As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Sections 7–12

Analysis

With the introduction of several new voices, the narrative becomes more complex and stylized, and we begin to see identical events through the voices of various characters. Because Darl appears so frequently as a narrator, and because his voice has the fewest peculiarities, his story begins to overpower those of the other narrators. Indeed, Darl’s mode of speech deviates the least from Faulkner’s prose style in other novels, and it is tempting to consider Darl’s point of view to be Faulkner’s. Further supporting this suggestion, Darl is chosen to narrate Addie’s death even though he is not present when it happens. Exactly how Darl knows what is going on back at the house remains a mystery, but his omniscience does put the role of narrator on his shoulders, at least temporarily.

Nonetheless, As I Lay Dying relies most heavily on what its characters say, and how they express themselves, to explain their thoughts and motivations. We do not need Darl, or a narrator, to explain that Anse is selfish—this observation is made obvious by the fact that Anse views his wife’s death as merely another example of his rotten luck. Anse’s colloquial diction tells us that he is rural and uneducated, which gives us a sufficient idea of his background. Furthermore, we can compare disparate voices, like the frantic thoughts of Dewey Dell and the calm reflectiveness of Tull, to get a sense of how these characters differ from one another; Dewey Dell is trapped by her problems, for example, while Tull is so removed that he barely cares.

Ironically, there is an inverse relationship between a character’s physical distance from the dying Addie and that character’s emotional attachment to Addie. Darl and Jewel, the two characters who care about Addie the most, are far from her when she dies, while those who are preoccupied with other, relatively unimportant matters stand clustered around her deathbed. Anse, for example, is rather flagrantly absorbed in his own concerns at the moment of tragedy. “God’s will be done. . . . Now I can get them teeth,” Anse says, thinking only of his long-standing desire for false teeth. Dewey Dell throws herself onto Addie’s deathbed with unexpected fury, but she seems more interested in her role as her mother’s nurse, and her mind is still primarily occupied by her growing problems with Lafe. Darl and Jewel are more thoroughly and constantly preoccupied with the actual loss of their mother than the other characters are. While the two brothers are far from Addie when she dies, Darl’s mysterious knowledge of her death arguably demonstrates that they are the most affected by the event.

Jewel’s behavior and feelings toward his mother are particularly complex and puzzling. From Cora’s point of view, Jewel is an insensitive, spoiled child who displays no qualms about leaving his dying mother. Indeed, although he appears to be Addie’s favorite child, Jewel, unlike Darl, does not even say good-bye to his mother before he leaves. Still, Jewel clearly cares about Addie, and grows deeply indignant at what he considers to be the Tulls’ intrusive presence in the household and the insensitivity of Cash’s working on Addie’s coffin right beneath her window while she is still alive. Moreover, in his interior monologue in the first part of the novel, Jewel expresses a forceful wish to be alone with Addie as she dies. Faulkner is not attempting to emphasize one view of Jewel over another. The difficulty in pinning Jewel down to a single perspective demonstrates the multifaceted nature of his character.