As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner: Introduction

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner was published in1930, regarded as one of his finest pieces of work among the great modernist works. As I Lay dying is about the funeral process of Addie Bundren during which her husband, sons, daughter, neighbors make narratives and face many hurdles on the way to Jefferson where she wished to be buried near her ancestors.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Her death is viewed through many voices of her family members and their thoughts provoked by her death is randomly presented in a technique called stream of consciousness. The story is fragmented, so the readers have to involve themselves to reconstruct the story. The technique of flashback is used by him so as to excavate the hidden past about the characters so it becomes easy for the readers to visualize the characteristics of the characters.

The narrative appears fragmentary, but the story of the plot holds an excellent grip in the unity. The story takes time of just nine days and the different sub-plots are logically and skillfully intermingled. Faulkner's innovation is in how we see this unified set of events: we are forced to look at the story from a number of different perspectives, each of which is highly subjective. The structural form of As I Lay Dying is influential and groundbreaking. Fifteen narrators take their turns, conveying interior monologues with varying degrees of unity and emotional strength. The language used by such narrators cum characters is intense and highly subjective, with a considerable change in the language depending on the narrator. Faulkner has achieved a great success in rendering the vernacular of the South into poetic literary language.

The Bundrens family lives in William Faulkner's fictional community in Yoknapatawpha County, a setting used in many of his novels. These Bundrens are among the poorest characters in all of Faulkner's work. And yet Darl has been one of Faulkner's most expressive and poetic creations. His ruin has a tragic depth and dignity. Darl appears early as the novel's most important narrator as he is eloquent, but considered strange by his family and neighbors. He ends up being put into an asylum, with his older brother Cash musing on the definition of ‘insane’.

Faulkner portrays the penniless Bundrens with empathy and grace, although he never romanticizes them, nor does he shy away from depicting their ignorance and failings. His depiction here of poverty and rural people is among the richest and layered portraits in all of literature.

The novel deals with various themes like death, isolation, duty, religion, poverty and so forth. Death is shown as a powerful force in the novel. Even Addie is dead, she can have power over all and it is she because of whom the journey starts for the funeral. In case of alienation, all the characters are alienated from each other though they live together and work together for Addie. They live in their own cells and do not want to bother themselves by communicating with others. Anse is the father of the family, but he is reckless and does not take duty for the members. The so called preachers are depicted as involved in adultery. The poverty stricken family does not have money for the funeral procession of Addie so they are compelled to go for work. In this way this novel unravels many techniques and themes near to modern text and stands itself as a great modernist work.