is already a disturbed kid to start with, is constantly led astray by the foolishness Darl plants in his head. Darl, perhaps just in an attempt to mess with his little bro (as older brothers are wont to do), or maybe since he is at this point becoming unhinged, leads Vardaman to think that Gem’s mom is in fact a horse, which if they listen closely enough, they can hear Addie in her casket. Money is so straightforward and stoic that he is not able to form really close bonds with any member of the family, and none of the children seem to hold any love for Anse. Cohesion and unity are the things that bind neighborhoods, and especially households, together. If the household on which the novel centers lack these qualities, how then, can one concur with Blackman’s contention that As I Lay Dying “is a study of neighborhood”? In view of how much assistance the Bundrens receive along their journey, it is understandable how one could concern the conclusion that As I Lay Perishing is a case-study in neighborhood ties. Nevertheless, practically every character in the novel, with the exception of Vernon, reveal selflessness just in an effort to satisfy some requirement of theirs.

Thinking about preliminary reluctance of characters such as Armstid, Tull, and Samson’s to help the Bundrens, it is clear that the only factor they do so is because they are bound by the moral commitment of Christianity, and traditional southern hospitality. While much of the thinking behind the character’s motives and actions is indeed complicated, the “heroes” in As I Lay Passing away clearly continue the themes of alienation and department that exist in a number of Faulkner’s other books. If anything, the novel demonstrates that it true generosity and goodwill are uncommon, which in general, people help others because of the pressure put on them by societal constructs, or as a mask to hide their own selfishness. In either case, the only purpose of carrying on the façade is to make the person appear more pious or devoted in the eyes of others.

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