With the continuous flow of thoughts, feelings, and memories in the minds of the fifteen different narrators of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, the reader, albeit confused at times, is presented with what motivates each narrator as well as how each one faces misfortunes. And, since there are various perspectives presented by these differing narrators, the reader is presented with various tones that range from humorous to angry to insane, poignant to satiric and even morbidly ironic. Moreover, because the interior monologues do not mesh well with reality, there is a stagnation of movement in the narrative; the Bundren family really gets nowhere.
The tone of Faulkner's narrative is much like the progress of Addie Bundren's coffin: there are starts and stops and breaks in the forward motion. But, in his 1952 work William Faulkner: A Critical Study, Irving Howe states,
Of all Faulkner's novels, As I Lay Dying is the warmest, the kindliest and most affectionate…. In no other work is he so receptive to people, so ready to take and love them, to hear them out and record their turns of idiom, their melodies of speech.
However, there is also a merging of the comic with the tragic in this novel that creates an unsettling tone making for ambiguity and for black comedy. For instance, when Vardaman says, "My mother is a fish," there is instant laughter from the reader, yet there is pathos, too, as he drills holes in the coffin so she can breathe. When Darl is the narrator, Faulkner's technique is at its best as Darl is cerebral and intuitive, able to connect to different realities simultaneously. His perspicacity, then, points to the absurdity of the transporting of his mother. But, he fails to realize how crass others are as he is sent off to an asylum for having burned Gillespie's barn. He laughs at the absurdity of the majority who label him insane. However, seen from another perspective, the actions of the people in taking Darl are rational since he has burned Mr. Gillespie's barn and appears to be abnormal.
Certainly, the stream of consciousness technique transports readers through the thoughts of the many children of Addie Bundren as well as the other characters such as Dr. Peabody and Samson and Moseley, lending a myriad of tones to the narrative.