Student Question

Does Darl from "As I Lay Dying" deserve our sympathy or contempt?

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Darl is responsible for telling more of the story than anyone else, and we should sympathise with the burdens which he carries, as he is the character who has the most empathy for others. In this strange, dysfunctional family, we are not surprised that Darl suffers a breakdown as he takes on the problems of the other characters but has no outlet himself.

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Darl has always been my favorite character in As I Lay Dying and I think it is because he is the only character with whom we might sympathize without pity. Vardaman is pitiful as is Cash. Dewey Dell, Jewel and Anse are too self-involved to garner any sympathy...

Sympathy is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of Darl Bundren. He cares for his sister, he mourns for his mother, and he understands the most enigmatic family member - Jewel. He is also the only family member who actively seeks to help the others to find comfort. 

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Does Darl deserve our sympathy or contempt?Please also include examples and quotes(with page number) from the novel to support your points.

In certain ways, Darl is the most intelligent and perceptive character in the novel, and may be the one with whom we are intended to sympathize. On one level, we can think of him as a shell-shocked veteran, suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and insufficiently emotionally resilient to hand the chaos and stress of the journey. His desire to sabotage the journey actually seems fairly rationale -- the trip is really not a good idea. His jealousy of Jewel also is understandable. He has been the better son and yet his mother has always favoured Jewel.


"I know her. Wagon or no wagon, she wouldn't wait. Then she'd be upset, and I wouldn't upset her for the living world. With that family burying-ground in Jefferson and them of her blood waiting for her there, she'll be impatient. I promised my word me and the boys would get her there quick as mules could walk it, so she could rest quiet." Darl, p. 18

"[Vernon] watches Jewel as he passes, the horse moving with a light, high kneed driving gait, three hundred yards back. We go on, with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it" Darl, p. 101.

 "She cried hard, maybe because she had to cry so quiet; maybe because she felt the same way about tears she did about deceit, hating herself for doing it, hating him because she had to. And then I knew that I knew. I knew that as plain on that day as I knew about Dewey Dell on that day." Darl, p. 129

"It is as though the space between us were time: an irrevocable quality. It is as though time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs parallel between us like a looping string, the distance being the doubling accretion of the thread an not the interval between." Darl, p. 139

 "Life was created in the valleys. It blew up into the hills on the old terrors, the old lusts, the old despairs. That's why you must walk up the hills so you can ride down." Darl, p. 217

 "Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes." Darl, p. 244

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