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?
Outline 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.
Outline 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 inAs 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...
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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.
Outline 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.
Outline I. Thesis Statement: Though others consider Darl to be “strange,” his narratives reveal that he is capable of a deeper understanding of himself and the people around him than are many of the other characters in the novel.
II. Cora Tull’s view of Darl A. Believes Darl has a “natural affection” for his mother B. Discusses the “understanding” between Darl and Addie C. Disagrees with others in the community who say that Darl is “queer”
III. Dewey Dell’s view of Darl A. Knows he can communicate/know things without words B. Fears and hates Darl because of his uncanny ability C. Wants to kill Darl because she feels he “controls” their trip to Jefferson
IV. Anse’s view of Darl A. Feels that Darl has been taken from him, is more interested in his own business and the land than in Anse B. Criticizes Darl for his peculiar fits of laughter
V. Vardaman’s view of Darl A. Tries to understand Darl’s explanation of the relationship between Addie and her sons and the Bundren brothers B. Is confused about Darl’s inability to save Addie from the river, though Darl is a good “grabbler” C. Describes Darl’s concern for Cash’s health and Dewey Dell’s “cakes” D. Describes “listening” to Addie with Darl at night; discusses the buzzards E. Seems to become obsessed with the fact that Darl has been taken to Jackson
VI. Cash’s view of Darl A. Describes why the officials come for Darl B. Sympathizes with Darl’s attempts to stop Addie’s journey to Jefferson C. Discusses how Darl seemed to expect the officials, and how he and Dewey Dell “kind of knowed things betwixt them” D. Tries to ascertain why Darl burned the barn E. Explains why it might be better for Darl to go to the asylum in Jackson F. Regrets that Darl cannot be with the family
VII. Darl’s view of the world A. His description of his childhood B. His relationship with Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman C. His descriptions of the Bundren house and its environment D. The significance of his italicized portions of the narrative E. His philosophical and introspective examinations of himself and others
VIII. Conclusion: Darl Bundren is a self-aware and sensitive character whose ability to understand the significance of people and events around him becomes a liability, sending him to the insane asylum and proving that “this world is not his world.”
Topic #5 Although Addie Bundren says words have no meaning, William Faulkner’s use of metaphors, similes, and figurative language, in As I Lay Dying, work to make his scenery, and his characters and their actions, more vivid. For example, he describes how Addie’s eyes, when she is on her deathbed, look “like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candlesticks.” Examine the types of figurative language Faulkner uses in drawing either his scenery or one of his characters. Describe how figurative language makes these more intense and how it adds, overall, to the tone of his novel.
Outline I. Thesis Statement: William Faulkner’s use of figurative language adds to the vividness of character [or scenery] in his novel.
II. Defining figurative and literal language A. Metaphor B. Simile C. Metonymy D. Synecdoche E. Personification
III. Figurative language used to describe a character’s [scene’s] appearance A. Menacing or negative language B. Natural versus unnatural language C. Animal imagery/personification D. Religious figurative language
IV. Figurative language used by the character under examination A. In describing other people B. In describing scenery or surroundings C. In describing animals
V. Characters more [or less] prone to using figurative language A. Bundren family members B. Tulls C. Whitfield D. Other characters
VI. Figurative language as an extension of character [scene] A. Enhancing scenery or an exchange between characters B. Paralleling the action in a particular scene
VII. Conclusion: The extensive use of figurative language in As I Lay Dying helps the reader to understand the characters and the story by directing attention to the types and frequency of figurative language used.
Topic #6 Intimate relationships (husbands and wives, lovers) are among the most important because they are based on trust and respect and because they often produce children/offspring who will contribute to the development of the future. The way in which people treat these relationships influences others, especially children. In As I Lay Dying, Faulkner depicts a number of different types of intimate relationships. Describe the nature of these relationships and how they might affect the emotional and social growth of those young people who observe them.
Outline I. Thesis Statement: The intimate relationships of adults often affect the way in which children, young people, and others view intimacy, love, and marriage and have an important impact on the socal development of children and young people.
II. Married life of Addie and Anse Bundren A. Courtship B. Marriage C. Home life D. Attitudes towards their children E. Attitudes towards intimacy and trust F. Attitudes towards respect and promises G. Attitudes towards one another H. Attitudes towards family in terms of religious duty
III. Married life of Cora and Vernon Tull A. Attitudes towards their children B. Attitudes towards intimacy and trust C. Attitudes towards respect and promises D. Attitudes towards family duty and responsibility E. Attitudes towards one another F. Attitudes towards family in terms of religious duty
IV. Rachel and Samson A. Attitudes towards respect and promises B. Attitudes towards family duty and responsibility C. Attitudes towards one another
V. Armstid and Lula A. Attitudes towards respect and promises B. Attitudes towards family duty and responsibility C. Attitudes towards one another
VI. Dewey Dell and Lafe A. Attitudes towards respect and promises B. Attitudes towards family duty and responsibility C. Attitudes towards one another D. Attitudes towards their child E. Attitudes towards intimacy and trust
VII. Dewey Dell and MacGowan A. Attitudes towards respect and promises B. Attitudes towards responsibility C. Attitudes towards one another D. Attitudes towards intimacy and trust
VIII. Anse and the new Mrs. Bundren (the duck-shaped woman) A. Courtship B. Attitudes towards family/children
IX. The Bundren childrens’ attitudes towards their parents’ relationship A. How Darl views Anse’s promises to Addie B. How Darl interprets his mother’s position in the marriage C. How Jewel views Anse’s promises to Addie D. Dewey Dell’s inability to confide in either parent E. Cash’s view of Anse’s promises to Addie F. Vardaman’s view of his parents
X. How others view the relationship between Anse and Addie A. Cora B. Tull C. Peabody D. Whitfield E. Samson and Rachel F. Armstid and Lula
XI. Conclusion: The people whose relationships are depicted in As I Lay Dying feel angry, empty, cheated, warped/twisted, or unhappy and can only hurt the children’s and young people’s conceptions about closeness and intimacy.
Topic #7 Although many of his works contain distasteful, horrific, or “ugly” characters and situations, William Faulkner has been considered a writer with a strong sense of moral and religious values. These values do not adhere to the teachings of any one religion; they do share, however, a sense that any meaningful morality must be based in thoughtful and compassionate acts. Without compassion, mankind would find itself swept into chaos. This becomes clear when examining the characters in As I Lay Dying.
Outline I. Thesis Statement: Several of the characters in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying normally would be considered morally admirable by the rest of society; however, Faulkner makes it clear that we cannot “judge a book by its cover” and forces us to examine the true nature of what it is to be a “moral” person.
II. Anse A. The typical role a father is expected to fill in a family B. Anse as his family’s financial support C. Anse as his family’s emotional support D. Anse’s concern for/attitude about his wife’s death E. Anse’s concern for/attitude about his children F. How Anse uses promises/sacred words to justify his actions
III. Whitfield A. The type of personality and insight a man in his occupation should have B. How he presents himself to his congregation C. What Cora thinks is the nature of his relationship with Addie D. How Addie first views their relationship E. What happens to Addie’s and Whitfield’s affair F. How he reflects on his relationship with Addie
IV. Cora Tull A. How she expresses herself in terms of her religion B. How she compares herself to other people C. Her accuracy in judging others
V. Moseley A. The type of personality a man in his occupation should have B. His judgment of Dewey Dell based on her appearance C. His reaction to her request D. His reaction to the information his assistant gives him about the Bundren family
VI. Peabody A. The type of personality and insight a man in his occupation should have B. His attitude towards Addie’s death C. His attitude towards the Bundrens and the Tulls D. Dewey Dell’s attitude towards Peabody
VII. Conclusion: In As I Lay Dying, Faulkner indicates that those whom we generally trust to be the most moral, trustworthy, sympathetic, and understanding lack the necessary understanding or compassion to help sustain others. Their outward appearances and actions often conceal selfishness, weaknesses, or inability to deal with problems in a meaningful way.