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William Faulkner's darkly comic novel, As I Lay Dying, all of the action of the narrative finds its focal point in the death of Addie Bundren. Thus, the motif of death is recurrent throughout the novel.
Death becomes both a physical presence
Most of the action of Faulkner's plot revolves around the building of the casket for the dying Addie and the journey of transporting her body to Jefferson where she can be buried with her family members. So much a spiritual and physical presence is the dead Addie Bundren that her children become confused about the meanings of their own existences as well as the meaning of death. For instance, the smallest boy, Vardaman, drills holes in his mother's casket so that she can breathe, but when the casket slips off the wagon as the family attempts to cross the flooded river, Vardaman becomes confused and imagines, "My mother is a fish."
Dewey Dell feels that her mother has died "too soon" because she is not ready to take her place as a mother. Instead, she seeks an abortion, she seeks death.
Jewel grabs his mother's casket as it slides from the wagon and "rides it," clinging to it. It is almost as though the dead Addie and Jewel's horse, which he also loves, are similar. Again, there is a confusion in the meaning of death for one of Addie's children.
Death as a relief from suffering
Dewey Dell seeks an abortion, a death, as a relief from her worry of having a baby.
Darl Bundren participates in the journey to Jefferson with his mother's remains, but he is embarrassed by his family who drags his mother all over the county. So, he burns down Gillespie's barn in which his mother's casket is put out of the rain in order to end the embarrassing affair. Dewey Dell has him committed to an insane asylum and Darl laughs on the train, talking about himself in the third person as though he is gone or like the dead.
Dr. Peabody furthers the motif of death as a cure for the suffering life brings when he says,
"God Almighty, why didn't Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw? That would have cured it. Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured a whole family."
With her own narration which reveals how her life has been a death venture, Addie describes how she has despised her husband and borne him the last two children to make up for her love child, Jewel. For Addie, death is certainly a respite from her life of suffering. As she dies, she tells the children, "You will all have to look out for Pa the best you can."
Certainly, mortality is not glorified in Faulkner's novel; rather, it is treated in a narrative that verges on black comedy as the dysfunctional family of Bundren carry more than the burden of their mother's casket.
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