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The Relativism of Reality in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying Anonymous


“It resembles it aint so much what a fellow does, but it the way most of folks is taking a look at him when he does it,” (Faulkner, 233). In William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, an apparent disparity exists in between death and birth and between words and ideas that ultimately alters the way events are viewed. Peabody articulates that death does not take any one form but rather takes different forms based upon various viewpoints. He says, “I can remember how when I was young I thought death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind,” (44 ). This forms the viewpoint that seemingly concrete events like birth, death and the life in between are not outright at all. Rather feelings shape them into unique occasions which differ from individual to person. Through the insights of his characters Faulkner also appears to recommend that words do not mean the exact same thing to everybody. Rather everyone’s special understandings give various significance to the same words. This is another method which truth, in this case the reality of language, varies. Eventually, through multiple contradictions, through the primacy of the individual and through a divergence from expected psychological reactions, Faulkner relates his theory that reality is indefinite and that specific perceptions and feelings, not merely facts, shape reality.

Faulkner utilizes his characters as vehicles to reveal the belief that truth and events are indefinite and are formed based upon emotions and private viewpoints as much as on actual realities. Faulkner develops this theme primarily around Darl’s assumed madness and the differing reactions to it. Darl has an incredible ability to sense his brother or sisters’ individual sensations and to take on their characters. Thus, his reaction to his own insanity strangely simulates the responses of his brother or sisters. In his final appearance he proclaims, “Darl is our brother, our sibling Darl. Our brother Darl in a cage in Jackson where, his grimed hands lying light in the quiet interstices, watching out he foams. ‘Yes yes yes,'” (254 ). Having a jarringly similar response, Vardaman represents the impressionable masses of society as a whole. Young and innocent, Vardaman has no strong opinions of his own but rather takes on the opinions of the bulk around him. Vardaman perceives Darl’s insanity in a lot more black and white manner. He specifies quite simply; “Darl is my sibling. Darl went crazy,” (250 ). This lies in direct contrast to Cash’s a lot more philosophical response. For it stays Money who asserts most lucidly that, “It resembles it aint so much what a fellow does, however it remains in the method most of folk is looking at him when he does it,” (233 ). He also states that, “Sometimes I aint so sho’ who’s got ere a right to state when a male is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I believe it aint none people pure insane and aint none people pure sane until the balance of us talk him that-a-way,” (233 ). Thus, he sums up Faulkner’s belief that reality, in this case the reality of Darl’s insanity, is just truth if one’s understandings consider it so. Otherwise reality ends up being complete falsity. Gem once again stands apart from the rest of the family. He feels little guilt, sadness or regret for Darl’s virtual jail time, stating to Darl straightforwardly, “You goddamn lying child of a bitch,” (213 ). These widely differing reactions to Darl’s insanity prove that truth preserves no definite form but rather varies based upon each individual’s feelings or understandings.

Words, as used in As I Lay Perishing, do seldom accurately reflect the impressions or the implications that the character tries to convey through them. Therefore, the perceived precision of words diminishes and truth ends up being more abstract. Words are certain in their tangible form. Nevertheless, words achieve indicating only through the individual connotations that are attached to them. As Addie declares, “That was when I learned that words are no great; that words do not ever fit even what they are trying to say at,” (171 ). Communication in between the characters appears most reliable when words are not utilized at all, even more stressing the ineffectiveness of words. For example, throughout the conversation between Dewey Dell and Darl regarding her pregnancy, words are never spoken aloud. This nonverbal conversation not just appears more effective in conveying its significance but Dewey Dell likewise expresses that had it been spoken aloud, she would not have thought it. This again recommends the fallibility of words. Dewey Dell articulates, “It was then, and after that I saw Darl and he knew. He stated he understood without words … and I understood he knew since if he had stated he knew with the words I would not have actually thought that he had actually existed and saw us,” (27 ). This apparent ineffectiveness of words requires the reader to observe the unpredictability of events in life; occasions which are based upon specific reactions to a circumstance as opposed to an accurate significance.

Each character’s different reaction to Addie’s death illustrates Faulkner’s concept of the primacy of the individual. Their words reflect different reactions thus showing that comparable words and comparable occasions have extremely diverse undertones. Vardaman’s inability to handle the truth of Addie’s death underscores his childish, frequently ignorant response, to many different events. His response appears to be the one that is one of the most out of touch with real truth. He mumbles, “My mother is a fish,” (84) and, “It is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls,” (53 ). He also reacts by denying the physical death of his mom by asserting, “My mom is not in the box. My mom does not smell like that. My mother is a fish,” (196 ). While this seems ludicrous, its clarity appears if one observes it in a more philosophical way. Undoubtedly, Addie does not depend on package, however rather only her body lies in the box. The actual individual, her spirit, swam away down the river. He can not accept truth and hence his fantasy becomes his reality. He genuinely believes that his mom is a fish and therefore concerns, “Where is ma Darl? … You never ever got her. You know she is a fish however you let her get away,” (151 ). Darl’s reaction to Addie’s death lies in stark contrast to Vardaman’s when he asserts that, “Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And after that I need to be, or I might not clear myself for sleep in an unusual room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is,” (81 ). Vardaman’s response appears far more philosophical and his response stays internalized. His inability to express his feelings in words enhances the primacy of the internal person rather than the real world. Anse reacts by denying her health problem entirely when he says, “You lay you down and rest you, … I knowed you are not sick. You are simply worn out,” (37 ). Lastly, Money has the most physical reaction to Addie’s death. He focuses solely on earthly issues such as his tools and on the mechanics of making the casket. Money proceeds to describe the building and construction of the coffin, the physical method which he handled Addie’s death. He states, “I made it on a bevel … It makes a neater job,” (82-3). He is the just one of the 3 boys who does not associate Addie with a fictional entity or animal. Darl associates Addie with “is was” (101) and he associates Jewel’s mother with “a horse” (101 ). Lastly, Vardaman associates Addie with “a fish,” (84 ). Money never enters this conversation and therefore appears more in touch with reality than the other characters. These significantly various reactions stress the primacy of the individual over one singular truth through multifaceted reactions to the exact same occasion.

The unpredictability of truth and the varying views of one event surface areas again in the notorious river crossing scene. The even-keeled Tull lays out the facts quite just, mentioning, “… Darl jumped out of the wagon and left Cash sitting there trying to save it … the mules finally kicked it loose, it tried to find a minute like perhaps Money would get the wagon back,” (152-4). He plays the role of the omniscient narrator, relating the story merely utilizing the truths. This functions as a referral point for the narrations of the other characters, which are filled with emotion and discontinuity. The different characters’ accounts of the river crossing reflect the exact same emotions that each character feels towards Addie’s death. Vardaman, the character least in touch with reality, continues to be not able to different himself from the idea of his mom existing still as a fish. He stays fixated upon the idea that Addie continues to reside on Earth in a fish’s body. Money focuses completely on earthly things like the casket stating, “It wasn’t on balance. I told them that if they wanted it to tote and ride on a balance they would have to,” (165 ). Lastly, Darl seems to handle the sensations of each character. He appears slow to act and ponder in his movements which reflects his response to Addie’s death, sluggish to accept her death and intentional in overcoming it. The various accounts of the river crossing show the possibility of differing views of one occasion, thus making the presence of a particular reality troublesome.

A divergence from the typical emotions related to birth exists. Social norms dictate that a birth is a pleased occasion. Nevertheless, Addie and Dewey Dell show a divergence from reality because they feel that their aloneness has been broken by their unforeseen pregnancies. Thus they feel anger instead of happiness. Cora represents the common, social stereotype when she highlights, “God gave you children to comfort your human lot and for a token of His own suffering and love, for in love you conceived and bore them,” (166 ). Directly after Cora’s remarks come Addie and Dewey Dell’s sentiments of anger towards their children. Their remarks belie the traditional stereotypes of birth because of their past experiences and current scenario. The pregnancy violates her aloneness in Dewey Dell’s mind and she laments, “It’s since I am alone. If I might simply feel it, it would be various, since I would not be alone. However if I were not alone, everyone would understand … Then I could be all ideal alone,” (59 ). Addie’s sensations of infraction and anger mirror those of Dewey Dell. She affirms that, “When he was born I understood that motherhood was developed by someone who had to have a word for it because the one that had the kids didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not,” (172 ). Her anger likewise resurfaces when she laments, “I understood that it had been, not that my aloneness needed to be violated till Cash came,” (172 ). Dewey Dell’s and Addie’s divergence from the typical beliefs of delight and joyfulness towards birth represents a more reflection of Faulkner’s approach that understandings and emotions shape occasions in life.

William Faulkner, in his unique As I Lay Passing away expresses his belief that wildly various ideas, perceptions and emotions form life and make it indefinite. His characters all provide different accounts of the same fundamental occasion. Eventually, the reader realizes that a relatively concrete occasion is not concrete at all but rather fluid and ever changing due to the differing perceptions of the characters involved. Through Addie Bundren’s declaration, “That was when I discovered that words are no great; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at,” (171 ), Faulkner also asserts that words have no significance in their concrete, definite kind but that personal emotions, understandings, and experiences give them implying. Even still, words stay indefinite and ever-changing in their meaning. Faulkner seems to stress the value of open-mindedness by stressing the complex descriptions of one, singular event. He appears to say that it is impossible to define life or reality because each human being defines it for himself. Faulkner indicates that a man should keep an open mind and voluntarily accept all viewpoints. Ultimately, one recognizes that the novel attempts to impart to the reader the belief that life is not concrete. Varying specific point of views, atypical responses to occasions and private primacy shape truth. Thus no one truth exists however rather true reality is relative. As Peabody so lucidly asserts, reality, like death, is “… simply a function of the mind,” (44 ).

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