What are some allusions in As I Lay Dying?

The title of the book comes from a line in the Odyssey, the epic poem by Homer. As I Lay Dying is a novel about death and dying. The phrase in question comes from Book 11 of Homer's Odyssey, where Odysseus goes to Hades (the underworld) to consult Tiresias and ask him how he may return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. He tells Odysseus that he will die when he reaches his home: "So soon as you come to your well-built house, so soon shall you be dead, overcome by death and weariness."

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An allusion is a term used by literary critics to describe an author referring to elements from literature, the arts, history, or popular culture within a text. Another term sometimes used to describe this phenomenon is "intertextuality". Such references have two purposes. The first is specificity. The word "Penelope" conjures...

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up a more specific and vivid image than "loyal wife". The second is compactness. A reference to Sisyphus conveys a painful, dull, endlessly repeated task in a single word.

There are two main classes of allusions used by Faulkner in his novel As I Lay Dying, those to the Bible and to classical literature and mythology, both of which would have been very familiar to his original readers. 

A typical example is Peabody describing Addie's "love that passeth understanding" for Jewel, a phrase the echoes the Biblical description of Jesus' love for humanity and is commonly used in liturgical context. In the Anglican Church the following Eucharist, the priest dismisses the congregation with a series of prayers and blessings including the phrase: "THE Peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God."

Cora's statement, "Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that falls" refers to God seeing even a single sparrow falling in the Bible, specifically Matthew 10:29. Cora frequently quotes from or alludes to the Bible.

The title from the novel is taken from Homer's Odyssey, in which Agamemnon, now in Hades, describes his death, saying: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades."

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As is typical, Faulkner makes both biblical and classical allusions in his work. Biblical allusions are used in the description of the the family, the travels and even the emotions of the characters. For example, Peabody makes reference to "love that passeth understanding", which is from the Book of Ephesians in the Bible (a phrase used to describe the love of Christ). The Biblical allusions are often easy to spot by the use of Biblical language, a divergence from the more regional dialect employed by Faulkner throughout the novel. Don't be fooled, however - the simplest things can also be allusions. Vardaman refers to his mother as a fish, which is again a reference to Christ.

The classical allusions are done to give the family a mythological air, to go along with their mythological "Odyssey" to bury Addie. For example, Darl describes Gillespie, who is naked, and Jewel, who is in his underwear, as "like two figures in a Greek frieze, isolated out of all reality by the red glare." This quote and the title are just two of the many ways that Faulkner references Homer's Odyssey.

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What are some allusions to Greek literary tradition in "As I Lay Dying"?

One of the main allusions to the Greek literary tradition comes when Darl burns down the barn to honor his mother's death.  The Greeks believed in a quick and dignified burial.  For example, in Sophocles' Antigone, the heroine defies the rule of the king and sacrifices her life in order to bury her brother with proper respect.  What's more, the typical Greek send-off in death was to erect a funeral pyre, so the burning of his mother's corpse is in line with the Greek tradition.

As the barn burns, Faulkner has Darl make a direct reference to the Greeks as well.  Darl watches Jewel and Gillespie struggle.  Darl says, "They are like two figures in a Greek frieze, isolated out of all reality by the red glare."  A greek frieze is a sculpture that typically depicts some sort of pivotal moment in the lives of both gods and mortals, captured in stone forever. 

Darl watches his own epic historical battle and to him time seems to stand still; the figures appear larger than life. 

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What are some Greek allusions in "As I Lay Dying"?

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