As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: A Review

Topics: Death, Coping skill Pages: 8 (2860 words) Published: March 22, 2010
Roger Coltrane

Darl’s “yes”

Death causes the Bundren family to deal with change. Each character selects a unique way to cope with the family’s loss. By coping, the characters satisfy personal motives while simultaneously moving on with their lives. Coping mechanisms differ in the character’s emotional connection or “closeness” with death. Ranging from a strong emotional relationship to complete separation and dissociation, the “close” spectrum charts a character’s effectiveness in coping with death. As Faulkner addresses the idea of closeness he tests the constraints of emotional connection. Can the emotional connection become too “close,” enough to drive someone to the brink of insanity? As I lay Dying offers insight and response through contrasting Anse and Darl. The closer one gets to the dead, the more effective characters will be in coping.

When connecting emotional with death, characters draw upon their past. Sparked by childhood memories, intense feelings surface in Darl’s character. He artificially constructs a triangular web of a relationship between himself, Addie, and Jewel, in which all sides pull on each other. Uneven tensions propagate controversy. In the novel, Addie’s favoritism towards Jewel leads to Darl’s loathing and jealousy of his brother. From the onset, tension separates Jewel and Darl. Specifically, they begin “fifteen feet” apart (3, 4). As the pair approaches the wagon, Faulkner shows them crossing paths but never meeting. This image sets the stage for Darl and Jewel for the rest of the novel. Always at odds, the brothers maintain a destructive relationship. Tensions continue to boil as Addie nears her death. Darl mentally torments Jewel by telling him she will die. “‘Do you know she is going to die, Jewel?’” Darl warns forebodingly (39). Unfortunately, Darl’s psychological cynicism towards his brother continues. On the following page, Darl reiterates Jewel’s fears. “‘Jewel,’ I say, ‘do you know that Addie Bundren is going to die? Addie Bundren is going to die?” Through manipulation, Darl instills fear in his brother. Is Jewel fearful of what Darl constantly remarks about Addie’s death? Jewel’s fear manifests itself in curses. After Darl reminds Jewel that his horse is not the dead being, Jewel responds with, “Goddamn you,’ he says. ‘Goddamn you’” (95). Even though Jewel masks his fear from others, his swearing connotes anger and subtle insecurity. Why must Darl constantly torment his own brother? Faulkner first turns to Addie’s past. He establishes a set of characteristics from Addie’s past in an anecdote in order to later connect the traits back to Darl. Faulkner reveals a dark side of the woman, an unfortunate side for children. She chronicles a school day as she teachers her students. “I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them. When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each low of the switch: Now you are aware of me!” (170). How does this gruesome scene relate to Darl? He inherits his mother’s negative characteristics: “cold,” “dark,” and even “bad.” The distaste for students foreshadows Addie’s resentment, and neglect in Darl’s case, of her own children. Addie never reveals a logical thought process in marrying Anse. She reiterates “So I took Anse” as she narrates (170, 171). Thus, the reader feels that Addie never even took her marriage seriously. On the following page, Addie repeatedly narrates, “Anse or love: it didn’t matter.” Addie develops a sense of apathy towards Anse. She hits an emotional brick wall and gives up on her marriage, dreading her life after each successive child birth. As she details her reactions to Darl’s birth, Addie further expresses her dread of motherhood. “Then I found I had Darl. At first I would not believe it. Then I believed that I would kill Anse” (172). Following Darl’s birth, she immediately focuses her anger at Anse...
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