As I Lay Dying Essay: The Characters

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The Characters in As I Lay Dying

The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail. (excerpt-Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

Analyzing character in a Faulkner novel is like trying to reach the bottom of a bottomless pit because Faulkner's characters often lack ration, speak in telegraphed stream-of-consciousness, and rarely if ever lend themselves to ready analysis. This is particularly true in As I Lay Dying, a novel of a fragmented and dysfunctional family told through fragmented chapters. Each character reveals their perspective in different chapters, but the perspectives are true to life in that though they all reveal information about the Bundren family and their struggles to exist they are all limited by the perspective of the character providing the revelations. The story centers on the death of the mother of the Bundren clan, Addie, whose imminent death creates fragmentation and chaos in the Bundren family because Anse, Addie's husband, has promised to travel to Jefferson to bury her with her family. Floods, fires, injuries and poor decisions mar the journey, but the family endures and Anse brings home a new Mrs. Bundren. However, Anse, often read as the most selfish Bundren is the only one prepared to go on with life and accept Addie's death.

Others in the family are not so ready to accept the displacement of their mother so readily. Among them, Vardaman and Dewey Dell are often portrayed as the least individualized characters in the Bundren family. Someone once suggests he is a "frightened, perhaps deranged child" and she is a "female vegetable." These suggestions might be a bit extreme, but defin...

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...ner 57). Vardaman, on the other hand, is even younger than Dewey Dell and seems less able to cope with reality. However, he does see Darl set fire to the Gillespie's barn and trusts Dewey Dell enough to reveal this to her. She tells him never to repeat it. However, Vardaman will be disappointed in the journey as will Dewey Dell. Only Anse gets what he wants. Vardaman's train is not in the store window and Dewey Dell is tricked by another man, the pharmacist, into providing sexual favors. Both are victims of their genetics and their environment, which, at their age, does leave them the least individualized characters in the novel.


Faulkner, W. As I Lay Dying. Vintage Books, New York, 1957.


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