Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
Bundren house. Home of Addie and Anse Bundren, located in Yoknapatawpha County on a ridge far removed from a secondary gravel road and nearly inaccessible. The house is a fortress of “white-trash” values, tension, and ignorance. There, Anse and Addie have reared five children, all of whom characterize some aspect of the Old South in its demise. The family members occupy the house in disharmony, at odds not only with one another but with the universe itself. Nevertheless, they are representative members and products of their society, who manifest the stench of the South’s decay. Addie dies in the house in the opening chapter, and the family’s struggle to dispose of her body drives the rest of the narrative.
Road. Unnamed and little-traveled road leading to New Hope Baptist Church and Varner’s Store that provides the main backdrop of the novel’s setting during the Bundrens’ six-day journey conveying Addie’s body forty miles to Jefferson. Taking the form of a mock epic, the funeral journey occurs mostly on a backwoods route that is beset by a dangerous flood and a fire. Though remote and isolated, the road contains much to mimic and intimates the cosmic setup of the universe as the Bundren family attempts to get Addie’s decomposing body to town so they can bury her in the cemetery she chose before she died.
Barns. Like most barns in totally...
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Farm Life in the South
Despite efforts to improve technology and farming methods, a farmer's life during the 1920s involved a constant struggle for survival. The farming life was restrictive and demanding on both men and women. In fact, farmers often lived on an income of little over one hundred dollars a year. Therefore, even families who owned their land relied almost exclusively on themselves to supply both farm labor and basic necessities. Some would hire additional help during harvesting season, yet this expense could prove burdensome as well.
One can see, then, that Darl and Jewel earning three dollars to haul wood was a good job, and the purchases of luxuries like false teeth and bananas were a big deal. In essence, a farm family's land, labor, livestock, and equipment were its only assets. To lose any of them could prove disastrous, a fact which underscores the impact of Darl's decision to burn Gillespie's barn.
According to many scholars of Southern culture, two belief systems provided many Southerners with pride and a sense of purpose: religious conviction and racism. Religion in this community was a potent emotional...
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Unit 1 Questions and Answers
1. Why are Cora and Vernon Tull, Kate, and Eula at the Bundren house?
2. What reason does Anse give for not working?
3. How do we know Cora Tull is not a reliable narrator?
4. How does Dewey Dell explain why she got pregnant?
5. What reason does Tull give for people continuing to help Anse out?
6. Who is Anse’s main concern?
7. Why is Peabody upset at being called to the Bundren’s farm?
8. Why didn’t Anse send for Peabody sooner?
9. What is the function of the italicized sections in Darl’s narratives?
10. What are Anse’s and Dewey Dell’s actual motives for getting to Jefferson?
1. They are being neighborly by helping Anse Bundren and watching by Addie Bundren’s deathbed.
2. Anse does not dare to work because, over 20 years ago, he became sick from working in the sun too long. He now believes that if he works, he might sweat and die.
3. Cora believes that Darl is Addie’s favorite and that Jewel does not care for her. However, just before her narrative, we see that Darl and Anse were less concerned with being at Addie’s deathbed than Jewel was.
4. Dewey Dell says she could not help it. Whether or not she went with Lafe into the shady grove depended upon whether or not her cotton sack was full. She blames fate, not herself....
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Unit 2 Questions and Answers
1. How does Peabody’s team of horses get chased away from the Bundren farm?
2. How did Lafe respond when Dewey Dell told him she was pregnant?
3. How do Cora and Vernon Tull discover that Addie has died?
4. Before boring the holes in the coffin, how else does Vardaman attempt to provide his dead mother with air?
5. Why does Armstid suggest Anse bury Addie in New Hope?
6. Why does Cash walk with a limp?
7. According to Cora, what reward has Addie finally received?
8. Why does Cash take his tools with him on the trip to Jefferson?
9. What other indication does Darl give that he knows Dewey Dell is pregnant?
10. Why does Anse claim to be “the chosen of the Lord”?
1. Vardaman has struck at the horses in retaliation and chases them away, because he feels Peabody is somehow to blame for his mother’s death.
2. Lafe told her that he was more worried than she was. He gave her money to buy some medicine which would cause an abortion.
3. Peabody’s team appears, followed by Vardaman. The boy is soaking wet and incoherent, and the Tulls realize that Addie must have died.
4. Vardaman sneaks into his mother’s room and keeps opening up the windows by her deathbed.
5. The storm is going to wash out the bridge to Jefferson, and the family...
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Unit 3 Questions and Answers
1. Why won’t the Bundrens accept food or decent shelter from Samson?
2. What does Samson consider to be the way to show respect to Addie?
3. What does the buzzard in the barn remind Samson of?
4. Who decides that they will cross the river?
5. Why didn’t they get a doctor for Jewel when they thought he was sick years ago?
6. Why did Cash hope that Jewel was not having an affair with a married woman?
7. Who followed Jewel to find out where he was spending all of his time?
8. Why was Tull so intent on getting Cash out of the river?
9. What happens to the Bundren’s team of mules?
10. How does Darl describe the coldness of the river?
1. Anse repeats that they do not want to be “beholden” to anyone. Nonetheless, though he declines hospitality, he manages to get favors from people because he whines, complains, and wears a “hang dog” look which elicits their sympathy.
2. He says the best way to show respect to a woman who has been dead four days is to get her buried as soon as possible.
3. He says the buzzard looks just like a “spraddle-legged” and “old bald-headed” man as it exits the barn, looking back over its shoulder.
4. Cash and Jewel make the decision to go forward and cross the river.
5. Anse didn’t want to...
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Unit 4 Questions and Answers
1. What does Cora believe was the relationship between Addie and Reverend Whitfield?
2. Where does Addie go when school lets out?
3. How does Addie feel about her father?
4. Are we sure Addie’s kin are dead?
5. Who does Whitfield credit for Addie’s not confessing about their affair?
6. What kind of doctoring does Uncle Billy usually practice?
7. Why doesn’t Vardaman come in to dinner at Armstid’s house?
8. What does Moseley suggest Dewey Dell use the ten dollars for?
9. How many days has Addie been dead by the time the family arrives in Mottson?
10. What is Cash’s reaction to Anse’s suggestion that they cover his broken leg with a cement cast?
1. Cora believes that Whitfield wanted to wrestle with Addie’s spirit and fight the “vanity in her mortal heart” in order to save her soul.
2. Addie heads down the hill to the spring where it smells of damp, rotting leaves and fresh dirt.
3. She hates her father for having “planted” her.
4. Addie tells Anse that they are in the cemetery, and we assume that she means they are dead.
5. Whitfield says that God, in his infinite wisdom, restrained her from telling her family about her sin.
6. Uncle Billy usually takes care of horses or mules.
7. He stays...
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Unit 5 Questions and Answers
1. Who tries to stop Jewel from returning to the burning barn to save Addie?
2. What is Peabody’s reaction when he sees Cash’s leg in the cement cast?
3. What reactions does the wagon get as it approaches the town of Jefferson?
4. When Anse criticizes Darl’s suggestion that they go to the hardware store to buy spades with which to dig Addie’s grave, what does Darl reply?
5. What does Jewel suggest they do with Darl before the authorities come to get him?
6. How many days has it been between Addie’s death and her burial?
7. Why was Cash surprised that Dewey Dell turned Darl in to the authorities?
8. What is Cash’s response when Darl, restrained by the officials from Jackson, asks him, “Do you want me to go?”?
9. When Anse tries to take the ten dollars from Dewey Dell, to whom does she say the money belongs?
10. What is Cash’s reaction upon being introduced to the new Mrs. Bundren?
1. Jewel shakes him off when Darl grasps at his arm and tells him not to go back in. When Gillespie tries to stop Jewel from going back into the barn, Jewel knocks him down.
2. Peabody is appalled by what Anse has done to Cash’s leg. He tells Cash that Anse should have cured it by sticking it into the saw at the sawmill and said, “Then you all could have stuck his head...
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As I Lay Dying takes place in the northern part of Mississippi in 1928. The Bundrens must travel forty miles to bury Addie in Jefferson, the primary town in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County. The Bundrens live in a time of economic hardship for cotton farmers, who have had to suffer through a depressed cotton market and disastrously heavy rains. They also lack modern farming equipment, instead employing farm animals and their own labor.
The modern world exists in Jefferson, however, and the Bundrens often comment on the distinctions between country people and town people. The social environment of the time features a code of ethics that obligates farm families to house and feed travelers, although the Bundrens refuse such assistance. Faulkner also depicts a natural environment that is at best indifferent and at worst actively hostile, bringing floods, heat, and intrusive buzzards.
Point of View
As I Lay Dying consists of fifty-nine chapters narrated by fifteen different characters. Darl is the most frequent voice, narrating nineteen chapters; some characters, like Addie Bundren, Jewel Bun-dren, and various townspeople, narrate only one chapter. Many chapters appear to unfold as events take place, particularly those narrated by the Bundrens; others relate events that occurred in the past. At times, Faulkner extends beyond the realm of credible narration,...
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Faulkner's narrative point of view in As I Lay Dying is a challenge to readers. The reader's entire sense of character comes from the fifteen character/narrators who relate fifty-nine interior monologues. According to Robert Humphrey, these monologues are internal meditations of the action and they represent psychic content and processes of character, partly or entirely unuttered, just as these processes exist at various levels of conscious control. Without an omniscient third-person perspective or a clear authorial view, these perspectives may be flawed. Cora, Vernon Tull's wife misreads Darl's and Jewel's affection for Addie; she thinks Jewel is indifferent to Addie and that Darl cares. Because Darl and Vardaman are responsible for 29 of the monologues, Darl's insanity and Vardaman's emotional distress over his mother's death force the reader to question their points of view. Since Darl is extremely jealous of Addie's affection for Jewel, the reader cannot trust Darl's judgment of his brother. Since Vardaman first believes that Doctor Peabody has murdered Addie, the reader must question Vardaman's view of the doctor. Without an omniscient narrator, the reader's perception of the characters are composed of what others think about them and of what these characters say, think, and do themselves. Rather than provide a clear and complete view of any character, Faulkner provides caricatured scraps of identity—reading characters' hands and eyes, making...
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Ideas for Group Discussions
Faulkner employs a challenging, experimental narrative style in As I Lay Dying, a portrait of a southern farming family.
1. In interviews, years after the publication of As I Lay Dying, Faulkner repeatedly talked about his novel as a tour de force that he wrote in six weeks without doing much revision. The novel, he has said, appeared whole in his mind; all he had to do was write it down. Manuscript study tends to discount the exaggerated nature of these claims, but certainly Faulkner wrote and revised the novel quickly. Does the art hold up in this novel, or has the speed of the novel's composition led Faulkner to commit mistakes?
2. Faulkner has been a political writer in terms of race, class and the environment. Can As I Lay Dying be called a political work, and if so, about what?
3. What kind of person is Addie Bundren? What kind of mother and wife? How has Addie affected the lives of her children? Who has the power in their marriage, Addie or Anse?
4. What bothers Addie about the birth of Darl? Why doesn't she recognize him or love him?
5. What causes Addie to have an affair with Whitfield? What causes her to end the affair?
6. Many commentators think Vardaman is simply crazy when he parallels his mother and a fish. How does Vardaman make the connection, and what stages do we see in his response to Addie's death?
7. Why does Darl assert that Jewel's mother is...
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In 1930, after the publication of what most critics believe to be William Faulkner's masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner created his "tour de force," As I Lay Dying. While critics have been more than willing to praise Faulkner's mastery of the multiple styles he used in As I Lay Dying, most disagree about the genre, or type, of novel Faulkner wrote. As I Lay Dying could be a heroic epic, with Anse Bundren and his children braving fire and flood to bury his wife and their mother; or a comic epic, where the Bundrens' bravery is for selfish ends. The novel can also be a tragedy, where Darl, the most frequent and the most perceptive narrator, is forced into a mental hospital by his own family; or a picaresque novel, with Anse, Addie Bundren's husband, as the rogue whose family experiences a series of adventures on the road. The work may also be interpreted as a comedy similar to those penned by Ben Jonson, who caricatured behaviors or humours to castigate folly. For example, the Bundrens risk life and limb, not to save Addie, but to bury her. It might even be interpreted as a naturalistic treatment of the plight of the generic poor white hill farmer or of the hill farmer's wife.
The emotive responses a novel evokes in readers are keys to the novel's social concerns, but in As I Laying Dying readers may have difficulty in deciding what emotional responses to make to the characters and to their situations. Thus, the...
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Compare and Contrast
1920s: The Democratic party dominates Southern politics. Women are granted voting rights in 1920, but African Americans are disenfranchised and discouraged from participating in the democratic process.
Today: Since the 1960s, the Republican party has gained power and influence in the South. African American citizens are more politically active, usually providing support for the Democratic party.
1920s: Cotton is the dominant crop in Mississippi. Outdated farming methods, a lack of technology, the lien system, and a depressed cotton market keep most small farmers in debt.
Today: Cotton is still a major crop in the South, but it is no longer the dominant source of agricultural income. Production is dependent on technology and corporate ownership. Industrial employment now exceeds agricultural employment in the state.
1920s: African Americans are the majority population in Mississippi, followed by whites, Native Americans (primarily Choctaw), and Chinese immigrants who lived in the Delta region.
Today: Because of migrations out of state after 1940, African Americans comprise about a third of the...
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Topics for Further Study
Examine and discuss the possible meanings of Faulkner's title. How do you interpret it?
Research economic conditions for Southern farmers during the early decades of the twentieth century. How did these conditions impact class relations? Provide examples from Faulkner's novel.
Compare and contrast the lives of Southern farmers and unskilled laborers in the early twentieth century with the lives of farmers and laborers today. Offer statistical information from reference sources to illustrate how the situation has changed.
Explore the lives of women in Southern society at the time of Faulkner's novel. How have women's activities, opportunities, and expectations changed?
Research Sigmund Freud's theories on the Oedipal complex and relate what you've learned to Addie Bundren's relationships with her children, using examples from the novel.
Compare the journey of the Bundren family to famous journeys in myth, religion, or famous epics. What are the defining characteristics of these journeys?
Construct a contemporary version of the Bundrens' journey, factoring in modern social conditions. How are Faulkner's version and your version similar? In what ways do they differ, and what does that say about how society has changed?
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Like Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology (1915) or Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), both of which portray communities through individual speakers and stories, Faulkner also uses interior monologues in As I Lay Dying. Faulkner admired Anderson's work in Winesburg, Ohio, and had spent time with Anderson in New Orleans a few years prior to the publication of As I Lay Dying, and for a time, both Faulkner and Masters were published by Boni and Liveright.
Faulkner's own The Sound and the Fury is a more immediate literary precedent to As I Lay Dying, however. Just as the Bundrens deal with a dying or absent Addie, so must the Compsons in The Sound and the Fury deal with the effects of Caddy Compson. Despite his background, Darl is similar to Quentin Compson as a narrator. The structures of the two novels are also similar in structure to Faulkner's use of interior monologues, but As I Lay Dying is much simpler than The Sound and the Fury. As stated earlier the interior monologues in As I Lay Dying are closer to consciousness and many resemble dramatic monologues more than they do interior monologues. While juxtaposition occurs between the monologues of As I Lay Dying, much more occurs in The Sound and the Fury where Benjy's and Quentin's narratives alone contain over 300 juxtaposed scenes.
Joyce's Ulysses is frequently seen as a precursor of The...
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All of the Yoknapatawpha stories and novels, such as As I Lay Dying, are related— some through characters and some through artistic techniques. Will Varner, the Tulls, Doc Peabody, and the Armstids appear in the novels of the Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion, and in many of the short stories as well. An older version of Reverend Whitfield appears in the short story "Shingles for the Lord." Even Jewel's horse is one of the wild horses Flem Snopes brings from Texas in "Spotted Horses." In terms of artistic technique, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are more closely related to each other than to any other work in the Faulkner canon largely because of the interior monologues in both novels. In most of his other fiction, Faulkner tends to use a mediating narrator to relay action much as Conrad does with the character Marlow in Lord Jim.
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So far most of the adaptations of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying have been on the stage. The first was produced in Paris in June, 1935; it was adapted by the French actor, Charles Dullin, as a pantomime under the title Autour d'une mere. Dullin was interested in finding body-movement parallels to Faulkner's "drama in its primitive state." In 1956 John McGiffert adapted the novel for CBS. In the production, which was broadcast on October 7, Mildred Dunnock was the most famous person in the cast. In 1964 "Journey to Jefferson," which was adapted from Faulkner's novel for the stage by another novelist, Robert Flynn, won an award in Paris, and it has been revived several times, usually on college or university stages. A folk opera of As I Lay Dying was successfully performed both at the University of Mississippi, the seat of Faulkner's home and the annual Faulkner conference, and at New Albany, Mississippi, by a group of musicians headed by Nashville's Tommy Goldsmith in 1992 and 1993. Since that time, the Faulkner estate has refused to allow further development of the operatic form.
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Initially As I Lay Dying was adapted for the stage by Jean-Louis Barrault. The 1935 production was performed in Paris and featured extensive pantomime, surrealistic settings and costumes, and only Addie's monologues.
Peter Gill adapted the novel for a 1985 production at London's National Theatre. Gill also directed the play, employing sparse staging and effects.
Frank Galati adapted and directed the work for Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1995. Galati previously had adapted John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
The Threshold Theatre Company of Kingston, Ontario performed the work in Toronto in August, 1995. Mark Cassidy adapted and directed the play. The company performed the play outside, and the audience walked with the actors on their funeral journey.
Edward Kemp adapted the play in 1998 for London' s Young Vic theatre company. The play was directed by Tim Supple.
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What Do I Read Next?
The Sound and the Fury (1929) is Faulkner's first extended attempt at the stream-of-consciousness narrative techniques that he successfully employs in As I Lay Dying. Both novels also concern familial relationships and include penetrating psychological portraits. Many critics note similarities between Quentin Compson and Darl as well as the idiot Benjy Compson and young Vardaman.
Faulkner's The Hamlet (1940) is the first in a trilogy of novels that chronicle the rise of the "poor white" Snopes family.
Tobacco Road (1932), a novel by Erskine Caldwell, depicts a poor family that overcomes extreme hardship in order to survive. Caldwell's characters are noted for their ignorance and often primitive reactions to situations.
George Washington Harris's Sut Lovingood stories, published in periodicals from 1843 until 1869 and collected in Sut Lovingood's Yarns (1966), are comedies in the tall tale tradition, featuring an incorrigible narrator and outlandish escapades. Faulkner professed to be a fan of these stories.
The Nigger of the "Narcissus" (1897), a novel by Joseph Conrad depicts a ship journey that is fraught with peril. The story revolves around James Wait, a dying,...
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Bleikasten, André. Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” Translated by Roger Little. Rev. ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973. The only book-length study of Faulkner’s novel. Lucid and comprehensive; an excellent starting point for serious study. Discusses Faulkner’s manuscript and typescript and includes two facsimile pages.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. An enormously detailed work. Begins with discussion of Faulkner’s ancestors and traces the writer’s development from precocious poet to preeminent novelist.
Cox, Dianne L., ed. William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1985. Contains a dozen essays examining such topics as the novel’s chronology, language, and narrative design. Interesting individual chapters focus on the novel’s debt to the Cubist movement and to the works of T. S. Eliot. Extensive annotated checklist of criticism.
Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. A classic treatment of the Faulkner canon, still relevant despite years of subsequent scholarship. Asserts that the heart of As I Lay Dying is not the fulfillment of the burial promise but rather Addie herself and her effect on the Bundren family....
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Bibliography and Further Reading
André Bleikasten, Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, translated by Roger Little, Indiana University Press, 1973, pp. 7, 73.
Cleanth Brooks, William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Yale University Press, 1963.
Malcolm Cowley, "Introduction to The Portable Faulkner," in Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Robert Penn Warren Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966, p. 36.
Malcolm Cowley, The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962. New York: Penguin Books, 1978.
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, New York: Vintage Books, 1964.
Irving Howe, "As I Lay Dying," in William Faulkner: A Critical Study, The University of Chicago Press, 1951, 1975, p. 189.
Myra Jehlen, Class and Character in Faulkner’s South. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.
Stephen B. Oates, William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1987.
Olga Vickery, The Novels of William Faulkner: A Critical Interpretation, Louisiana State University Press, 1959.
Warwick Wadlington, As I Lay Dying: Stories out of Stories, Twayne Publishers, 1992.
Hyatt H. Waggoner, William Faulkner: From Jefferson to the World....
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