Critical History of "As I Lay Dying"

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Nashia Horne
28 November 2011
English 290
Critical History Assignment

Many of William Faulkner’s books, especially ‘As I Lay Dying’ focused on the South in the aftermath of the Civil War. The themes of his and other Southern authors included: a common Southern history, the significance of family, a sense of community and one’s role within it, the Church and its burdens and rewards, racial tension, land and the promise it brings, one’s social class and place, and, sometimes, the use of the Southern dialect. The criticism of the novel has changed over the years with critics using everything from Psychoanalytic theory to Marxist theory to explain the importance of language and the historical content behind the novel. In his article, “Voice in Narrative Texts: The Example of As I Lay Dying,” Stephen M. Ross investigates the use of voice through the perspective of the fifteen first person narratives in As I Lay Dying. Ross highlights the use of two distinct types of voice: mimetic and textual. Ross goes on to examine mimetic on three levels of discourse, the first being dialogue. Dialogue represents the narrative voice that is heard, so to speak, by other characters. Ross also concedes that dialogue can never completely be represented as it is being portrayed in an entirely new medium, the written, as opposed to the spoken, word. The second mimetic discourse examined by Ross is the use of narrative. However, Ross argues that the narrative discourse is inconsistent and implausible, and aids in the breaking down of the actual voice of the narrator. There is a disconnect between what the narrator could portray as a person versus as a narrator. The third and final mimetic discourse is authorial discourse. This authorial discourse disturbs and confuses the relationship between creator and speaker. In these ways, Ross argues that As I Lay Dying both enhances and challenges mimetic voice. The second part of Ross’s article investigates textual voice. This voice carries out a function analogous to that of voice in speech. With textual voice there is no need for imagined speakers. Overall, Ross argues that voice is the significant aspect of linguistic portrayal. In Constance Pierce’s article, “Being, Knowing, and Saying…”, This essay attempts to identify the nature of Addie Bundren’s preoccupation with her own existence, her “Being” in other words, not being able to be articulated with mere words. The deconstructionist theory presented here, in the simplest terms, is: “a person’s Being, or what Addie seems to be longing for as Being, is what he is before he begins to think about, or objectify, it (Addie Bundren before she is aware of being Addie Bundren).” In this way it is physically impossible to be conscious of one’s own being because being cannot be objectified. At the same time, however, it can be argued that what is not perceived does not exist. So therefore, “Being” does not exist in any state, perceived or not. Addie runs into these complications and comes to the conclusion that there is no place for her to simply exist as herself. Addie’s problem with words is that they never, being simply symbols, adequately describe experience, and since thoughts depend on the existence of words, thoughts are invalidated here as well. Addie longs for a place where she can be conscious of herself without beings spoiled by language, where thoughts and feelings can coexist, but those are lost in the moments and by their nature are impossible to notice. Adamowski’s article “Meet Mrs. Bundren: As I Lay Dying--Gentility, Tact, and Psychoanalysis”, provides a detailed psychoanalysis of the novel, and discusses the prevalence of Oedipus complexes and preoedipal phases. The novel progresses as a series of monologues without a narrator and centers around each character’s motives. The corpse becomes the only unifying object. Adamowski then goes on to examine the theme of privacy and violation, centering on Addie and her...
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