In the novel As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner, there are several instances in which a pleasurable comment or action that is witty or humorous is made by a character. However, there are also many occurrences when there is a deep sense of disquietude resulting from a character’s words or dealings. Throughout the text, it is also not unusual for these two types of situations to occur as one, in a healthy confusion. This confusion may even be a mark of superior literature according to certain critics.
First, let us examine a point in the story where there is a distinctive instance resulting in the reader’s pleasure: “But it’s not like they cost me anything except the baking.” (p. 9) The previous excerpt is somewhat pleasurable, because Cora makes it a point to reinforce the fact that the cakes required no capital for their production. Although the statement’s repetitiveness is somewhat annoying, it is rather humorous that she is so hung up on this fact. Even though there are references to the dying Addie Bundren in the surrounding text, there is no great sense of disquietude concerning the situation.
In the following reference however, the feeling of disquietude is rather prevalent: “When is she going to die?” I say.
“Before we get back,” he says.
“Then why are you taking Jewel?” I say.
“I want him to help me load,” he says. (p. 28)
It is most disconcerting to think that a child would be absent for the death of his or her own mother, especially when it can clearly be avoided. In this scene unsettledness reigns supreme, while there is an absence of pleasure.
“But now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will.” (p. 111) Here is the apparent blending of the pleasure and the disquietude into the so-called “healthy confusion.” It is amusing that Anse needs teeth, but quite disturbing on the other hand that he is relieved that he can now obtain them due to the death of his wife.
In Faulkner’s novel, there is a clean balance between the individual happenings of the two distinctly different senses of pleasure and disquietude. On the other hand, we also encounter the fusion of the emotions into single instances. When Faulkner achieves this confusion, it provokes a satisfyingly odd feeling within the reader, which is perhaps the mark of superior literature.
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