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What literary devices are used in As I Lay Dying?

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Several literary devices are used in As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. The most obvious is the title’s allusion, or reference, to The Odyssey by Homer. The novel’s title alludes to Agamemnon’s dying words, in which he tells Odysseus, "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades.” The novel also contains several biblical allusions, most evident in Cora Tull’s narrative. She speaks often of doing her Christian duty, she sings religious hymns as she and Vernon travel back and forth to the Bundrens’ house as Addie is dying, and she views the Bundrens’ tribulations as “the hand of the Lord . . . for Anse Bundrens judgment and warning.” Anse occasionally quotes the Bible and refers to biblical principles, as well, but he does so to justify his selfish actions. “God's will be done,” he says.

Faulkner also uses foreshadowing, another literary device, in an interesting way in the novel. Clues to events that will occur later pepper the novel, with the first of these presented in the novel’s second sentence. Here, Darl mentions that although he is older than his brother Jewel, Jewel is “a full head” taller. The significance of this description of Jewel only becomes clear to readers later when it is revealed that Jewel and Darl have different fathers. Faulkner also foreshadows the novel’s end and reveals Anse’s true motive for dragging his wife’s corpse across the countryside. Anse’s reasons for wanting to go to town are mentioned so subtly that readers are usually surprised at the novel’s end, though Faulkner foreshadows the final events in Anse’s first words at the moment of Addie’s death: “Now I can get them teeth.” In addition, Faulkner foreshadows Anse’s remarriage when the family stops at a house to borrow shovels to bury Addie. “He pulled up at Mrs Bundren's,” Cash says. At this point in the novel, Anse has yet to bury his first wife, but Cash hints at Anse’s intent to marry again by referring to the homeowner as “Mrs Bundren.” The significance of Cash’s reference to the woman in this way becomes clear only when Anse, after their marriage, introduces this new woman to his children. “Meet Mrs Bundren,” Anse says sheepishly.

Symbolism is another literary device found in the novel. Cash’s carpenter tools are perhaps the most significant of the novel’s symbols. His “saw and hammer and chalk-line and rule” are crucial to his work, and he is justifiably upset when his tools are swept into the river. The tools are more than a way to earn his living, though, because they represent Cash’s meticulous, precise approach to life.

The diction, or word choice, in As I Lay Dying is another type of literary device, significant to one of the novel’s themes. Addie alludes to the theme of the inadequacy of words when she says that “words are no good; that words don't ever fit even what they are trying to say at.” In an attempt to perhaps make new words that do “fit . . . what they are trying to say at,” Faulkner coins new words and phrases, such as “pussel-gutted," a neologism he uses to describe Dr. Peabody.

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In his 1930 novel As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner's most prominent literary device is his use of fifteen different narrators.  Each of the novel's fifty-nine sections is told through a single narrator's perspective.  Because the story is related by so many characters, the narration is presumably unreliable narration

Some of the narration is written as stream-of-consciousness, meaning that the desired effect is that of the narrator's unedited and unfiltered thoughts. 

Faulkner makes use of symbolism; for example, the fish that Vardaman catches corresponds with Addie's death.  Cora Tull's narration is peppered with hypocritical and desultory Christian symbols.

Faulkner clearly took inspiration from Homer's Odyssey; this is apparent by allusions such as the novel's title, which are words spoken by Agamemnon.  Anther allusion to The Odyssey is Cash's fall from the church roof––which corresponds with Elpenor's drunken fall from the roof of Circe's palace.

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