William Faulkner (1897-1962)
Faulkner has displayed a skillful experimental virtuosity in handling multiple narrative voices. Even the choice of narrative perspective is designed to reinforce the theme of the elusive nature of truth. Narrative techniques are designed to endorse themes. Structurally, the novel is a sum total of interior monologues delivered by different characters. Having read all monologues, readers have to understand the different versions of the story. Having understood the different versions of the story, we, the readers, have to reconstruct and restructure the story. The novel's structure invites readers' role of restructuring and reconstructing the story standing. Hence the novel As I Lay Dying is a tour de force. It is a tour de force because it is a show piece of an experimental age. It is famous not for its capacity to satisfy the pleasure - seeking instinct of the readers. It is famous for its own specialty, it is famous for its total experimental nature.
As I Lay Dying is a tour de force because its literary worth depends upon and arises from its experimental vigor and radical spirit. In this novel thematic conception gives way to technical execution. Execution dominates conception. Conception sometimes throws the experimental execution to the sideline. Both the conception (thematic conception) and execution (narrative execution) reinforce each other. That is why it is a tour de force.
As I Lay Dying is an outstanding work because it is Faulkner's skillful performance. It is a technically excellent achievement. He has used an experimental narrative method skillfully. He has used stream of consciousness technique superbly. Greater degree of his skill is used in his handling of multiple narrative voices. To be able to tell such a brilliant tale is really an evidence of Faulkner's skill. Moreover, Faulkner has put all his narrative devices in such a way that they reinforce the themes. From whichever angle we observe As I Lay Dying we come across the full use of Faulkner's skill.
There is no debate about the hypothesis that As I Lay Dying is a story about Addie's quest for salvation. More than this the novel is a fable about the testing fire. There are two significant tests of three sons in the novel.
The first test is their crossing of the flooded river with the mother's corpse. The coffin of Addie, while crossing the flooded river, was struck by a log. Some of the mules were drowned. It was risky to protect the coffin from being destroyed in the river. The moment in which Addie's coffin was in an immediate need of protection in a decisive moment for three sons (Jewel, Darl and Cash) of Addie to show how worthy they are, how heroic they are, how sacrificial they are and how loving they are to their mother. All three sons in the flooded river struggled to protect their mother's coffin. The outcome of their struggle was that - Darl come out of the water with empty hands, Cash with the horse (the substitute for the mother) and Jewel with the prize - the coffin. Anyhow the coffin was rescued from the flooded river. The rescue of the coffin may be interpreted in two ways. It signifies the living mother that Jewel retains. Cash and Jewel sacrificed what they loved: Cash his tools, Jewel his horse, Cash's sacrifice was returned, but Jewels' was accepted. Darl had nothing to sacrifice.
The testing of three sons offered the result that those sons who came with something on their hands from the flooded river are described as worthy sons. Those sons who sacrificed their precious things for their mother or for protecting their dead mother's coffin are called worthy sons. Another test of sons also arose when the shed (where Addie's dead body was kept) was fired. To protect the dead mother's coffin Jewel proved really worthy son. Without caring for his life he entered into the burning shed. Thus he brought the coffin intact from the burning shed. If seems the journey of the Bundren family gave each son a heroic opportunity to show his love and respect for mother. It seems almost all sons of Addie were acutely conscious of the rivalry amidst them to present dramatically their love for mother even in a critically decisive time. One of the themes of the novel is the power of the dead over the living. The absence of mother created a testing period through which sons had to go to establish themselves as worthy sons.
In this game of proving oneself the best son Jewel comes to occupy the first position, Cash the second and Darl the last position. It is Jewel who really proved Addie's one of the statement that 'Jewel is my cross and he is my salvation.' Jewel is her cross because he is the by-product of her sexual liaison with Whitfield. He is her salvation because had he not saved her from burning shed she might have turned into a leap of ashes before being cremated in Jefferson.
All these facts prove that As I Lay Dying is one of the best work of Faulkner in which he has used various experimental tools and techniques skillfully.