As I Lay Dying – Objectivity/Subjectivity

Through the use of many characters monologues the narrative point of view presents an objective view of what really happened.”This statement is not adequate in connection with William Faulkners novel, As I Lay Dying. Though many points of view are expressed through the use of interior monologue, even when compiled, they cannot serve as an “objective” view of what really happened.

There are many monologues by many different people, often with opposing ideas and beliefs. Together the novel is a collection of half-truths, with each set of events shaped by what the current narrator believes is truth. To each individual what they say and think, they consider reality, however it is merely their perception of reality and consequently it is subjective. An instance of how an objective view cannot be formed from the collection of monologues is when Dewey Dell encounters Vardaman in the milking shed.

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“You durn little sneak!” My hands shake him hard “I aint doing nothing””. In these two monologues both characters were so concerned with themselves and their innocence of any wrong doing that the actual order of events is lost inside their minds. Dewey Dell thought Vardaman to be spying on her, while Vardaman though Dewey Dell was going to “tell him off” for lashing out at Peabodys team, both characters fused past events with the present and so no objective view could be formed. The reader cannot gain an objective idea of what really happened during that period of time.

Another example of the actual incident and people of diametrically opposing views coming into conflict with the “reality” of what was happening was with Cora and Darl. “He did not answer. He just stood and looked at his dying mother, his heart too full for words.” This is how Cora views Darl, as a kind and loving son, the private favourite and love of Addie. Darl however, appears to be indifferent to his mother and the three dollar load. Everyone else knows that Jewel is, in fact, the favourite child; this makes the characters unreliable in relaying the actual events to the reader.

Each monologue is “clouded” with the viewpoints and ideas of the character narrating it, thus it is impossible to have an objective account of what really happened. Language is another very important factor in understanding that an objective description of the actual events is impossible to attain. Language, as stated in the novel, is unreliable, words have in-built connotations and meanings and may portray something that they do not mean. “But then I realised I had been tricked by words, older than Anse or love, and that the same word had tricked Anse too.” This quote taken from Addies monologue reveals the untrustworthiness of language and words.

Originally she believed that the word love meant something but when she became pregnant with Darl she learned that love didnt mean what the word meant and could in fact be very deceiving. “I knew that that word love was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack.” To Addie words lacks the power say what they mean and to give any …..other human being the experience. Words like love, pride, fear and motherhood, she believes were all made by people who had not experienced those things before. The space and emotions and ideas which language cannot fill leaves room for different interpretations, thus through languages lack, an objective view is unachievable.

Throughout the novel, each character has not only brought their own viewpoints, they have also brought their own past experiences, accounts of the present and dreams of the future. In their interior monologues, more so when they slip into stream-of-consciousness, they meld the past, present and future and consequently view the occurrences through the “coloured glass” of their mind. Everything they say, think and do is “corrupted” by their underlying belief system and previous experiences, making it unfathomable that an objective account of events could be drawn from this compilation of monologues. Vardamans classic, “my mother is a fish” is a clear example of how his mind dealt with the loss of his mother and his judgement and objectivity was clouded by this fact.

“Not even after Brother Whitfield, a godly man if ever one breathed Gods breath, prayed for you and strove as never a man could except him,” at Brother Whitfields own admission, he is not as a “godly” man as Cora believes, he had an affair with a married woman, which by all standards in the novel is considered a sin. Cora, however, was positioned to believe this because her faith in the Lord and his ministers decreed it. The mind and human perception is an another key element in the novel and its subjectivity. While Darl narrates many chapters in the novel, and is viewed as the most “reliable” character, this idea is undermined by his being sent to an asylum.

“Darl has gone to Jackson. They put him on the train, laughing, down the long car laughing, the heads turn like the heads of owls when he passed.” In Darls final monologue he refers to himself in the third person, which makes the reader question his dependability and objectiveness. Vardamans very short monologue, “my mother is a fish” is an excellent example of how the human mind can become confused and twist things around, interpreting events subjectively. Vardaman construed his mothers passing as an association of both the large fish he caught earlier and the arrival of Peabody, in “reality” neither of these events caused his mothers death, yet his senses and judgment interpreted it in this way. The aid of the other monologues does not help to create an objective view as every monologue was constructed through the senses and mind of that character, and thus is subjective.

Though many monologues and many points of view were presented throughout the novel, As I Lay Dying, an objective view of the events cannot be formed, as the monologues were simply points of view. It is impossible to form an objective view as every idea conceived is your own and therefore must be subjective. The characters were shaped by their beliefs, ideas, values, experiences, sensory perceptions, and use of language, thus they can only be one thing, subjective.

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As I Lay Dying – Objectivity/Subjectivity. (2018, Dec 24). Retrieved from