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As I Lay Dying: Exploring Identity And Philosophy


The story of a dysfunctional family and its epic journey across the South, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is well-known for its usage of several storytellers who interpret and recount the journey of the Bundren clan from their own unique point of views. All of the characters, whether family members or outsiders who encounter them on the way to Jefferson, have their own programs and specific views of the world around them, with each of these point of views in some little method adding to the larger styles and concepts of Faulkner’s novel. This paper will analyze the viewpoints of three of these characters in specific– Anse, Cash, and Darl Bundren– in order to analyze how their differing voices, viewpoints, and designs of narration enable Faulkner to check out multiple styles and create a more complex novel than would be possible with a single unified storyteller.

As the dad and apparent leader of the Bundren clan, Anse is the character who apparently appears to be the most intent on getting his better half to Jefferson and burying her with her household. He seems committed to honoring Addie’s final dreams, stating multiple times that “I give her my pledge” due to the fact that her “mind was set on it,” as well as being the one who firmly insists that the journey needs to be finished as soon as possible even though that entails making a hazardous river crossing that kills his wagon group and injures Money (114-15, 125-26). However, Anse’s lazy, hypocritical, and self-interested streak is exposed well before the novel’s shock ending: he declares that “he was sick as soon as from operating in the sun when he was twenty-two years old” and that if “he ever sweats, he will die,” although that does not stop him from berating Gem for being tired and ineffective (17, 130). A firm believer in the inactive way of life, he likewise positions the blame for his miseries and those of his relations on the presence of the roadway, which he views as an enabler of difficulty:

Durn that road … a-laying there, right to my door, where every misfortune that comes and goes is bound to discover it … when He [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long methods, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man … since if He aimed for male to be always a-moving and going somewhere else, would not He a put him longways on his stubborn belly, like a snake? It stands to factor He would (35-6).

To Anse, life is a series of tasks that need to be finished prior to a male can lastly accomplish his ultimate imagine ending up being completely stationary, whether that be working hard as a child so that he can make the right to delight in a relaxed lifestyle in their adult years or traveling down the extremely same roadway he knocks in order to find a partner and settle down (11, 171). Anything that disputes with his personal comfort, whether it is the death of his wife or the actions of his kids, will cause him to act to correct the situation, even at the expenditure of those he apparently loves. For example, in order to spend for the wagon journey, he steals the cash Cash was going to utilize to acquire a graphophone (190 ), concurs (without consent) to trade Jewel’s horse in exchange for a new team of mules (191 ), and tries to regret Dewey Dell into making her provide him the ten dollars for her abortion, saying:

It’s just a loan. God knows, I dislike for my blooden children to oppose me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Pleasant, I give them without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky you died, Addie (246 ).

As Deborah Chappel keeps in mind, this quote consists of numerous blatant lies: “Anse will not repay the cash, he never ever gave anything unstintingly in his life, and … he does not at all mind being reproached” (Chappel, 277). In impact, he is so successful in accomplishing his goals in the novel specifically due to the fact that he is a master manipulator, one who has the ability to manage the other characters around him. The ongoing repeating of the two expressions “would you resent her?” and “would not desire us beholden” likewise show his determination to use the memory of his dead spouse as an excuse for his actions, whether it is declaring that Gem had “no love or gentleness for her,” encouraging Tull to let him loan out his mule, or not leaving the hurt Money in the care of Armstid because he wants to do the burial initially (19, 140, 195). He is even going to address the ultimate hassle, the lack of a better half, by remarrying immediately after the burial, therefore negating the whole psychological effect of the trip to inter Addie (261 ).

By utilizing the petty and sluggish Anse as a narrator, Faulkner permits the reader to much better comprehend the frame of mind of a distinctively Southern archetype, the bad white farmer. Anse is the author’s attack on the type of provincial bumpkin whose close-mindedness and stupidity had kept the South’s status as an area detached from the higher United States and whose hesitation to reintegrate into the nationwide material would keep it that method unless and till there was a dramatic change in mindset. The character’s emphasis on lack of exercise and selfishness represents a region-wide despair and unwillingness to break with the identity the South had actually fashioned for itself from the post-Civil War duration up till the time of Faulkner’s composing in the late 1920s. Anse Bundren is the South at its very worst, with him and his household representing the staleness and stagnancy that beleaguered the region as an outcome of its self-imposed seclusion.

Unlike Anse, Money is the hardest worker in the family, along with the only one who has managed to find out a trade beyond mere sustenance farming. Nevertheless, his narratives in the first half of the book do not deal with the psychological injury of losing his mother or perhaps offer a linear account of the events going on around him; rather, they are discourses about the engineering principles that entered into creating the coffin. This distinct viewpoint makes him the most analytical and level-headed member of the Bundren clan, but it likewise suggests that he does not have the emotional capability to address his mom’s death directly– and that it is just by focusing his grief into his carpentry that he can genuinely express himself. When Anse calls him into your home to notify him of Addie’s death, Cash does not understand to respond:

Cash does not take a look at him … Money does not address … Cash looks down at her face. He is not listening to pa at all. He does not approach the bed. He drops in the middle of the floor, the saw versus his leg, his sweating arms powdered lightly with sawdust, his face made up … After a while he turns without looking at pa and leaves the room. Then the saw starts to snore again (50 ).

That he gets in the room caked in sawdust and bring a saw suggests the centrality of his occupation to Cash’s identity, that even when confronted with personal disaster he need to view it through the lens of his task in order to genuinely understand it. In impact, he can only empathize with Addie’s passing by turning it into a job involving wood, nails, and tools, which is why instantly after seeing her corpse he resumes sawing the planks for the creation of the casket. As a result, this casket becomes a physical manifestation of his grief and emotionality, therefore discussing why he becomes so consumed about making everything about it as ideal as possible. Additional time is invested in beveling it despite the torrential downpour he should overcome (79 ), while he also worries about the fact that Addie was laid in the casket in the opposite instructions from which he planned, stating “I made it to stabilize with her. I made it to her step and weight” (90 ). His consistent repetition of the admonition that “it is not on a balance” is more than a logistical issue; instead, it is him revealing a worry about the security of his cherished mother and the wood tribute he has actually made to her life.

Another interesting element of Cash’s personality is his need for the tools of his trade: when the household wagon is struck by a log and capsizes in the middle of the river, he is knocked unconscious at exactly the same time as he loses them. According to Tim Poland, “with the near loss of his tools comes the near loss of Cash’s identity, the tenuous, relative identity that is the chief commodity in which the Bundren family trades” (Poland, 118). Without his tools, Cash loses his specifying feature and the products that make him an active part of the story, the outcome of which relegates him to the status of a secondary character who can just depend on the back of the wagon alongside the rotting corpse in the coffin he himself produced. It is only when they are retrieved from the water that he goes back to awareness, but with a “newfound awareness of the relativity of that identity and how deeply it is rooted in his function as a carpenter” that triggers him to “reassess his own identity … and the delicate truth of all identity” (Poland, 119). This new Money is a more well balanced and detailed storyteller, efficient in stating events with an advanced level of understanding than the formulaic lists he offered in his early chapters. He likewise takes control of the function of the majority of skilled storyteller from Darl, who seems to descend into lunacy at precisely the same moment that Cash reappears with his (actually) retooled understanding of the world. Although his chapters do not have the extensive insight that Darl’s provide, Money’s later accounts are more level-headed and reasonable than any other member of the family’s up to that point, which is why Faulkner has him recount the ultimate ironic shock of his father’s rash remarriage. By having the most reasonable character describe these final events, the sense of anti-climax is magnified and more emphasizes just how irrelevant the household’s epic journey actually was.

In contrast to the remainder of the Bundrens, Darl remains in some method disconnected from the others both in terms of identity and location, having actually left the South to serve in France during World War I. As a result, his narrations are the most complicated and intellectually rich, and he even possesses the ability to explain occasions, such as Money constructing the casket, that are transpiring while he is physically in another area (75-81). This intangible distinction he has, which in some way separates him from his other relative, tends to unsettle people like Vernon Tull, who explains him as “queer”:

He is taking a look at me. He do not state nothing; simply looks at me with them queer eyes of his that makes folks talk. I constantly say it aint never been what he done so much or said anything even how he takes a look at you. It’s like he has got inside of you, someway” (125 ).

As an outcome of his unique ability to peer into individuals’s minds and witness procedures that he is not tangibly a part of, Darl’s approach is highly linked with principles of identity and self-perception, both his own and others. When Vardaman asks him where his mom is, Darl replies, “I haven’t got ere one … Since if I had one, it is was. And if it is was, it can’t be is. Can it?” (101 ). The use of the past and present forms of “is” recommends that Darl defines presence based on an advanced level than the rest of his family, who still describe Addie’s remains as “her” despite the fact that she has currently passed away. He is aware of the divide that death produces in between being and not-being that renders Addie’s identity into something different from what it once was, just as he is more observant than the other Bundrens in his own self-characterizations. His alternate usages of the first and 3rd individuals to explain himself are representative of Darl’s inherent knowledge about things he truly should not be privy to, whether that be Dewey Dell’s tryst, Jewel’s illegitimate status, or even his own presence. Darl in some way understands that he is being observed and followed by some outdoors source (the reader), which this switching of perspective in between his own personal “I” and the outsider’s “He” indicates his awareness of this scenario. He is cognizant of the reality that he is a participant in a story which this understanding separates him both from the other characters– who consider him “queer” due to the fact that of the unique info he possesses– however also from the audience, of whom he is in some part conscious despite the fact that he can not fully reach them; he understands that he still belongs worldwide of the narrative. This idea is proven by the absence of any real relationships he has with other figures in the novel, be it within the household or in the wider circle of the Bundrens’ neighbors and associates. Jewel curses him frequently, Anse becomes upset over his choice to make an additional $3 while Addie is passing away, Dewey Dell informs the police about his barn arson, and even Money has no issue with sending him to a psychological organization, stating that it would be a “better” scenario for him (17, 237-38). In this sense, Darl is a representation of Faulkner himself: his profound statements, narrative voice, and awareness of the world around him all belong to the author who is transmitting them through a source within the story itself.

By evaluating the varying approaches present in the chapters described by Anse, Cash, and Darl Bundren, 3 of the primary storytellers in the unique, it is possible to trace how these varying voices make it possible for Faulker to totally emphasize a number of different facets and themes in the book. With his steadfast belief in staying sedentary and his exploitative character, Anse represents the zealously backwards Southerners who embrace their area’s status as a backwater and who refuse to reintegrate into the rest of the country with a nearly inbred sense of stodginess. In contrast, the workmanlike and analytical Cash sees the world through the lens of his occupation, even to the point where he is incapable of expressing feeling unless he manifests it in his woodworking. Nevertheless, the shock of losing his tools– and by extension his identity– forces him to undergo an emotional and intellectual transformation that turns him into a more well balanced, likeable chronicler, making him the ideal choice to deliver the ultimate ironic twist that ends the story. Finally, the most popular figure in the book is Darl, who, with his special ability to peer into the minds of others and observe occasions far from his present area, is more aware of the gradations of identity that exist than are the other figures in the book, even to the point where he is capable of acknowledging the multiple perspectives from which his own life is being seen. His ideology is reminiscent of Faulkner himself, and by using it in tandem with Anse and Cash (in addition to every other speaker in the book), the author has actually modified the type of the unique to give it greater intricacy as well the capability to check out more concepts and themes than would be possible with just one storyteller. By stressing these multiple viewpoints and the way in which they influence the way in which the characters who adhere to them see the world, Faulkner is assessing the basic lack of an unbiased reality at the heart of the book. Each of his characters is an undependable storyteller with his/her own individually twisted and manipulated take on life. The result of those point of views eventually leads readers to question what they truly do and do not understand about the occasions occurring in the story.


Faulkner, William. As I Lay Passing away: The Corrected Text. Modern Library Edition. Modern Library, 2008. Print.

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