As I lay Dying: An Overview

Roger Coltrane Darl’s “yes” Death causes the Bundren family to deal with change. Each character selects a unique way to cope with the family’s loss. By coping, the characters satisfy personal motives while simultaneously moving on with their lives. Coping mechanisms differ in the character’s emotional connection or “closeness” with death. Ranging from a strong emotional relationship to complete separation and dissociation, the “close” spectrum charts a character’s effectiveness in coping with death. As Faulkner addresses the idea of closeness he tests the constraints of emotional connection.

Can the emotional connection become too “close,” enough to drive someone to the brink of insanity? As I lay Dying offers insight and response through contrasting Anse and Darl. The closer one gets to the dead, the more effective characters will be in coping. When connecting emotional with death, characters draw upon their past. Sparked by childhood memories, intense feelings surface in Darl’s character. He artificially constructs a triangular web of a relationship between himself, Addie, and Jewel, in which all sides pull on each other. Uneven tensions propagate controversy.

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In the novel, Addie’s favoritism towards Jewel leads to Darl’s loathing and jealousy of his brother. From the onset, tension separates Jewel and Darl. Specifically, they begin “fifteen feet” apart (3, 4). As the pair approaches the wagon, Faulkner shows them crossing paths but never meeting. This image sets the stage for Darl and Jewel for the rest of the novel. Always at odds, the brothers maintain a destructive relationship. Tensions continue to boil as Addie nears her death. Darl mentally torments Jewel by telling him she will die. “‘Do you know she is going to die, Jewel? ’” Darl warns forebodingly (39).

Unfortunately, Darl’s psychological cynicism towards his brother continues. On the following page, Darl reiterates Jewel’s fears. “‘Jewel,’ I say, ‘do you know that Addie Bundren is going to die? Addie Bundren is going to die? ” Through manipulation, Darl instills fear in his brother. Is Jewel fearful of what Darl constantly remarks about Addie’s death? Jewel’s fear manifests itself in curses. After Darl reminds Jewel that his horse is not the dead being, Jewel responds with, “Goddamn you,’ he says. ‘Goddamn you’” (95). Even though Jewel masks his fear from others, his swearing connotes anger and subtle insecurity.

Why must Darl constantly torment his own brother? Faulkner first turns to Addie’s past. He establishes a set of characteristics from Addie’s past in an anecdote in order to later connect the traits back to Darl. Faulkner reveals a dark side of the woman, an unfortunate side for children. She chronicles a school day as she teachers her students. “I would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them. When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each low of the switch: Now you are aware of me! (170). How does this gruesome scene relate to Darl? He inherits his mother’s negative characteristics: “cold,” “dark,” and even “bad. ” The distaste for students foreshadows Addie’s resentment, and neglect in Darl’s case, of her own children. Addie never reveals a logical thought process in marrying Anse. She reiterates “So I took Anse” as she narrates (170, 171). Thus, the reader feels that Addie never even took her marriage seriously. On the following page, Addie repeatedly narrates, “Anse or love: it didn’t matter. ” Addie develops a sense of apathy towards Anse.

She hits an emotional brick wall and gives up on her marriage, dreading her life after each successive child birth. As she details her reactions to Darl’s birth, Addie further expresses her dread of motherhood. “Then I found I had Darl. At first I would not believe it. Then I believed that I would kill Anse” (172). Following Darl’s birth, she immediately focuses her anger at Anse towards Darl. This time, she does not result to severe whipping as before. Instead, she psychologically whips her son by neglecting him. For example, Darl chronicles a day in the Bundren household when Jewel feels lousy. ‘You’ll [Anse] just have to do the best you can with Cash and Darl,’ ma said. ‘I want him [Jewel] to stay in today’” (130). Not only does Addie show a distinct softness towards Jewel, but she also diminishes Darl’s relative importance by merely tagging him on to complete her sentence. She sets Cash and Darl aside with Anse but specifically “wants” Jewel for herself. Darl’s actions directly relate to his jealousy of Jewel. By insisting that he and Jewel must go get wood as Addie nears death, Darl eliminates the opportunity for Addie and Jewel to connect emotionally.

In fact, when Darl narrates, “How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home,” he simultaneously voices to the reader his satisfaction with Addie’s death, his vision of “home” (81). Darl expresses his satisfaction when he “laughs” as the Bundren’s rearrange Addie in her coffin. Mocking the sanctity of her peaceful state in death, Darl remains happiest of all Bundrens as even Anse doing his “best” to respect his wife. Long after the death, Darl continues his vendetta against Addie. Darl’s final attempt to sabotage Addie comes when he sets the barn on fire.

Darl begins by describing Jewel rushing towards him, telling him to come to the site. Jewel even discovers Darl’s motives right before retrieving the coffin from the fire. Jewel “pauses at the coffin, stooping, looking at me [Darl], his face furious” (219). The single facial expression encompasses Darl’s jealousy and loathing of Jewel. Addie’s favoritism towards Jewel has brought Darl to the brink of insanity. Faulkner tests the limits of “closeness. ” Darl may in fact be too close with Addie, leading him to irrational decisions and a separation from his brother. Faulkner contrasts Darl’s coping mechanisms with those of Anse.

Both characters test limits of opposing end of the “close” spectrum: Darl crosses the threshold of attaining too close of an emotional connection, while Anse ultimately uses apathy to eliminate his psychological association with Addie’s death. Investigating the contrast, Faulkner analyzes the effectiveness of each coping strategy. While an individual can become too close with death, any connection proves to be more effective than no connection whatsoever. Whereas Darl’s obsession with eliminating Jewel’s connection with Addie leads him straight to an insane asylum, Anse experiences the least amount of growth over the course of the novel.

As Addie exhales for the final time, Anse has an absurd reaction. “‘I reckon you better go get supper on,’ he says” (50). Faulkner uses Anse’s laughable remark to illustrate the character’s apathetic nature. Not only does Anse seem unaffected by the unfortunate death of his wife, he comically commands his daughter to fill Addie’s role and make dinner. The marriage between Addie and Anse began haphazardly and remained weak at best throughout. Addie loathed having children with her husband and even resorted to having an affair, probably to fill the obvious gaping void in the broken relationship.

Thus, as Anse ignores his wife’s passing he shows no emotional connection to her whatsoever. As Darl recollects Dewey Dell’s sadness, he juxtaposes her image with Anse’s next laughable remark. “Pa breathes with a quiet, rasping sound, mouthing the snuff against his gums. ‘God’s will be done,’ he says. ‘Now I can get them teeth’” (52). Faulkner portrays as a child, sleeping peacefully in his bed. With “quiet, raspy sound,” Faulkner depicts a tranquil sound. “Snuff” sounds playful and childlike, almost as if Faulkner ignore the more formal, and consequently, adult description such as “debris. By juxtaposing the childlike atmosphere with Anse’s subsequent materialistic desire for “new teeth,” frailty radiates from Anse. Anse narrates only one time throughout the book. He concludes with, “But now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will” (111). Anse simply states his excitement for the future in his materialistic aspiration. In this hope, Faulkner makes an interesting comment about society. Despite writing in “about eight weeks, between October 25th and December 29th, 1929” right around the collapse of the stock market, Faulkner shows how people value objects over people (264).

However, this may not be the case for all people. When certain people like Anse value objects over people, especially their loved ones, they are unable to grow as a person. How can one say Anse did not grow by the end of the novel? While Anse brings up “them teeth,” he simultaneously fails to grieve for his wife. He manages to secure his own happiness, however. About to bury Addie, the Bundrens realize they forgot a spade. Anse goes into a shady store. “Only it was more than ten minutes. The music stopped and never commenced again for a good spell, where her and pa was talking at the back.

We waited in the wagon” (236). When Anse returns with not one, but two spades, Faulkner purposefully dangles ambiguity. While “talking at the back” of the store, one could induce Anse’s subtly seductive motives with “her. ” Even in burial preparation, Anse focuses on his personal agenda. Anse’s selfishness multiplies and effects each action. His ignorance of others hinders his emotional comprehension. Anse returns to his children with a newly rekindled sense of self-pride, though immature and once again amusing. “‘It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell,’ pa ays, kind of hangdog and proud too, with his teeth and all, even if he wouldn’t look at us. ‘Meet Mrs Bundren,’ he says” (261). In the final image, Cash reveals Anse’s dichotomy. Despite feeling “proud,” Anse cannot gather the sense of dignity to “look at” his family. By juxtaposing “hangdog” with “proud,” the reader begins to wonder which quality overpowers Anse. While “hangdog” literally means guilty or ashamed, it has connotations depicting a sneaky attitude. Anse probably feels guilty after looking at his children. Moreover, Anse references the new woman as “Mrs. Bundren. With the title, Anse completely replaces Addie. Replacement signifies ultimate separation. Anse breaks the metaphoric binding between him and his wife that brought them together with marriage. Thus, “Mrs. Bundren” fills the void previously filled by Addie. Interestingly enough, the woman has no first name. By having no distinct identity, the woman remains an unknown and consequently unimportant person. Thus, has once again begun an immature, shallow relationship after separating himself from Addie. Compared to Darl’s personal satisfaction at the end, Anse remains worse off at the novel’s conclusion.

Anse’s emotional detachment from Addie’s death results in his inability to move on and grow as an individual. Contrary to Anse’s stagnant emotional capabilities, Darl adapts to the loss of Addie. Since Darl has a superior psychological capacity, he uses his mind to grow after losing Addie. Darl ultimately copes with Addie’s death by breaking the logical barriers that enclose him. Faulkner raises the question as to whether or not Darl remains sane at the end of the novel. Starting as the novel’s objective narrator, Darl objectively portrays characters, aside from his hatred towards Jewel.

As he narrates the anecdote of Jewel feeling sick, Darl uses an underlying sense of pity as remarkable pathos. “And at times when I went in to go to bed she [Addie] would be sitting in the dark by Jewel where he was asleep” (130). In this snapshot, the reader realizes the neglect Darl deals with throughout his life. Suddenly, Darl’s actions are justified. Darl’s jealousy is borne in his child as a neglected son. Through the touching anecdote, Darl uses extended pathos to gain pity. He repeatedly “sees her [Addie]” by Jewel’s bedside, almost inviting some readers to cry for him.

By attempting to sabotage any connections between Jewel and Addie before and after her death, Darl attempts to eliminate the opportunity of jealousy to recur. Faulkner dives into Darl’s character through imagery, especially Darl’s laughter. Strangely enough, Anse first notices Darl’s laughter. “I had told him not to bring that horse out of respect for his dead ma,…but we hadn’t no more than passed Tull’s lane when Darl begun to laugh. Setting back there on the plank seat with Cash, with his dead ma laying in her coffin at his feet, laughing” (105). Darl’s first burst of laughter occurs after Addie’s death.

In fact, Darl laughs throughout the scene. By laughing at his mother in death, Darl breaks moral boundaries. He mocks the sanctity of death, ultimately disrespecting “his dead ma. ” However, Darl relishes the moment and steals attention in his merriment. By breaking moral boundaries, Darl defies conventional responses to death. Traditionally, people respond to death through morning, as in a religious ceremony or funeral. However, the Bundren’s had “no more than passed Tull’s lane” a few houses down the road, before Darl’s grieving process finished.

The surprised reaction by Darl’s surrounding family members symbolize society’s criticism of Darl’s mockery. Darl uses laughter to expand boundaries, Faulkner also contrasts the image with geometric imagery. As Jewel leads Darl to the blazing barn, Darl recollects their surroundings. “The front, the conical facade with the square orifice of doorway broken only by the square squat shape of the coffin on the sawhorses like a cubist bug, comes into relief” (219). Darl shows how nature is defined by its boundaries. Objects are confined to their geometric forms.

In fact, they are often defined by their form as well. Faulkner’s alliteration “square squat shape” constricts the coffin with its staccato feel. Suddenly, a bug is no longer a bug. It is diminished to “cubist” form, very straight and ridged, with no room for creativity. Physical boundaries show an attempt by conventional characters to compensate for Darl’s psychological superiority. Darl’s character resists these geometric confinements. He epitomizes the resistance near the end. As he gets sent off to Jackson, he begins to laugh again and even refers to himself in the third person. ‘What are you laughing at? ’ I said. / ‘Yes yes yes yes yes’” (253). Darl’s “yes. ” His quintessential characteristic. In it, Darl breaks down all barriers. “No no no no no” would have confined his thoughts and his laughter. Instead, with yes’s, Darl essentially refers to anything and everything, a limitless, indefinite response. He knows what he is laughing at, yet baffles everyone else. Psychological barriers attempt to define and confine thoughts in order for others to understand them. Society even attempts to confine Darl as he leaves on the train.

Faulkner pays close attention to the alignment of the two men. “They pulled two car seats together so Darl could sit by the window and laugh. One of them sat beside him, the other sat on the seat facing him, riding backward” (254). In the systematically depicted image, Faulkner shows that society can merely contain Darl physically. However, they exercise absolutely no control over his thoughts. Darl goes on to mock government and society in his buffalo coin joke. He shows full control over his own emotions yet simultaneously blocks any societal interference.

The yes’s and laughter symbolize Darl’s satisfaction in defying society’s psychological control. While he may be confined physically, he can take his thoughts wherever he likes. Many see Darl’s conversation with himself as irrational, illogical, and even crazy. In fact, Vardaman simply states the common consensus: “Darl is my brother. Darl went crazy” (250). Faulkner begs the question: Is Darl crazy or is he smart? He leaves the reader open to interpretation by not including a period after “crazy” as if allowing the reader to complete the sentence and thought as he or she sees fit.

Thus, Darl succeeds in coping with Addie’s death. He outwits society and establishes sole control of his own thoughts, contrary to popular wants. With a strong mental capacity, Darl adapts to and ultimately grows from Addie’s death. While Faulkner illustrates the detrimental effects of apathy on coping, Cora’s character offers a unique twist with her religious views. As she describes the Bundren household, she completely misinterprets Darl’s character. “Except Darl. The sweetest thing I ever saw…He just stood there and looked at his dying mother, his heart too full for words” (24-25).

Whereas Anse and Darl both personal coping motives, whether false teeth or ending Addie’s connection with Jewel, Cora only sees Darl in a positive light. Could religion have an effect on a character’s perception of coping? Ultimately, Faulkner attacks religion. Despite being the only religious character, Cora remains furthest from the “truth,” the most ignorant. Perhaps the effectiveness of coping also depends on external intervention such as religion. Perhaps religion only glorifies characters, encouraging those like Cora to see goodness and replace evil with forgiveness, ultimately leading to ignorance.

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As I lay Dying: An Overview. (2018, Mar 11). Retrieved from