Student Question

How does the multi-perspective approach in As I Lay Dying influence reading, and what might Faulkner's intent be?

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With fifteen different narratives in the form of stream of consciousness, the reader of As I Lay Dying understands that there are fifteen different realities--no absolutes. In this way, the reader is presented with what motivates each narrator and how each faces misfortune. Thus, all of life is portrayed: its anger, its irrationality, its poignancy, and satiric humor--even its morbid irony, confusion, and pathos. In his 1952 work, William Faulkner: A Critical Study, Irving Howe states,

 Of all Faulkner's novels, As I Lay Dying is the warmest, the kindliest and most affectionate…. In no other work is he so receptive to people, so ready to take and love them, to hear them out and record their turns of idiom, their melodies of speech.

Certainly, Faulkner's portrayal of character is more intimate with his use of interior monologue. For instance, in Section 40 as Addie narrates, the reader learns the hollowness that she has felt when she was single, strangely whipping her students in order to be noticed:"Now you are aware of me!" Then, after she is married, her only identity is as a mother, strangely bemoaning that her "aloneness had been violated." In this development of such themes as Isolation and Death, the reader, then, is provided with the private introspection of the characters. Darl's observation about death connects these two themes as he says death is characterized by its terrible aloneness: "It takes two people to make you, and one people to die."

As a narrator, Darl appears the most in the novel, and is more intuitive about the others than anyone else.  In fact, he becomes the real narrator of the novel as he controls more chapters, even changing to third person narrator near the end of the novel. Yet, Darl is greatly alienated from the others in the Bundren family as he alone understands the question of the human consciousness:

"I don't know what I am. I don't know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not."

As a result of his insights, Darl is labeled as insane and Dewey Dell has him sent to a mental institution.

But, for all the harrowing account of their journey with Addie Bundren, the family really goes nowhere as evinced in the contorted self-deliberations and confused perceptions of the various members that do not develop their characters. Certainly, there is a rift in their familial relationships because of their varying feelings for Addie. And, it is only Darl  who achieves insight, but he is foiled by the ignorance and treachery of his siblings.

Near the end of the narrative, Dr. Peabody observes of the Bundren family when he sees that Cash's leg has been set in concrete and will lose a great deal of skin as this concrete is removed,

"God Amighty, why didn’t Anse carry you to the nearest sawmill and stick your leg in the saw? That would have cured it. Then you all could have stuck his head into the saw and cured a whole family…" 

After reading the interior monologues of each member of the Bundren family, readers comprehend the significance of Dr. Peabody's words, for they have viewed the private rooms of the members' hearts.

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