As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay Dying
As I Lay Dying (1930 1st ed jacket cover).jpg
First edition cover
Author William Faulkner
Genre Modernist, southern gothic, black comedy
Publication date
1930
Preceded by The Sound and the Fury  
Followed by Sanctuary  

As I Lay Dying is a 1930 Southern Gothic [1] novel by American author William Faulkner. Faulkner's fifth novel, it is consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th-century literature. [2] [3] [4] The title derives from Book XI of Homer's Odyssey (William Marris's 1925 translation), wherein Agamemnon tells Odysseus, "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades."

Contents

The novel utilizes stream-of-consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths.

Plot summary

The book is narrated by 15 different characters over 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her poor, rural family's quest and motivations—noble or selfish—to honor her wish to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi.

In the novel's first chapters, Addie is alive but in ill health. She expects to die soon and sits at a window watching as her firstborn child, Cash, builds her coffin. Anse, Addie's husband, waits on the porch, while their daughter, Dewey Dell, fans her mother in the July heat. The night after Addie dies a heavy rainstorm sets in; rivers rise and wash out bridges that the family will need to cross to get to Jefferson.

The family's trek by wagon begins, with Addie's non-embalmed body in the coffin. Along the way, Anse and the five children encounter various difficulties. Stubborn Anse frequently rejects any offers of assistance, including meals or lodging, so at times the family goes hungry and sleeps in barns. At other times he refuses to accept loans from people, claiming he wishes to "be beholden to no man," thus manipulating the would-be lender into giving him charity as a gift not to be repaid.

Jewel, Addie's middle child, tries to leave his dysfunctional family after Anse sells Jewel's most prized possession, his horse, yet Jewel cannot turn his back on them through the tribulations of the journey to Jefferson. Cash breaks a leg and winds up riding atop the coffin. He stoically refuses to admit to any discomfort, but the family eventually puts a makeshift cast of concrete on his leg. Twice, the family almost loses Addie's coffin—first, while crossing a river on a washed-out bridge (two mules are lost), and second, when a fire of suspicious origin starts in the barn where the coffin is being stored for a night.

After nine days, the family finally arrives in Jefferson, where the stench from the coffin is quickly smelled by the townspeople. In town, family members have different items of business to take care of. Cash's broken leg needs attention. Dewey Dell, for the second time in the novel, goes to a pharmacy, in an effort to obtain an abortion that she does not know how to ask for; clerk Skeet MacGowan coerces her into sex in the cellar in exchange for "abortion pills" which are just talcum powder. First, though, Anse wants to borrow some shovels to bury Addie, because that was the purpose of the trip and the family should be together for that. Before that happens, Darl, the second eldest and thoughtful, poetic observer of the family, is seized for the arson of the barn and sent to the Mississippi State Insane Asylum in Jackson. [5] With Addie only just buried, Anse forces Dewey Dell to give up her money given to her by Lafe (the man who got her pregnant) for an abortion, which he spends on getting "new teeth," and quickly marries the woman from whom he borrowed the shovels.

As are many of Faulkner's works, the story is set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, which Faulkner referred to as "my apocryphal county," a fictional rendition of the writer's home of Lafayette County in the same state.

Characters

Background and literary techniques

Faulkner said that he wrote the novel from midnight to 4:00 a.m. over the course of six weeks and that he did not change a word of it. [6] Faulkner wrote it while working at a power plant.

Throughout the novel, Faulkner presents 15 different points of view, each chapter narrated by one character, including Addie, who expresses her thoughts after she has already died. In 59 chapters titled only by their narrators' names, the characters are developed gradually through each other's perceptions and opinions, with Darl's predominating.

As I Lay Dying helped to solidify Faulkner's reputation as a pioneer, like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, of stream of consciousness. He first used the technique in The Sound and the Fury , and it gives As I Lay Dying its distinctly intimate tone, through the monologues of the Bundrens and the passers-by whom they encounter. Faulkner manipulates conventional differences between stream of consciousness and interior monologue. For example, Faulkner has a character such as Darl speak in an interior monologue with far more intellectual diction (and knowledge of his physical environment) than he realistically possesses. This represents an innovation on conventions of interior monologues; as Dorrit Cohn states in Transparent Minds: Narrative Modes for Presenting Consciousness in Fiction, the language in an interior monologue is "like the language a character speaks to others ... it accords with his time, his place, his social station, level of intelligence ..." The novel represents an early progenitor of the Southern Renaissance, reflecting on being, existence, and other existential metaphysics of everyday life.

Significance

As I Lay Dying is consistently ranked among the best novels of 20th-century literature. [2] [3] [7] The novel has been reprinted by the Modern Library, [8] the Library of America, and numerous publishers, including Chatto and Windus in 1970, [9] Random House in 1990, [10] Tandem Library in 1991, [11] Vintage Books in 1996, [12] and the Folio Society in 2013. Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949 for his novels prior to that date, with this book being among them. [13]

The novel has also directly influenced a number of other critically acclaimed books, including British author Graham Swift's 1996 Booker Prize-winning novel Last Orders [14] and Suzan-Lori Parks's Getting Mother's Body, and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing . [15] [16]

In 1998, the Modern Library ranked As I Lay Dying 35th on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.

The Grammy-nominated metalcore band As I Lay Dying derived its name from the novel. [17]

The character of Darl Bundren later appeared in Faulkner's 1935 short story Uncle Willy.[ citation needed ]

Theatre adaptation

An adaptation of the novel by Edward Kemp was staged by the Young Vic company in May 1998. [18]

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References

  1. "As I Lay Dying Genre". www.shmoop.com. Retrieved 2017-01-13.
  2. 1 2 The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature by Clifton Fadiman and John S. Major, Collins, 1999.
  3. 1 2 The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages by Harold Bloom, Riverhead Trade, 1995.
  4. Peter Ackroyd. Foreword to 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die , Peter Boxall (Editor). Universe Publishing, 2006. ISBN   0-7893-1370-7.
  5. As I Lay Dying, Norton Critical ed. Michael Gorra, ed. Footnote p. 134 …"Jackson: Here, not the state capital per se but the Mississippi State Insane Hospital, which was located there."
  6. W.Faulkner made the claim in the introduction to Sanctuary, (Modern Library ed. 1932) cited A. Nicholas Fargnoli, Robert W. Hamblin, Michael Golay, William Faulkner; A Critical Companion Infobase 2008, pp.4356 p.44
  7. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Ackroyd (Foreword), Peter Boxall (Editor) Universe Publishers, 2006.
  8. Modern Library's list of the top 100 recent novels Archived 2010-02-07 at the Wayback Machine , accessed Jan. 2, 2009.
  9. ISBN   0-7011-0665-4
  10. ISBN   0-679-73225-X
  11. Faulkner, William (30 January 1991). As I Lay Dying. ISBN   0-8085-1493-8.
  12. ISBN   0-09-947931-1
  13. "The Nobel Prize in Literature 1949".
  14. "A Swift rewrite, or a tribute?" by Chris Blackhurst, The Independent (London), March 9, 1997.
  15. "Review of Getting Mother’s Body by Suzan-Lori Parks" by Dan Schneider, Cosmoetica, 2005-04-30, accessed Jan. 2, 2009.
  16. Women Pulitzer Playwrights: Biographical Profiles and Analyses of the Plays by Carolyn Casey Craig, McFarland, 2004, page 270.
  17. "Interview With Tim Lambesis From As I Lay Dying—in Interviews". Metal Underground.com. Retrieved 2010-02-10.
  18. "Hellfire behind the old saws". Times Higher Education. 26 June 1998. Retrieved 9 February 2020.
Preceded by Novels set in Yoknapatawpha County Succeeded by