As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Existence and Mortality

1

It was not her. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother. She went away when the other one laid down in her bed and drew the quilt up. She went away. “Did she go as far as town?” “She went further than town.” “Did all those rabbits and possums go further than town?”

The theme of existence and mortality weaves itself throughout this novel as each of the characters processes the concepts of physical death and existence. In this early section of the novel, Vardaman, the youngest Bundren, is trying to understand his mother’s recent death, demonstrating his youthful bewilderment as he tries to make sense of what has happened. First, he explains how he doesn’t believe that the woman who died could be his mother because she was so different as she became sick. Then he tries to connect her death to what he does understand in an attempt to cope with this difficult loss.

2

I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is . . . Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And I then must be . . .

In Section 3, Darl and Jewel are still not back from their delivery, but Darl is able to see what is happening back at the Bundren home. As Jewel and Darl try to sleep away from home, Darl reflects on the theme of existence and mortality using the past and present tense of to be as he questions his own existence. In this reflection, Darl also points out that in contrast, Jewel is confident in his existence. Darl’s questions about his existence parallel his mother’s death as he wonders about mortality in body and soul.

3

My father said that the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead. I knew at last what he meant and that he could not have known what he meant himself, because a man cannot know anything about cleaning up the house afterward. And so I have cleaned my house . . . I gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel. Then I gave him Vardaman to replace the child I had robbed him of . . . And then I could get ready to die.

In Section 7, the reader finally hears directly from Addie Bundren, either from the grave or before her death, as she reviews events of her life and marriage, directly connecting to the theme of existence and mortality. This quote highlights Addie Bundren’s view on existence, life, and death as she explains her discovery of truth in her father’s statement that “the reason for living is getting ready to stay dead.” While Addie Bundren has clearly been disenchanted by life, she also seems to have a very real understanding of her purpose, existence, and eventual mortality.