As I Lay Dying was released in 1930, instantly following the work that numerous think about to be Faulkner’s work of art, The Sound and the Fury. The Sound and the Fury is commonly considered to be among the greatest of the modernist books, and is hailed as a masterpiece of 20th century literature.
In both of these novels, Faulkner developed on a tradition begun by modernist authors like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. Faulkner utilized stream-of-consciousness narrative to explore perception and believed as the basis of experience. Objective truth does not exist in As I Lay Passing away; we have just the highly subjective interior monologues of fifteen different storytellers. Darl, who emerges early as the novel’s essential narrator, is significant but considered unusual by his family and next-door neighbors. He winds up being put into an asylum, with his older bro Money musing on the meaning of “crazy.” Assessing “reality” becomes an equally difficult business, with Faulkner depicting a reality as mutable and violent as the river the Bundrens cross midway through the book.
The structure of As I Lay Perishing is powerful and ingenious. Fifteen narrators alternate, delivering interior monologues with differing degrees of coherence and psychological strength. The language is intense and highly subjective, with a recognizable change in language depending on the storyteller. Each area falls someplace in the range from confessional to stream-of-consciousness. The novel is a series of interior monologues, and through these fragmented passages we piece together the story of Addie Bundren’s death and the transport of her body to Jefferson.
The narrative appears fragmentary, but the story shows admirable unity: it is limited to the period of a few days, and the different sub-plots are rationally and masterfully interwoven. Faulkner’s innovation remains in how we see this combined set of events: we are required to take a look at the story from a variety of different point of views, each of which is extremely subjective. In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner made use of some aspects of this method. Nevertheless, As I Lay Dying presents us with a far higher range of voices. Furthermore, The Sound and the Fury provides a clearer distinction in between undependable and reliable narrators. Part 3 of The Sound and the Fury is narrated by a male who is unmistakably wicked, and Part Four helps clarify the book through its usage of a more unbiased third-person narrator. The voices in As I Lay Dying are more numerous and more unclear.
Amongst Faulkner’s achievements, in this novel and elsewhere, was the rendering of the vernacular of the South into poetic literary language. The Bundrens live in Faulkner’s fictional neighborhood of Yoknapatawpha County, a setting used in much of his novels, and they are amongst the poorest characters in all of Faulkner’s work. And yet Darl is one of Faulkner’s most articulate and poetic productions. His destruction has a tragic depth and self-respect. Faulkner illustrates the besieged and impoverished Bundrens with empathy and grace, although he never glamorizes them, nor does he shy away from depicting their lack of knowledge and failings. His depiction here of hardship and rural people is among the most abundant and layered pictures in all of literature.