As I Lay Dying: Freudian Theories of the Bundren Family

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William Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying in 1930, around the time when the theories of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, were gaining popularity. In his story about the death of a mother, Addie, and her family’s reaction and grieving process, Faulkner adheres to many of Freud’s theories on defense mechanisms. According to Freud, “Challenges from the outer environment and from our inner urges threaten us with anxiety… The process that the ego (subconscious mind) uses to distort reality to protect itself are called defense mechanisms” (Friedman 39). The family’s lack of a mourning process, obsession over burying Addie in Jefferson, and desire to acquire materialistic items all exemplify Freud’s defense mechanisms. Faulkner demonstrates Freud’s theories of reaction formation, rationalization, displacement, and sublimation through the reaction to Addie’s death and her family’s grieving process.

Whitfield is the town minister who has an affair with Addie, which results in his bastard child, Jewel. Whitfield exemplifies Freud’s idea of reaction formation, a “defense mechanism that pushes away threatening impulses by overemphasizing the opposite in one’s thoughts and actions” (Friedman 41). Whitfield knew he was committing a sin by having an affair, as adultery is clearly scorned in the bible, but he kept it secret and continued to preach the bible. When Whitfield hears that Addie is ill he confesses that he “woke to the enormity of my sin; I saw the true light at last, and I fell on my knees and confessed to God and asked His guidance and received it” (Faulkner 177). Whitfield explains that God told him to “repair to that home in which you have put a living lie…confess your sin aloud.” However, by the time Whitfield reached the Bundrens’ home Addie had already passed away and Whitfield made the decision to keep his secret, which is another act against the bible because the bible teaches that one must confess his sins. In his final act of reaction formation...
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