AS I LAY DYING, William Faulkner
Questions for Study
1. Which are the most intelligent and sympathetic voices in the novel? With whom do you most and least identify? Is Faulkner controlling your closeness to some characters and not others? How is this done, given the seemingly equal mode of presentation for all voices? Darl is the most intelligent voice in the novel. He often seems to play the role of omniscient narrator, because he describes events that took place when he was not present. For example, he describes Addie’s death, even though he was not with her when she died. Darl appears to be the character that knows the most about what is going on and has the most consistent voice in the novel. The character that seems to be the most sympathetic is Jewel. The clearest example of his sympathy is demonstrated in his unwillingness to leave Addie when she was on her death bed. His desire to be with his mom makes Jewel stand out as the most sympathetic character, because basically all of the other siblings just wanted to make money, and did not care or pay much thought to their mother’s death. Faulkner seems to be controlling the closeness of some characters. For instance, as mentioned, Darl and Jewel are the most intelligent and sympathetic characters. Darl is the most common narrator and Jewel shows his caring side when he wants to be with his mother. These instances make the reader connect with them more than the other characters in the novel. The other characters are first introduced with things that are not as relatable or even as likeable. The worst instance of this is how Anse is introduced sawing his mother’s coffin. This action makes the reader believe that Anse is devoid of showing the proper emotion in the time of his mother’s death, because he was making Addie’s coffin right outside the window of the room she was in. 2. Even the reader of such an unusual book may be surprised to come upon Addie Bundren’s narrative on page 169, if only because Addie has been dead since page 48. Why is Addie’s narrative placed where it is, and what is the effect of hearing Addie’s voice at this point in the book? Is this one of the ways in which Faulkner shows Addie’s continued “life” in the minds and hearts of her family? How do the issues raised by Addie here relate to the book as a whole? Addie’s narrative was placed in the center of the book because by that point in the novel the characters are so focused on getting Addie to her resting place that they seem to almost forget about Addie’s character entirely. Faulkner does not really introduce Addie in the beginning of the story, other than establishing the point that she is the dying mother of the Bundren clan. Her narrative helps the reader to relate to Addie, and realize that she was a person with emotions and opinions just like anyone else. Placing the narrative so far after her death helps the reader to take a moment away from the ensuing drama of getting to Addie’s resting place and remember that Addie is the reason why they are doing this, and that she was an actual person with human emotions and characteristics. The issues raised by Addie relate to the book as a whole, because after reading Addie’s narrative she is no longer just a burden or an inconvenience, but rather a person and a strong figure in the Bundren family. 3. Faulkner allows certain characters—especially Darl and Vardaman—to express themselves in language and imagery that would be impossible, given their lack of education and experience in the world. Why does he break with the realistic representation of character in this way? Darl and Vardaman speak beyond the potential of an uneducated man in order to describe particular events in the story that called for a more detailed explanation. Education and intelligence of the characters relate directly to how well the reader can comprehend the story because the narrator is the one telling the story. So basically, the reader is limited to the understanding...
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