As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Family Dysfunction

1

“We better wait,” Cash says. “I tell you it aint balanced now . . . “Then turn loose,” Jewel says. He will not stop. Cash begins to fall behind, hobbling to keep up, breathing harshly, then he is distanced and Jewel carries the entire front end alone, so that, tilting as the path begins to slant, it begins to rush away from me and slip down the air like a sled upon invisible snow, smoothly evacuating atmosphere in which the sense of it is still shaped . . . He is almost running now and Cash is left behind. It seems to me that the end which I now carry alone has no weight, as though it coasts like a rushing straw upon the furious side of Jewel’s despair.

From early in the novel, the members of the Bundren family represent the theme of family dysfunction as they consistently fail to communicate, work together, or succeed in upholding Addie’s request. For example, in these lines, Darl describes their unsuccessful attempt at carefully carrying Addie Bundren in her coffin to the wagon for transport. Even though Darl, Jewel, and Cash each seem to deeply care about their mother, they are unable to work together, and their miscommunications and division are evident even in the simple task of carrying her coffin to the wagon.

2

It is as though time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs parallel between us like a looping string, the distance being the doubling accretion of the thread and not the interval between. The mules stand . . . They too are breathing now with a deep groaning sound; looking back once, their gaze sweeps across us with in their eyes a wild, sad, profound and despairing quality as though they had already seen in the thick water the shape of the disaster which they could not speak and we could not see.

When the Bundren family attempts to cross the flooded river, the theme of family dysfunction becomes glaring. Despite countless warnings from others, the Bundrens are determined to uphold the promise they made to Addie, even if it goes against all sense and logic. In this quote, Darl’s poetic description details the family dysfunction as he describes the nonlinear family dynamics. He also gives a visual of the mules as they approach the river, more aware of the absurdity and danger of this situation than the family. Even after arguing, the family determines a plan and continues the hopeless task.

3

“Darl,” I said. But he fought again, him and Jewel and the fellow, and the other one holding Dewey Dell and Vardaman yelling and Jewel saying, “Kill him. Kill the son of a bitch.” It was bad so. It was bad . . . I tried to tell him, but he just said, “I thought you’d a told me. It’s not that I,” he said, then he began to laugh.

The dysfunction of the Bundren family continues as the family decides to send Darl to a mental institution in Jackson after he starts the fire at Gillespie’s barn. These lines present a tumultuous scene where Darl is blindsided, Vardaman violently yells, and a physical altercation ensues. However, the theme of dysfunction comes not only in Darl’s rants and switches between first and third person but also in the strangely calm, “moving on” response of the Bundren family after Darl’s departure. They send Darl away and then simply continue their travels with little mention of the big event.