Sample Essay Outlines

The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

Topic #1
Nature plays as vital a part in many stories and poems as the characters do. As I Lay Dying relies a great deal on Nature and her forces to move the story line along. What universal natural symbols does Faulkner rely on and how does he incorporate them into the action of the novel?

I. Thesis Statement: The forces of Nature and the natural world compete against man in Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying.

II. The Bundren homestead
A. House built on a very steep hill
B. Gravity and angles make house seem warped or mysterious
C. Anse’s view of the road in front of the Bundren house

III. The rainstorm
A. Keeps people away from the house
B. Makes travel from or to the Bundren house difficult
C. Accompanies or announces Addie’s death
D. Causes bridges to be washed out

IV. The flooding river
A. Impedes crossing and slows the family down
B. Drenches Addie’s corpse
C. Drowns mules
D. Causes Cash to break his leg and get kicked by the horse.

V. Hot weather
A. Adds to discomfort and short tempers
B. Causes decomposing body to decay and smell sooner
C. Helps attract cat and buzzards to the wagon

VI. Birth and death
A. Dewey Dell’s view of birth/pregnancy
B. Addie’s view of birth and children
C. Bundren children’s relationship to Addie Bundren
D. Addie Bundren’s view of death
E. Addie’s family’s view of death
VII. Conclusion: The Bundrens, an “unnatural” family, find every aspect of the natural world a challenge—whether it is birth, weather, geography, or death.

Topic #2
Addie Bundren maintains that words are not important; they go straight up and bear no relation to things that happen. Words are important for Faulkner, however. Examine the names and the descriptions of the characters. Paying careful attention to descriptive phrases, imagery, and adjectives, discuss whether or not Faulkner is successful in drawing his characters.

I. Thesis Statement: Faulkner selects his descriptive words and phrases carefully in order to help the reader create a better picture—both physically and psychologically—of the characters in As I Lay Dying.

II. Dewey Dell
A. Double meanings in her name
B. Association with earth/land
C. Association with farm animals
D. Words used by MacGowan and Jody
E. Words used by Darl

III. Jewel
A. Why Addie gave him this name
B. Words Darl uses to describe him
C. Words Cora uses to describe him
D. Words Tull and Peabody use to describe him
E. Association with animals

IV. Darl
A. Meanings his name connotes
B. Words Anse uses to describe him
C. Words Cash uses to describe him
D. Words Cora uses to describe him
E. Words Tull and Peabody use to describe him

V. Anse Bundren
A. Meanings his names connote
B. Association with animals
C. Words Addie uses to describe him
D. Words Darl uses to describe him
E. Words Peabody and Tull use to describe him

VI. Addie
A. Meanings her name connotes
B. Self-description and association with the dead/death
C. Words Anse uses to describe her
D. Words Cora uses to describe her
E. Words Darl uses to describe her

VII. Conclusion: A reader can achieve a more complete understanding of characters by examining how they appear to others in a story in addition to studying their own dialogue or narratives.

Topic #3
In As I Lay Dying William Faulkner appears unhappy with how people understand or misunderstand and use or misuse their religion. Through a careful study of their narratives, consider what problems Faulkner might find inherent in religion and how those characters who express religious feeling should actually behave.

I. Thesis Statement: Though a number of characters in the novel express belief in God, most of their religious feeling is misdirected or self-serving and falls short of being, what Cora Tull calls, “pure religious.”

II. Cora Tull
A. Hymn singing
B. Use of Bible quotes
C. Her relationship/place with God, as she sees it
D. Her view/opinion of others, in terms of her religion
E. Her views on death/Great Unknown
F. Her interpretation of our purpose in life

III. Anse Bundren
A. How he interprets his place in God’s eyes
B. How he understands God’s will
C. His use of the Lord’s name (when and how he uses it)
D. His view of our purpose in life

IV. Whitfield
A. What his role in the community is/has been
B. How Cora Tull views his role
C. How he views his role
D. How Addie views him
E. His sin or hypocrisy

V. Jewel
A. His view of God
B. His use of anti-religious language/terminology

VI. Dewey Dell
A. Her motivation for believing in God
B. Her view of what God does for people
C. How she uses her church-going clothes

VII. Conclusion: Faulkner feels that religion is meaningless if its ultimate purpose is personal gain or it is empty if its teachings become mere words without human understanding.

Topic #4
Darl Bundren is a complex character who can be viewed as mysterious or menacing, sympathetic or deranged. Through a careful examination of Darl’s narratives and those narratives which describe him, try to establish the “true” character of Darl.

I. Thesis Statement: Though others consider Darl to be...

(The entire section is 2505 words.)