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While William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying did not originally receive good reviews, it has become one of his most popular novels, probably because nowadays its subject matter is more accepted and because other authors have followed him in his complex narrative techniques. Here are some intriguing features to Faulkner's work:
- It has the best of Southern gothic as it combines the violent and grotesque, the darkly comic, satiric, and absurd. Certainly the Burden family is both ridiculous and pathetic, crossing farce with anguish as theyare in scenes that arouse disgust, sadness, and sympathy. When, for instance, Cash breaks his leg and his family pours concrete on it, the action causes him to have a terrible infection, but it is so inane that it is humorous. Or when Dewey Dell is seduced because she believes the drug store clerk when he gives her pills filled with talcum powder. Yet, there is a sensibility and perceptiveness in the insanity at times. For example, Cash observes what seems even more true today,
"Sometimes I think it ain't none of us pure crazy and ain't none of us pure sane untill the balance of us talk him that-a-way. It's like it ain't so much what a fellow does, but it's the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it."
- There is a complex, unique narrative technique; fifteen narrators give the novel an undefinable tone. The mix of the comically vernacular with the modernist stream-of-consciousness elicits laughter from many a reader at such nonsequiturs, for instance, as Varderman's exclamation, "My mother's a fish!"
- The novel is unique in its presentation as well as its narration. The plot is fragmented much as a cubist painting, exploring no fixed objective truth. The various narrators attempt to define themselves as they each approach existential questions. In plot, too, Faulkner's novel is very modernist and, like Hemingway, the author leaves much to the intuition of the reader.
- There is an unusual development of some characters, but with Cash as the only one maturing and the father degenerating into total selfishness as Darl is committed to a mental hospital. Darl is telepathic with his twin sister Dewey Dell and foretells her pregnancy; He also intuitively knows that there mother has died with he and Jewel stop to fix a wheel when they are hauling lumber.
This question is really directed at your opinion--the student's opinion. I can give you some suggestions to help you formulate your opinion though. Early critics rated the book as immoral overall because of controversial topics. It was also rated by some as being bereft of social commentary. It was also rated as confusing and obscure because of Faulkner's peculiar (others say "innovative") narrative style. Of course, over time, these exact points that earned early critical censure became the points that gained Faulkner the most fame and his eventual 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature and later 1954 Pulitzer Prize for The Fable.
Well, if you want my personal opinion, I vividly remember reading this book for the first time. At first I thought it wasn't anything special, but as the book developed and the various storylines became more complete, I was completely caught up in the partial narratives that the book gives us and the way that gradually, bit by bit, like a jigsaw, a bigger, fuller picture is formed.
This is one of my favorite novels and it might be the most "accessible" of Faulkner's masterpiece works. As I Lay Dying explores Faulkner's major themes of identity, personal relationship to (local, family, and cultural) history and the differing perspectives we all walk around with in our heads.
The structure of the novel is strongly conducive to the themes of subjectivity and individuality and culturally oriented perspective.
The prose is electric, urgent, and rhapsodic in a way that no other author I've read - outside of Walt Whitman - has ever approached.
The book is open to interpretation yet offers a variety of concrete ideas about art and life, sanity and self-involvement, and a sense of individual purpose.
There is love and there is folly. There is humor and surprise. And there is a underlying notion conveyed of a whole world of (fictional) possibilities.
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