As I Lay Dying

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William Faulkner’s portrayal of women, Addie Bundren specifically, in As I Lay Dying presents an interesting look into the gender politics of the south in the 1930s. Addie lies at the heart of the novel; yet despite being the heart, her presence for most of the story is as a corpse. Faulkner only gives her one chapter to explain herself; and it is her desire to be buried in Jefferson that sets in motion everything that happens in the novel. There is a profound tension at work between words and Truth her chapter: Addie ascribes no value to words, they are nothing more than dead sounds. And despite her claim that words are “quick and harmless”, she is tricked by them, and relies on them to take her revenge on Anse. While the word “sin” means nothing to Addie, she is nevertheless consumed by the idea of Sin. The fundamental problem for the reader is how to decipher a chapter of words when Addie says they are empty shapes. Addie’s nihilistic approach to language reveals her attempt to escape her subjugation as a woman: as a “woman”, Addie cannot help but fall into the traps of “wife” and “mother”, and their associated duities. Addie’s chapter placement complicates the novel, as it is placed after she dies; Faulkner does not make it clear whether he is presenting her voice from beyond the grave or if this is supposed to have taken place sometime in the past. From the very beginning of the chapter, Addie shows a darkness in her heart that the reader has not seen before. She hates children (169). She hates her father for bringing her into the world; and telling her that the “reason for living [is] to get ready to stay dead a long time” (169). She doesn’t appear to take any pleasure in living, except when she punishes her st... ... middle of paper ... ...idelity; she “merely took the precautions that he thought necessary for his sake, not for [her] safety, but just as [she] wore clothes in the world’s face” (175). She continues her rebellion in her treatment of Jewel: rather than treating Jewel worse because he is a constant reminder of his sin, he is her favorite child, believing that he will save her from the water and the fire (168)—which Jewel does in turn; he rescues her body from the river, and single handedly carries her body from Gillespie’s burning barn. She identifies Jewel as her savior because he is the symbol of her rebellion. Addie’s carries out her final, and most damning act of revenge, by making Anse promise to take her body to Jefferson. This request places Addie’s dead family explicitly above Anse and her children, and she knows that Anse will carry it out because he is bound by his word.

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