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Week 7: As I Lay Dying

1) "As I Lay Dying" is written from the perspectives of 15 different characters. From this, we sometimes see conflicting opinions or interpretations of a single event or character. How does this add more depth to the novel?

2)From Question 1, try and find a moment where characters describe the same event or character in a different way. Briefly explain the situation, then tell us what you think the "real truth" is. Why do you think so?

3) Take one character from the novel and write an in-depth description: what do you think of them? What are they trying to accomplish in the novel? What is their opinion of the other characters? etc?

4) Anything else?


I noticed the use of some pretty strange names in "As I Lay Dying." At first, I attributed the odd character names to the time period and the rural Southern atmosphere. I was interested in the topic and found that the use of the names was intentional. The name Jewel is obvious for Addie’s favorite child. Darl is short for “darling” making Darl another of Addie’s favorites. The name Cash also has an obvious association with his nature. Cash is always steady and stable; people who have money feel secure and balanced. The rest of the characters are not so immediately understandable. Dewey Dell’s name comes from “dew” (as in youth) and “dell” which is an old term for a nomadic vagrant girl with no stable home. This signifies the journey that Dewey Dell has to go through with her pregnancy. Vardaman would have the nickname “Vard” which is an old spelling of “ward” which also means “orphan.” Vardaman feels like an orphan after his mother dies. Anse comes from the word “anserous” which means resembling a goose, silly, or simple. Anse is a simple man who acts in silly ways throughout this novel. I thought that these names were interesting so I thought I’d share with you what I learned. I hope you have a new appreciation for these characters now.

Wow! I really like Emily's blog and how she broke down each character’s name. It was very interesting and something I had also been wondering about, so thanks for sharing your findings…now on to my blog.
I have chosen to break down Darl for this week's blog. In the very first chapter we learn a great deal about his character. We learn that he is very observant and appears to care more about his family than himself. He always seems to be analyzing someone else's actions and emotions....he is less concerned with his own grieving. He rarely presents us with his own feelings. Also it appears that he is the only one accepting Addie's death. The rest of the kids speak of their mother in the present tense..."My mother IS a fish"..."My mother IS a horse". Darl is the only one that recognizes that his mother is no longer with them and speaks of her in the past tense with and uses WAS when speaking of her. I would definitely have to say that Darl is my favorite character, not only because of his loving nature with his family, but also because of how intellectual and insightful he is. He doesn't just take things at face value, but looks deep into all situations. He may not act as fast as his siblings, but he does attain a deeper understanding. This is why he is able to understand Jewel who is noted as the most difficult character. This is also why only he knows that Dewey Dell is pregnant....because he looks below the surface and until every detail is clear to him. I also like Vardaman a lot because he isn’t as simple as the other characters, he has unique thoughts and actions that at times are difficult to understand, but at least he isn’t simple minded and annoying like his father.

I also enjoyed Emily’s blog, very insightful. I had never thought of the names as she put them, but once she did it made a difference in the way I read the book. The character’s names match their personalities. I think my favorite character so far is Vardaman. He has a certain way of looking at life that is innocent and makes the reader remember the age range of these children. I like when Vardaman says his mother is a fish. I think he feels this way because he is still learning from example. Jewel goes and takes his frustration out with his horse and Cash works with his wood and measurements. Vardaman looks to the one thing he is proud of, his fish, to console him. This fish cannot do this job and the reader knows this. Who would have that cold of a heart to break this to the boy? He finds comfort in it and at a time as hard as this, that’s all an outsider can hope for. I like Faulkner’s variety of characters. Darl is caring and, as Emily said, is the “darling” of the family. Jewel is the mysterious child who is barely brought up throughout the story. All we know is he is spoiled, hardheaded, and a mama’s boy. Cash is a hard worker. He is a skilled carpenter and helps the family make ends meet. Dewey Dell keeps all her thoughts and feeling to herself. If one can get into her mind, they should consider themselves very skilled. All these children are very different, but they have one thing in common, they all loved and are now mourning the loss of their beloved mother.

Out of the fifteen ‘voices’ in “As I Lay Dying,” I like Darl and Vardaman the best. And because I couldn’t decide which of the two characters to discuss, I decided, why not write about both.

Darl is somewhat of a mystery to me, as perhaps he is meant to be. He’s definitely the character who speaks with the greatest clarity throughout the book, and there’s a sort of poetry to the way he describes things, even ordinary things. The chapter in which Darl observes Jewel bringing in his horse is one example that comes to mind. It made me wonder why Darl seems so skillful in using language compared to the other characters. There is also the matter of Darl apparent psychic abilities. When we saw Addie Bundren’s death from Darl’s perspective, we were given a very detached, almost clinical description of her passing. It made me wonder, where is the whirlwind of emotions that should, at least under normal circumstances, accompany the death of one’s mother? Dewey Dell grieves openly, Jewel curses, Vardaman is beside himself … but Darl is just sort of… there. Knowing.

To me, Darl is definitely the most compelling character, but Vardaman is the most refreshing character. I keep coming back to his curious statement: “My mother is a fish.” While it’s still a little unclear why he associates his mother with the fish, it probably has to do with the fact that he thinks of the living Addie and the dead Addie as two completely different people. To Vardaman, the ‘real’ Addie is not truly dead; she must still be free and whole somewhere, as the fish once was, and the corpse that now lies in Cash’s box like a chopped-up fish is an entirely different person.

P.S. Thanks for your post Emily – it was very interesting. :)

I wanted to post briefly on the language Faulkner uses, or rather the many languages he uses, to create his characters. Every narrator in the novel has a plain way of talking, describing, or understanding, but they vary. For example, Darl is more observant. His sections use more descriptions and more complex language to describe the situation. Generally there is more narration than dialogue. These types of things help us as readers understand Darl's character without Faulkner having to say "Darl was observant" or something similar. On the other hand, Vardaman has very limited speech patterns, he is traumatized from his first hand account of his mother's death, and he is young. His language thus reflects those characteristics. Comments like "My mother is a fish" build his character in the reader's imagination.

Faulkner has a way of breaking down the novel into the different minds and personas of his characters, but does it with enough relation to each character and external stimulus that they all share that not only can the reader comprehend the action, but can also delve into the characters in a way that a general discourse of personality traits would not allow.

Throughout the book no other character has struck me more than Jewel has. He is independent, arrogant, and cold- or as Darl put it, “he has wooden eyes.” For instance in the story Darl recalls from the summer, Jewel had managed to worked nights to buy himself a horse. He is arrogant and I saw that when he started swearing at his family members after getting back from his trip. Among all the kids, Jewels was the only one that didn’t say goodbye to Addie, and even though his father told him not to, he started the trip riding his horse so he doesn’t have to sit with his family- in his defense no body really listens to Anse anyway. It’s really hard to say what he is trying to accomplish in the novel because he doesn’t talk much and when he does he swears, so maybe he is trying to teach little kids who are reading this book some vulgar language. Jewel's opinion of other characters is pretty obvious; he simply can’t care less about Addie, he cares less than that for Anse, and from the beginning [he kept fifteen feet away from Darl] we know that he is not too close with Darl either. And also in one of the last chapters that I read he was the only one who expressed his feeling about Tull’s presence when he said, “Get to hell on back to your damn plowing,” but of course this is Tull’s side of story. Overall I think Jewel’s character has been defined in different dimensions and from different point of views which makes his character more daring than others and that’s what I liked about it.

As we all know from reading this book, the book is separated into chapters, with each chapter giving a first-person perspective of a character in the novel. This allows the reader to really get into the characters head, allowing the reader a better understanding for the characters personality. You can notice with the different reactions to the death of Addie. Most of them knew the inevitable was coming except maybe Jewel, who claimed she was going to be better and truly upset with the situation. Vardaman’s character is also revealed after Addie dies. His actions and thoughts are very scattered and imaginative, showing that his character is probably young and not yet fully mature, going into almost a temper-tantrum, blaming anything he sees for the passing of his mother. Darl, on the other hand, is much more passive with death. I don’t think it is because he didn’t love his mother nor had bad relations with her, I think he had foreseen this coming for awhile. Judging from how Darl thinks and speaks, he is a pretty smart guy and can put pieces of a puzzle together to predict the future. Addie was an older woman and became sick so Darl prepped himself for the worse. I guess this could also be seen as a little pessimistic.

Out of the many characters introduced throughout the story the one of most interest seems to be Darl. While being the almost omniscient narrator makes him interesting enough, the fact that he seems to be more of an intellectual and that he is outcast and ostracized because of this adds depth to his character. Clearly his family and friends do not hold education in high esteem, with one man going so far to say that too much thinking is harmful to the brain. Although he is the center of the book, without actually saying so, I feel that I don’t know too much about his character. We know that Jewel is rebellious and money hungry and Cash is quiet and reserved, however not much about Darl has been established except that he seems to regarded as an outsider due to his reserved nature and intellectual tendencies.

It took quite some time to adjust to the 15 different perspectives that Faulkner uses to tell the story. Just the fact that we need to understand that an entirely different character is giving his or her different view on a situation every couple of pages, got some getting used to- I had to read the first couple of chapters over again just to get what was going on.
Besides getting used to the writing style, this book seems to beg to be read again. I doubt I would have understood that Darl is a psychic after reading the book once by myself. Throughout the first couple of chapters, I felt that Faulkner was assuming we knew what was going on right off the bat, when he was writing.
The language is also pretty bizzare. When slang is written it’s usually easy to understand it when you read it out loud; Not with this book. When Anse speaks, it's a long read.
It’s really interesting to read about Darl’s thoughts,even though sometimes it can get pretty lengthy. The most evident example of this would be page 80 where Darl spends an entire page playing with words. I could barely follow it, but it’s true that some people think so much in their own heads, making no one else able to follow them.
I definitely enjoyed Emily's post as well.

As I Lay Dying is a very slow novel that takes a lot of time to read. I believe that Faulkner added so many characters perspectives so that he could actually slow down the book. The 15 characters are very interesting and each have a bunch of different qualities that are brought to each situation. Sometimes it’s very hard to follow the book and what each character is doing. In the beginning it is tough to see what is actually going on because there is no background information that is given out. The story on the back of the book seems really good, but I haven’t really seen it transfer to the front. Anse has died already, but they haven’t really started their journey yet and I don’t think I’ll be able to tell if they do. Faulkner is a very good writer of theme’s, but I wish that he would add a little more description and background information because I really have a tough time following it. Sometimes I would like to keep the perspective of one character thought, because I think that the switching adds to the confusion that I’m feeling while reading As I Lay Dying.
I really liked your post Emily!

First off, I have to say, great post Emily! One character that I find extremely interesting is Jewel. First of all what’s with the name? Could it be symbolic? The chapter where Cash is building the coffin right outside of Addie’s window really stuck out to me. Jewel is the only character who really seems to care about Addie dying, and he wants her to have some peace and quiet in her last hours. The paragraph about him wanting to throw rocks on people was crazy. He is a very cynical thinker, and everyone seems to hate him. I am not sure if it is because he is a bastard child or what, but no one likes him, and it seems like he has a lot more morals than the other characters. This does not make sense to me. I wish we could have some more insight from Jewel. I think the neighbors have him all confused. Overall, I like the book so far. It is interesting and creative and original. I feel like I am sitting down and interviewing a different person when a new chapter begins. It really makes me realize how different people perceive different situations.

At first, it was kind of hard to follow the story. Since the story teller kept changing as the story goes on. It was hard to follow who was who. William Faulkner uses each character in the novel as a story teller at each chapter, showing the story in different point of views. This shows how each character think of an event or other characters. I think as the title of the book tells Addie makes it possible of the different point of views. I think the whole visual point is Addie, who is lay dying. She is looking into her husband, children, and neighbors and telling the story. I think Addie is especially more intervening in Darl’s visual point.

I wanted to talk about the character of Cash. It seems to me that Cash is somewhat insensitive without really noticing. This is first illustrated in the beginning of the book. Cash works on Addie’s coffin all day right outside her window so that she may hear. Even though Addie acts as if she doesn’t mind, I believe that a more sensitive person would have taken special measures to construct the coffin either somewhere more secluded, or he would have waited without even starting to make the coffin until after Addie’s death. Another thing about Cash is that he is very practical and deliberate in everything that he does. This is shown during the chapter where Cash thoroughly explains the manner in which he constructed the coffin, and exactly why he did it the way that he did. One thing that I am confused about is the most of the characters seem to view Cash with varying degrees of indifference. All these things make Cash seem like he is either very confusing, or merely very simple.

The writing style of this book adds more depth to the story line. I think the fifteen different characters and perspectives make the book resemble something seen out of high school. The events taking place are like rumors being told. Every individual character sees what is happening differently or heard something different and adds their own piece to the story before passing it along. The little boy, Vardaman, adds humor to all of this stories. The eldest, Cash, is always short and to the point. Dewey Dell is always slightly spacey because she has the extra worry of her secret pregnancy on top of all the events surrounding her mother’s death. Jewel tells his short sections as an outsider that is on the inside. In all of his dialogs as well, he is there but is treated differently from the rest of the Bundren Siblings. Anse is the father yet we never see him as being very fatherly, he is more concerned about doing as little as possible, then the well being of his family. Darl is the one that is doing the majority of the narration, but he is also the most well spoken in his narrations.

I like the way the story is portrayed, as a series of 1st person accounts. I think this kind of writing is extremely effective at getting the reader more involved with the book (of course, combating this is the confusing and frustrating dialogue that makes some sections unbearable to read). There are several key events, interactions between different characters, that are told from multiple perspectives. As the reader, you adopt certain characters as your favorites, and these are the characters whose views you believe. Just like in a courtroom, hearing from both sides of a case helps to fully understand the situation, but in the end you always end up picking a side.
In this book, I think Faulkner is definitely trying to get you to side with Darl. There is the obvious fact that he has many more excerpts throughout the book, meaning you know more about him than any other character. Accompanying this is the sometimes insufferable nature of the other characters, save a few who contribute little to the story, and the other characters’ opinions of Darl, which make you pity him.

The multiple character perspectives of the events that are taking place throughout the book, gives an interpretation that is not as passive that only one perspective may give. For example, if the entire story was told through the eyes of the character of Darl, we would only see a narration of the story. Rather, the integrity of everyone’s thoughts is more true and without bias of only one interpreter. This is most interesting to me when I read Vardaman’s five word chapter of “My mother is a fish,” gives us thoughts that may be going through a child’s mind. The other character that is very interesting and unique is, Cash. His perspective seems very business like, even during such sorrowful times. It almost is comical the way that his thoughts are given. The chapter that outlines how people are jointed, and how Cash, “Made it on the Bevel,” is portrayed without any emotion. Instead, it is Cash’s left brain thoughts that come at such a morbid time. The different characters without a doubt make the reading more interesting and ambiguous. I think that Faulkner uses these different characters to bring the reader through a psychological rollercoaster. One chapter you can be reading the remorseful silhouettes of Anse, to Vardaman thinking that his mother has reincarnated to become a fish.

One aspect of Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying” that I find interesting is the contrast between the inner thoughts and outer actions that characters exhibit. We touched upon this briefly in the Thursday lecture when the characters’ ability to articulate themselves was brought up. Its worthwhile to note that many characters, particularly Darl (And also notably Dewey Dell), face complex philosophical issues in their own minds all at the same time. And none of these issues seem to play out in any significant way with regards to their outside actions, in which every member of the family seems to direct toward a common goal.
One specific example from the book that I thought was especially interesting to read was Darl’s inner discussion about what is and was. This was also talked about in class, but I felt like mentioning it again. I liked the structure of the whole thing. While to some it may seem kind of like a long run-on sentence, I thought it was a good example of Faulkner’s skill as a writer.

The format of “As I Lay Dying” is obviously very different from any other novel. I think this approach to a novel is good for this type of story where the big part of the story is the emotional responses from the characters, and not a lot is happening with the actual plot. If the author just wrote a story that told just the plot of what is happening, it would not be very interesting at all. The story of the death of a family member, and the subsequent travel to the cemetery in town does not sound that interesting or thought provoking. Because the author goes into the first person of so many different people, we get a very wide range of details and emotional responses to every situation they come across. I personally find this aspect of the book very enlightening, but at the same time it makes it a little bit hard to follow at times. Having the list of characters and who they were really helped a lot when reading this book.
Another thing I found interesting about this book was the contrast in the characters dialogue with the narration. As we discussed in class today, the characters in this book are farmers, and not very articulate. This comes out in an interesting way when they are each trying to describe how they felt about their mother. Vardaman calls her a fish, because of his recent experience with a dead fish. Jewel refers to his mother as a horse, because this horse is the one thing in his life that he seems to love. It is a difficult thing, not being able to say what you’re feeling. There has probably been a time in each of our lives where we have been at a loss for words. This is a way of life for the characters in this book, and the author does a good job of giving the reader that sense of frustration that some of that characters feel when they do not know how to express their emotions

I think that using the perspective of fifteen different characters is a good idea when writing a modern fiction novel. It gives the reader multiple views of the same event and gives readers a better understanding of what is happening in the novel. It is like real life in a way, because some people will tell one person one thing and another person another and so on. It goes to show the relationship different characters have with each other and their true feelings towards different characters have for each other by how they see the event unfold. An example is that I might see two people I don’t know get into a fight, when someone who knows one of the two, would say the one they don’t know started it.
One character I find interesting in “As I Lay Dying” is Jewel. He seems to have a rather cold opposition his family and his mother in particularly. I think that he doesn’t want her to suffer and he so thinks it would be better to just kill her now and be done with it, he might be a little more humane then we think. I know that if it was me dying in a bed I certainly wouldn’t want a coffin being built just outside my window. I would much rather just be finished.

My favorite Narrator so far has been Cash. I think I enjoy him so much because he is so straight foward and simple. In the beginning of the book, he works tirelessly day and night to make the coffin. While some characters are bothered by the fact that he does this within earshot of Addie, I do not find his actions offensive in any way. Cash has little, if any, emotion in his sections of the book which makes him seem cold. I think instead, he is very strong. Cash is one of the only stable characters in the book in that he doesn't let some sort of personal problem mix in with his feelings about Addie's death. I think Cash is not cold and insensitive, but rather strong and unselfish.

This week I would like to start out remarking on the section where Darl is escorted to the mental institution. This section starts on page 253 with Darl speaking in the third person. While this is a very serious section, I found it quite humorous. Throughout the novel Darl is the only one that seems to be able to articulate feeling and emotions and also appears to have pure intentions regarding their trip to Jefferson, yet ultimately he is the one institutionalized for burning down property. When first beginning this novel, if you would have told me one of the Bundren’s children would be thrown into the crazy house I would of guessed Jewel, because of all the angry he seems to have. Vardaman would have popped in my head next since he losses his mother at such a young age, and Dewey Dell would not have been far behind in these thoughts. With her recently pregnancy discovery, not being married, and her mother dying; Dewey Dell in my mind was sure to crack. However it was our level headed and philosophical narrator that decides to burn down a barn and refers to his self in the third person as he laughs all the way to Jackson. But I guess if you really think about it Darl was under a lot of stress and pressure. He was the peacemaker among the group and he had to interrupt and express everyone’s feeling for them. While articulate, we never gain a true understanding of Darl and his feelings. He was always trying to help everyone else through his or her problems. I can imagine this is was what Darl life was always like, but the recent death of his mother definitely could not have helped any. In a time where he needed to breathe and express himself the most, he is suppressing his emotions and trying to help everyone else deal with the pain and their own various problems. If he would have taken a moment out to deal with is own pain in sorrow maybe the whole situation could have been avoided. And as for the constant laughing, Darl probably can’t believe that he ultimately is the one institutionalized either when Anse is obliviously insane. For example he thinks it’s a good idea to drag a body through the country for 9 days and doesn’t even bring a shove to even bury Addie, he is someone that needs to be locked away permanently. Also briefly I would like to address Addie’s chapter towards the end of the novel. I just never thought those would have been her thoughts, she was such an unpleasant person, but it does become easier to see why her kids are so screwed up and unable to express themselves. Addie didn’t show her children love, she didn’t even like them. How can one learn to express their self in a home where the father’s only concerns are money and himself and the mother doesn’t even like children? And finally to wrap things up I would like to state how tragic it is the MacGowan took advantage of Dewey Dell, while we never get the details; it just sucks to imagine what took place in the cellar.