As I Lay Perishing: Freudian Theories of the Bundren Household
William Faulkner composed As I Lay Passing away in 1930, around the time when the theories of Sigmund Freud, the dad of psychoanalysis, were gaining appeal. In his story about the death of a mom, Addie, and her household’s reaction and mourning procedure, Faulkner complies with much of Freud’s theories on defense mechanisms. According to Freud, “Obstacles from the external environment and from our inner prompts threaten us with stress and anxiety … The process that the ego (subconscious mind) uses to misshape reality to protect itself are called defense reaction” (Friedman 39).
The household’s lack of a grieving procedure, obsession over burying Addie in Jefferson, and desire to obtain materialistic items all exhibit Freud’s defense reaction. Faulkner shows Freud’s theories of reaction formation, rationalization, displacement, and sublimation through the response to Addie’s death and her family’s mourning process. Whitfield is the town minister who has an affair with Addie, which results in his bastard kid, Gem. Whitfield exhibits Freud’s concept of response development, a “defense mechanism that pushes away threatening impulses by overstating the opposite in one’s ideas and actions” (Friedman 41).
Whitfield knew he was dedicating a sin by having an affair, as adultery is plainly rejected in the bible, however he kept it secret and continued to preach the bible. When Whitfield hears that Addie is ill he admits that he “woke to the enormity of my sin; I saw the true light at last, and I fell on my knees and confessed to God and asked His guidance and received it” (Faulkner 177). Whitfield discusses that God told him to “repair to that home in which you have actually put a living lie … admit your sin aloud. However, by the time Whitfield reached the Bundrens’ house Addie had already died and Whitfield made the decision to keep his secret, which is another act against the bible since the bible teaches that a person need to confess his sins. In his final act of reaction formation Whitfield says a prayer as he leaves the Bundren home “God’s grace upon this home” (Faulkner 179). The act of continuing to preach although Whitfield himself has actually sinned suggests a defense reaction according to Freudian theory. Another element of Freud’s defense mechanisms that Faulkner utilizes in his novel is using rationalization.
There are numerous circumstances throughout the Bundrens’ journey where they act crazily to fulfill Addie’s desire of being buried in Jefferson. According to Freud “justification is a mechanism involving post hoc sensible descriptions for habits that were actually driven by internal unconscious motives” (Friedman 49). The Bundrens did not even begin their journey to Jefferson till 10 days after Addie had actually passed away. The journey to Jefferson itself was unreasonable for the Bundrens to complete. Jefferson is far, the bridge to arrive was flooded, and they are a bad family who should count on others to help them along their journey.
While Anse, Addie’s partner, does not appear to be grieving and does not point out Addie’s death, we learn that “his mind is set on taking her to Jefferson,” regardless of cautions of rain and a flooded bridge (Faulkner 86). After waiting 10 days to start the treacherous journey, the Bundrens still justified going to Jefferson to bury Addie. Tull describes that Anse “guaranteed her” that she might be buried there which “she desired it. She come from there. Her mind was set on it” (Faulkner 89). While it seems sensible that a man would want to satisfy his partner’s dying dream, the conditions of reaching Jefferson are beyond unreasonable.
Once they finally reach Jefferson it ends up being clear that Anse was rationalizing the journey to Jefferson as a way to get brand-new teeth and a partner. He even reveals “now I can get them teeth. That will be a convenience” as a defense mechanism toward dealing with the loss Addie. Anse is using Addie’s death as a reason to go to Jefferson and get new teeth. Instead of mourn Addie’s death and bury her at her home, the Bundrens internally struggle with the loss of their mother and focus their attention on getting her to Jefferson so they can visit Jefferson themselves.
In Addie’s last passing away days her boy Money spent his time developing her coffin right outside her window. According to Freudian principles Cash was displacing his feelings about his mom dying. Displacement is “a defense mechanism in which the target of one’s unconscious fears or desires is moved away from the true cause” (Friedman 47). In this case Money’s unconscious fears are of his moms illness and approaching death and he is moving his focus towards building her casket instead of spending quality time with her or comforting her. Money’s fascination with constructing the coffin continues even after Addie ies. Cash’s first chapter of the novel thoroughly notes his reasoning over the construction of the casket. He discusses “the animal magnetism of a dead body makes the stress come slanting, so the seams and joints of a coffin are made on the bevel.” While the construction of the casket might be a crucial contribution to Addie’s burial, Cash entirely consumes himself with thoughts of the casket instead of grieving his mom. Another one of Addie’s children also exhibits displacement in response to his mom’s death. Vardaman factors that the doctor, Peabody, triggered his mom’s death.
Vardaman sobs “he kilt her. He kilt her” yet he displaces his anger towards Peabody’s horses exclaiming “you kilt my maw!” (Faulkner 54). Vardaman strikes the horses with a stick, harshly beating them. Freud would classify this habits as displacement since Vardaman releases his feelings on innocent horses that might not have actually triggered his mother’s death. One of the most popular defense reaction that Faulkner demonstrates is the concept of sublimation. Numerous characters translate Addie’s death into other preoccupations such as purchasing brand-new material items or fulfilling individual gains.
The Bundrens as a family focus on bringing her body to Jefferson, Anse desires brand-new teeth, Cash wants a gramophone, Dewey Dell desires an abortion, and Jewel’s affection for his horse. According to Freudian theory “sublimation is the transforming of inappropriate urges into favorable, socially acceptable motivations” (Friedman 48). Faulkner utilizes sublimation in his character’s absence of mourning their loss and translation of the worry of their loss toward something less meaningful but concrete. Throughout the unique Dewey Dell conveys her stress and anxiety over her pregnancy.
She even confesses “when mother died I had to go beyond and beyond me and Lafe and Darl to grieve because he could do so much for me and he don’t understand it” (Faulkner 59). Dewey Dell is unable to concentrate on anything, including her mom’s death, because of her pregnancy and obsession over finding a way to abort her infant. In this passage she questions Peabody’s ability to assist her with the abortion. When they lastly reach Jefferson Dewey Dell quickly finds a physician to perform her abortion. She desperately describes to the pharmacy clerk “it’s the female difficulty … I got the money” (Faulkner 243).
The Bundren household sublimates the loss of Addie by finishing a hazardous and exhausting journey to grant Addie’s desire of being buried in Jefferson. Nevertheless, when the Bundrens reach Jefferson it ends up being clear that they had ulterior, and self-centered personal motives for getting to Jefferson. When the treacherous journey to bury Addie is finally completed Anse sublimates his relationship with Addie and her loss by buying brand-new teeth and getting a new partner. Money informs his brand-new partner, “it’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell,’ pa says, sort of hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. Meet Mrs Bundren,’ he says,” (Faulkner 261). Anse rapidly changes his partner and continues his life as if unaffected by the loss of Addie. He sublimates his loss with new teeth and a brand-new other half. Freudian research studies of the unconscious mind ended up being popular in the 1920s and 1930s when Faulkner was also acquiring appeal as an author. It is possible that Faulkner’s stream of awareness writing was also influenced by Freud’s theories of the subconscious mind. While Faulkner provides comprehensive insight into all of the character’s thoughts and emotions, none of the characters seem to be really grieving the loss of Addie.
Rather, the Bundrens focus their attention towards moving her body to Jefferson, a daunting and impractical job that takes them around twenty days to lastly bury her. The characters reveal lots of styles of defense reaction in managing their loss. They do not show genuine indications of missing Addie or grieving her. Rather they focus their attention on what to do with her body and other seemingly important matters. Faulkner was affected by Freud’s concepts of response formation, rationalization, displacement, and sublimation as a way for his characters to manage the loss of their wife and mother.