As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Sections 20–28

The Bundrens’ tendency to translate Addie’s death into a different preoccupation reflects the work of the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud and his theory of sublimation. At the end of the 1920s, as Faulkner composed As I Lay Dying, Freud’s ideas about the subconscious anxieties of man were becoming quite popular. One of Freud’s most pivotal theories is that a great deal of the psyche is unconscious, and that much of what goes on in the human mind cannot be accessed simply by thinking about it. According to Freud, a severe emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one, affects the unconscious part of one’s mind in ways that are not immediately apparent to the conscious part. Equally relevant to interpreting As I Lay Dying is Freud’s theory of sublimation, which he described as the process by which frustrated sexual energies are transformed into more socially acceptable behaviors. Though the Bundrens, with the exception of Dewey Dell, are not trying to cope with sexuality, they are trying to cope with their grief, and they deal with it by voicing strong opinions on other matters—a clear example of sublimation.