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As I Lay Dying: Exploring Identity And Philosophy


The story of an inefficient household and its legendary journey throughout the South, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is famous for its usage of multiple narrators who analyze and recount the journey of the Bundren clan from their own unique point of views. All of the characters, whether members of the family or outsiders who encounter them on the way to Jefferson, have their own agendas and particular views of the world around them, with each of these viewpoints in some small way contributing to the bigger styles and ideas of Faulkner’s book. This paper will analyze the philosophies of three of these characters in specific– Anse, Money, and Darl Bundren– in order to evaluate how their varying voices, viewpoints, and styles of narration permit Faulkner to check out numerous styles and develop a more complicated novel than would be possible with a single unified narrator.

As the daddy and apparent leader of the Bundren clan, Anse is the character who seemingly seems the most intent on getting his better half to Jefferson and burying her with her household. He seems dedicated to honoring Addie’s last wishes, saying multiple times that “I provide her my pledge” due to the fact that her “mind was set on it,” in addition to being the one who firmly insists that the journey should be finished as quickly as possible despite the fact that entails making a hazardous river crossing that eliminates his wagon team and hurts Money (114-15, 125-26). However, Anse’s lazy, hypocritical, and self-interested streak is revealed well before the novel’s shock ending: he declares that “he was sick once from operating in the sun when he was twenty-two years of ages” which if “he ever sweats, he will die,” although that does not stop him from berating Gem for being tired and ineffective (17, 130). A company follower in the inactive way of life, he likewise puts the blame for his misfortunes and those of his relations on the existence 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 reoccurs is bound to discover it … when He [God] aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, however when He goes for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a guy … because if He aimed for man to be always a-moving and going elsewhere, wouldn’t He a put him longways on his belly, like a snake? It stands to factor He would (35-6).

To Anse, life is a series of jobs that should be finished before a male can lastly accomplish his supreme dream of becoming totally fixed, whether that be striving as a child so that he can earn the right to delight in a relaxed way of life in the adult years or taking a trip down the really exact same roadway he denounces in order to find a partner and settle (11, 171). Anything that conflicts with his personal comfort, whether it is the death of his other half or the actions of his children, will cause him to take action to correct the situation, even at the expenditure of those he allegedly enjoys. For example, in order to spend for the wagon journey, he takes the money Cash was going to use to acquire a graphophone (190 ), concurs (without consent) to trade Jewel’s horse in exchange for a new group of mules (191 ), and tries to regret Dewey Dell into making her offer him the 10 dollars for her abortion, stating:

It’s just a loan. God understands, I hate for my blooden children to oppose me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful, I give them without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was fortunate you passed away, Addie (246 ).

As Deborah Chappel notes, this quote consists of numerous outright lies: “Anse won’t repay the money, he never provided anything unstintingly in his life, and … he doesn’t at all mind being reproached” (Chappel, 277). In effect, he is so effective in accomplishing his objectives in the novel precisely because he is a master manipulator, one who has the ability to control the other characters around him. The continued repetition of the two expressions “would you resent her?” and “wouldn’t want us beholden” also suggest his determination to utilize the memory of his dead better half as an excuse for his actions, whether it is declaring that Jewel had “no affection or gentleness for her,” convincing Tull to let him loan out his mule, or not leaving the hurt Money in the care of Armstid because he wishes to do the burial first (19, 140, 195). He is even willing to address the ultimate hassle, the absence of a spouse, by remarrying immediately after the burial, therefore negating the entire emotional effect of the trip to inter Addie (261 ).

By using the petty and languid Anse as a narrator, Faulkner allows the reader to much better understand the state of mind of an uniquely Southern archetype, the poor white farmer. Anse is the author’s attack on the type of provincial bumpkin whose close-mindedness and stupidity had actually preserved the South’s status as an area disconnected from the higher United States and whose aversion to reintegrate into the nationwide material would keep it that method unless and until there was a dramatic modification in attitude. The character’s focus on lack of exercise and selfishness represents a region-wide despair and reluctance to break with the identity the South had actually fashioned for itself from the post-Civil War duration up until the time of Faulkner’s composing in the late 1920s. Anse Bundren is the South at its really worst, with him and his household representing the staleness and stagnation that besieged the area as a result of its self-imposed seclusion.

Unlike Anse, Money is the hardest employee in the family, along with the only one who has managed to learn a trade beyond simple nourishment farming. However, his stories in the very first half of the book do not deal with the psychological injury of losing his mother and even give a linear account of the occasions going on around him; rather, they are discourses about the engineering principles that entered into creating the casket. This distinct viewpoint makes him the most analytical and level-headed member of the Bundren clan, but it likewise shows that he does not have the emotional capability to address his mom’s death straight– and that it is just by focusing his grief into his woodworking that he can genuinely reveal himself. When Anse calls him into your home to notify him of Addie’s death, Money does not know 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 against his leg, his sweating arms powdered gently with sawdust, his face made up … After a while he turns without taking a look at pa and leaves the space. Then the saw begins to snore again (50 ).

That he goes into the space caked in sawdust and carrying a saw indicates the midpoint of his occupation to Cash’s identity, that even when confronted with personal catastrophe he need to view it through the lens of his job in order to genuinely comprehend it. In effect, he can only empathize with Addie’s death by turning it into a task including wood, nails, and tools, which is why immediately after seeing her corpse he resumes sawing the planks for the creation of the casket. As a result, this coffin becomes a physical manifestation of his grief and emotionality, therefore describing why he ends up being so consumed about making whatever about it as ideal as possible. Extra time is bought beveling it in spite of the torrential downpour he need to work through (79 ), while he also frets about the truth that Addie was laid in the coffin in the opposite direction from which he intended, stating “I made it to balance with her. I made it to her procedure and weight” (90 ). His continuous repetition of the admonition that “it is not on a balance” is more than a logistical issue; rather, it is him revealing a fear about the safety of his cherished mother and the wood homage he has made to her life.

Another fascinating element of Money’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 specifically the exact same time as he loses them. According to Tim Poland, “with the near loss of his tools comes the near loss of Money’s identity, the rare, relative identity that is the chief commodity in which the Bundren household trades” (Poland, 118). Without his tools, Cash loses his defining feature and the products that make him an active part of the story, the result of which relegates him to the status of a secondary character who can just depend on the back of the wagon together with the decomposing corpse in the casket he himself produced. It is just when they are obtained from the water that he returns to awareness, however with a “newfound awareness of the relativity of that identity and how deeply it is rooted in his function as a carpenter” that causes him to “reassess his own identity … and the vulnerable truth of all identity” (Poland, 119). This brand-new Cash is a more well balanced and detailed writer, efficient in stating events with a more advanced level of perception than the formulaic lists he offered in his early chapters. He likewise takes control of the function of many proficient storyteller from Darl, who seems to come down into lunacy at exactly the exact same minute that Money comes back with his (literally) 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 sensible than any other relative’s approximately that point, which is why Faulkner has him state the ultimate ironic shock of his dad’s hasty remarriage. By having the most sensible character describe these final events, the sense of anti-climax is amplified and further stresses just how unimportant the family’s legendary journey truly was.

In contrast to the rest of the Bundrens, Darl is in some way detached from the others both in terms of identity and geography, having in fact left the South to serve in France throughout World War I. As an outcome, his narrations are the most complex and intellectually abundant, and he even has the ability to describe occasions, such as Money building the coffin, that are transpiring while he is physically in another area (75-81). This intangible distinction he possesses, which in some way separates him from his other family members, tends to agitate individuals like Vernon Tull, who describes him as “queer”:

He is taking a look at me. He do not state nothing; just 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 so much as how he takes a look at you. It resembles he has gotten in of you, someway” (125 ).

As a result of his distinct capability to peer into individuals’s minds and witness proceedings that he is not tangibly a part of, Darl’s viewpoint is highly intertwined with principles of identity and self-perception, both his own and others. When Vardaman asks him where his mother is, Darl responds, “I have not got ere one … Because 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” suggests that Darl defines presence based on a more advanced level than the rest of his family, who still refer to Addie’s remains as “her” even though she has already 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, simply as he is more perceptive 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 natural understanding about things he actually must not be privy to, whether that be Dewey Dell’s tryst, Jewel’s illegitimate status, or even his own presence. Darl somehow understands that he is being observed and followed by some outdoors source (the reader), and that this switching of viewpoint between his own individual “I” and the outsider’s “He” suggests his awareness of this situation. He is cognizant of the reality that he participates in a story and that this understanding separates him both from the other characters– who consider him “queer” due to the fact that of the special info he has– but also from the audience, of whom he remains in some part mindful although he can not totally reach them; he knows that he still belongs in the world of the story. This idea is corroborated by the lack of any real relationships he has with other figures in the unique, be it within the family or in the broader circle of the Bundrens’ neighbors and acquaintances. Gem curses him regularly, Anse ends up being upset over his decision to make an extra $3 while Addie is passing away, Dewey Dell informs the cops about his barn arson, and even Cash has no problem with sending him to a mental organization, saying that it would be a “much better” circumstance for him (17, 237-38). In this sense, Darl is a representation of Faulkner himself: his profound statements, narrative voice, and consciousness of the world around him all belong to the author who is broadcasting them through a source within the story itself.

By examining the varying approaches present in the chapters described by Anse, Money, and Darl Bundren, 3 of the primary narrators in the novel, it is possible to trace how these varying voices make it possible for Faulker to completely stress a number of various elements and styles in the novel. With his unfaltering belief in remaining sedentary and his exploitative personality, Anse represents the zealously backward Southerners who embrace their area’s status as a backwater and who refuse to reintegrate into the remainder of the nation with a nearly inbred sense of stodginess. In contrast, the workmanlike and analytical Cash sees the world through the lens of his profession, even to the point where he is incapable of expressing feeling unless he manifests it in his woodworking. However, the shock of losing his tools– and by extension his identity– forces him to go through an emotional and intellectual transformation that turns him into a more well balanced, likeable chronicler, making him the ideal choice to deliver the supreme paradoxical twist that ends the story. Finally, the most prominent figure in the book is Darl, who, with his special ability to peer into the psyches of others and observe occasions far from his present place, is more aware of the gradations of identity that exist than are the other figures in the book, even to the point where he can acknowledging the numerous viewpoints from which his own life is being viewed. His ideology is similar to 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 form of the unique to offer it greater complexity also the capability to check out more ideas and styles than would be possible with just one narrator. By stressing these numerous approaches and the method which they affect the method which the characters who adhere to them view the world, Faulkner is reflecting on the fundamental absence of an unbiased fact at the heart of the book. Every one of his characters is an undependable narrator with his or her own individually twisted and skewed take on life. The outcome of those viewpoints eventually leads readers to question what they really do and do not know about the occasions taking place in the story.


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

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