As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Essay

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner Essay

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William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is considered the classic American tragedy. Taking place in the poor South in the 1920s, this novel follows the Bundren family in their journey from Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi to Jefferson, Mississippi to bury their mother. Within this context, Faulkner explores themes such as the impermanence of existence, the tension between words and thoughts, and the role of the family. To illustrate these themes and to add a layer of depth to the novel, Faulkner effectively makes use of symbolism. Ranging from people to places to objects, each symbol used in As I Lay Dying, is purposeful and holds meaning.
First of all, each name that Faulkner uses in the novel holds a specific meaning and reveals something about the character. Even the family’s name, “Bundren,” is meaningful. “Bund,” the root of this word, means a “league, confederacy, or association” (Merriam Webster). This ties in the theme of family and familial obligation. They are bound together, not by choice, but because they are a family. The name Bundren is also closely associated with the word “burden,” meaning “something that is carried; a duty or responsibility” (Merriam Webster). This perfectly describes what the Bundrens are facing in As I Lay Dying. They are literally carrying their burden -- their mother’s corpse -- all the way to Jefferson. They do this out of a sense of obligation and to respect her wishes. It is quite a burden for them to accomplish this task, but they do it anyways.
Anse is the patriarch of the Bundren family. The name Anse is closely related to the word “anserous,” which means “like a goose; stupid or silly” (Merriam Webster). Anse lives up to his name throughout As I Lay Dying. He proves his ignorance, stupidity,...


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Another symbol that Faulkner uses throughout As I Lay Dying is Cash’s tool set. As a carpenter, Cash takes good care of his tools. They are very valuable to him because they equate to his livelihood. Along with having tangible value, the tools serve as a symbol of Cash’s identity (The Right Tools). This concept is played out in the river-crossing scene. As Cash crosses the river, he keeps his arm around his mother’s coffin and his tool box-- the two things most valuable to him. When the wagon tips in the river and his tools are thrown overboard, Cash is literally unable to speak or move until they are found. (Faulkner X). This demonstrates just how critical Cash’s tools are to his ability to function. In addition to symbolizing Cash, the tools also serve as a symbol for what “normalcy” the Bundrens possess. Tools represent a livelihood and a career

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