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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 appears to be a close-knit neighborhood that provides a support group for the Bundrens in the after-effects of Addie Bundren’s death. While this is technically true, it is not as rosy a picture as Blackman makes it seem. Blackman’s comment that the goodwill showed in the novel is “reflective of some faith in mankind” suggests that their goodwill is real. This is merely not the case. Almost every character in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying gains some physical or psychological benefit by assisting others. This reward, in combination with a strong sense of duty, propels them to lend a helping hand, not a sense of neighborhood.

The Bundrens are in desperate state throughout the book. They hardly have any cash, and are taking a trip down a long and unknown road in order to bring matriarch Addie Bundren to Jefferson for burial. Due to the pure foolishness of the quest, Anse’s bad leadership as a dad, and department among the numerous member of the family, they are in continuous requirement. Because of this, the people they satisfy along the way tend to feel pressured to what they can to make the journey smoother for them. Nevertheless, it is not simply out of the good of their hearts, but because they feel an obligation– as Christians and as southerners– to do what they can to assist. A single person that exemplifies this frame of mind is Armstid, a neighbor who offers the Bundrens food and shelter after their disastrous experience crossing the river. Armstid, like Samson’s household earlier in the novel, would actually prefer not to offer the Bundrens the assistance they prefer– in this case making use of his mules– but is obligated to do so by the guidelines of southern hospitality and Christian duty. When initially, Anse discusses that he is in need of a group and suggests, in his normal self-centered fashion, that Armstid must permit him utilize of his mules in response, Armstid is reluctant. Then Anse, when considering a trade with Snopes says, “He’s a close male to trade with … However I reckon I can talk him around … A man’ll constantly assist a fellow in a tight, if he’s got ere a drop of Christian blood in him” (185 ). Anse shamelessly utilizes the tenants of Christianity to manipulate the already-generous guy into lending him even more. He knows that this is a trump card that will undoubtedly get him what he desires when all else stops working. Armstid knows this as well, demonstrated by the reality that instantly after Anse’ remark, he offers his group of mules: “‘Obviously you’re welcome to the use of mine,’ I said, me knowing how much he believed that was the reason” (185 ). Any generosity revealed out of pure obligation can not be considered genuine, and for that reason is less indicative of a strong sense of community and more to what level traditional values dominate southern life.

Similarly, Cora just provides help to the Bundreds to reaffirm her own piety and ethical character. She does not, in reality, care about the Bundrens or their plight, and never ever hesitates to disparage them. Regardless of this, she does not be reluctant to come to their help once she believes that Addie has passed away, despite the fact that Tull wishes to wait till someone sends for them. “It’s my Christian responsibility,” she says on p. 69, “Will you [Tull] stand in between me and my Christian responsibility?” She desires everybody to know that she has attempted “to live right in the sight of God and guy” (23) by always being the very first to help the Bundrens when they require it. This allows her to play the function of the archetypical do-gooder in her eyes, her next-door neighbors’ eyes, and God’s eyes (or so she seems to believe). 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 (especially Anse), he does not feel required to help them by the laws of Christianity, and has no qualms about refusing to do so when he feels they are requesting too much. This is exemplified by the fact that he does not let Anse use his mules to cross the river, understanding that trying to cross the river is a foolish undertaking 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 just serve others in order to in some way meet themselves; they wish to feel or seem better or more ‘Christian’.

The Bundrens themselves are no exception to the selfish-altruism phenomenon, and in fact, their mindsets aren’t almost so dignified. Even when performing the dying desires of their own wife/mother, each Bundren’s true factor for going is to get something for themselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson stated in his essay “Compensation” that, “It is one of the most lovely compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without assisting himself …”. The Bundrens are classic examples of this theory. Except for Gem, each member of the Bundren family has ulterior intentions for going to Jefferson. Cash is looking for a gramophone, Anse wishes to buy false teeth (and is possibly currently preparing to get remarried), Dewey-Dell is looking to get an abortion, and Vardaman wants bananas and a toy train. Outwardly each pretends that they are embarking on this quest due to the fact that Addie wanted it, however it is apparent that they are just doing it in order to benefit themselves. The most egregious example of this is Anse’s reaction to Addie’s death on p. 52: “‘God will be done,’ he [Anse] says. ‘Now I can get them teeth'”. Instantly his mind is set on his own self-centered desires instead of on his wife’s death, or his kids’s psychological well-being. The majority of the kids have a similar attitude, and this is the genuine inspiration for their journey to Jefferson. Darl is the just one that sees the journey as absurd, and expresses his discontent by tinkering his brother or sisters’ heads throughout the book. Since the motivation behind the journey is inherently selfish, conflict in between the brother or sisters builds up as they get even more and further into the journey. Even though the Bundrens are expected to be a family unit, they do not have cohesion, as each member has a greatly various character from the rest. This, together with their differing objectives put lots of family members at chances with each other.

Darl in specific is a dissentious figure. His jealousy of Gem’s position as their mom’s preferred child leads him to purposely annoy him. One example of this is how he drags Jewel 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 understand her every idea and action. She feels broken by this mental probing and is bitter over the fact that she can keep no secrets from him; she even envisions killing 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 simply in an effort to tinker his little sibling (as older bros are wont to do), or perhaps due to the fact that he is at this point ending up being unhinged, leads Vardaman to believe that Jewel’s mother is actually a horse, which if they listen carefully enough, they can hear Addie in her casket. Money is so simple and stoic that he is not able to form genuinely close bonds with any family member, and none of the children seem to hold any love for Anse. Cohesion and unity are the important things that bind communities, and particularly households, together. If the family on which the novel centers lack these qualities, how then, can one concur with Blackman’s contention that As I Lay Passing away “is a research study of community”? In view of just how much support the Bundrens receive along their journey, it is easy to understand how one might concern the conclusion that As I Lay Dying is a case-study in neighborhood ties. Nevertheless, nearly every character in the novel, with the exception of Vernon, reveal selflessness just in an attempt to fulfill some requirement of theirs.

Considering preliminary hesitation of characters such as Armstid, Tull, and Samson’s to assist the Bundrens, it is clear that the only reason they do so is due to the fact that they are bound by the moral commitment of Christianity, and standard southern hospitality. While much of the thinking behind the character’s motives and actions is indeed intricate, the “heroes” in As I Lay Passing away obviously continue the styles of alienation and department that exist in a lot of Faulkner’s other books. If anything, the unique demonstrates that it real kindness and goodwill are unusual, and that in basic, people help others since of the pressure placed on them by societal constructs, or as a mask to hide their own selfishness. In either case, the only function of carrying on the façade is to make the person seem more pious or loyal in the eyes of others.

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