Perception of Sanity in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

Topics: William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury Pages: 6 (1605 words) Published: April 30, 2015
Brianna Morris
Ms. Amie Myers
AML 2020
29 April 2015
“Perspective of Sanity in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying”
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is a Modernist comedic tragedy about the Bundren family’s difficult journey to Jefferson to bury the matriarch of their family, Mrs. Addie Bundren. Mr. Faulkner separates this story into fifty-nine sections with fifteen different narrators in order to emphasize the characters’ relationships with one another, as well as each character’s perspective on their current circumstances. Darl, the second of Addie’s five children, narrates nineteen of these sections, making him a very important character. Towards the end of the story, he burns a barn, attempting to burn Addie’s body in the process, getting himself put in Jackson Insane Asylum. The events leading up to this causes his family, readers of As I Lay Dying, and William Faulkner, himself, to debate whether Darl is insane or not. Everyone seems to have a different perspective.

There is no doubt that the rest of the Bundren family thinks Darl is insane. In his critical essay, “Perception and the Destruction of Being in As I Lay Dying,” Homer B. Petty writes: “As much as Darl wishes to ground his existence upon his perceptions, invariably the disintegration of representation – the disparity between word and world – negates not Addie’s haunting presence, but his own being. Darl’s madness, then, is due to an inability to recognize his own perception as a network of symbols that do not convey reality, but displace it and negate it” (Petty , np). Darl does not emote like the rest of his family because of his blurred sense of reality. This makes it difficult for other members of his family to relate to him or to understand his decision making. When he and Jewel come home to a dead mother, Darl makes a joke of it and Jewel gets angry. The story reads (from Darl’s perspective): “’See them?’ I say. High above the house, against the quick thick sky, they hang in narrowing circles. From here they are no more than specks, implacable, patient, portentous. ‘But it’s not your horse that’s dead.’ ‘Goddamn you,’ he says. ‘Goddamn you.’ I cannot love my mother because I have no mother. Jewels mother is a horse” (Faulkner 698-793). While Jewel, who genuinely cares for his mother, is upset that she has died, Darl is emotionless about the event. His mother cannot relate to him, either. Addie says, “…words are no good… words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at” (759). Words mean nothing to his mother, but words are everything to Darl. Darl does not act on anything very much, but he analyzes everything. He knows everything and tells of everything using much more precise and elegant wording than the rest of his family, because words are his perception of reality. The rest of the Bundrens act. Cash is a carpenter. Jewel rides a horse. Dewey Dell has sex and gets pregnant. Anse gets others to do for him. Darl uses words. Then there is the barn burning. Darl sets the Gillespie barn on fire with his mother’s coffin inside it. To Darl, this is a way to end the journey the have been on, to end the secret agenda of his family members, and to lay his mother to rest in a natural way. However, his family does not see it like that. Cash says “…I don’t reckon nothing excuses setting fire to a man’s barn and endangering his stock and destroying his property. That’s how I reckon a man is crazy. That’s how he can’t see eye to eye with other folks” (782). In the Bundren family’s eyes, Darl is crazy because they do not understand him or his motives. They think Darl is insane because he is different, and for the first time, he actually does something.

From a reader’s point of view, Darl may not be so crazy. Compared to the other characters in As I Lay Dying, Darl seems to be the sanest. Insanity is defined as extreme folly or unreasonableness. Darl is not prone to folly or unreasonable behavior. In fact, Darl seems to be the most...

Cited: Faulkner, William. “As I Lay Dying.” The Norton Anthology American Literature: Volume D 8th Edition. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: Norton, 2012. 698 – 793. Print.
Gwynn, Frederick and Joseph Blotner, eds. Faulkner at the University. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1995.
Jacobi, Martin J. " 'The man who suffers and the mind which creates ': problems of poetics in William Faulkner 's As I Lay Dying." The Southern Literary Journal 20.1 (1987): 61+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Langlois, Christopher. " 'The clotting which is you ': Adorno, Faulkner, and the aesthetics of negativity." The Faulkner Journal 25.1 (2009): 47+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Pettey, Homer B. "Perception and the destruction of being in as I Lay Dying." The Faulkner Journal 19.1 (2003): 27+. Academic OneFile. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
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