What is William Faulkner trying to propose or say in his book As I Lay Dying?Is he proposing a question or answering a question? What is he trying to get at?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this novel by William Faulkner, we can discuss the central themes of the text and attempt to interpret the text's meaning. This is different from identifying a thesis, though we can attempt to identify a premise upon which the themes of the work are based.

The subjectivity of the human experience is at the heart of the meaning of this novel. It is this idea that he is attempting to explore and express. 

One thematic through-line of the text concerns the ways that people are guided and governed in their behavior by preexisting concepts. Characters filter the world through a set of concepts (moral, philsophical, etc.) which are highly personal and definitive of that character's personality. 

In developing this idea in the fiction, a commentary is established regarding langauge, consciousness, and identity. In short: 

Faulkner explores the potent, complex workings of the human mind.

The preexisting concepts that help define each character include ideas of class and kinship and extend to more subtle and more personal modes of thought. After all, the thing that drives the story of this novel is Addie's determination to return home. She feels that she has been separated from her people and fixes in her mind an idea of a final, eternal return. 

The notion of being separated from her true place in the world characterizes Addie generally. This trait, as Darl recognizes, spills over to Jewel. We might say then that this novel is, in part, concerned with exploring the way concepts work to shape individual behavior and about a crisis of place which family sometimes has no power to remove. 

We see this isolation and alienation both in the content of the narrative as the family is broken apart and in the style of the work. 

Faulkner's use of multiple narrators underscores one of his primary themes: every character is essentially isolated from the others. 

The idea that people are isolated from one another creates a situation where, because people also think differently and follow different moral codes, deception and abusive manipulation can occur. Dewey Dell is tricked into having sex with a man and Anse constantly manipulates those around him for his own advantage.

This situation is created, essentially, out of the difference between individual modes of thinking. Not only does this lead to deception and abuse, but this fundamental difference in individual modes of thought allows language to work differently for people. (Vardaman is able to believe for a while that his mother is a fish.)

The subjectivity of individual experience is underlined by this notion. And this subjectivity is at the heart of the novel's commentary, its themes, and the nature of its characters. 

Every individual experiences the world in a unique way. The use of multiple narrative voices allows the reader to see this idea very clearly and allows Faulkner to take this notion to its natural limit. 

Since all of the narrators hold views that others may consider senseless, evaluations of people's sanity prove arbitrary in the novel. 

If every individual's experience of the world is distinct and unique, there can be no valid definition of normal, sane or insane and abnormal. Subjectivity is the fundanmental "norm"; the primary element of our individual realities.  

Further Reading:
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As I Lay Dying

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