Narrative Technique in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner has presented himself as a modernist novelist in regard to the narrative technique used in his novel As I Lay Dying. The novelist presents his novel being conscious with modern techniques of narration and themes as well as the structural aspects of the novel.

William Faulkner (1897-1962)

The stream of consciousness technique is the first narrative method Faulkner has used in his novel As I Lay Dying. Through using this method he gave an expression to the chaotically flowing thoughts to his characters. While using the stream of consciousness technique Faulkner uses the language without the use of any punctuation mark. Even the soliloquy has also been used in the stream of consciousness technique. And this sort of stream of consciousness technique has also been varied in fifteen different parts in the chronological order. This is also the scene of language, of the author and language of the characters. Language gives the local identity of the characters in Faulkner's technique of narrations.

Faulkner's characters are somewhat odd and complicated. Darl was psychologically complex. Anse was unbelievably immature though he was the father of other characters. Jewel was proud of being the most favorite son of Addie. Dewey Dell was afflicted with an untimely pregnancy. Almost all the characters had been afflicted with psychological complexes of either kind. Without bringing into light their secret psychological complexities and odd nature, the pace of narrative action cannot move towards progression. That is why Faulkner made an experimental use of the stream of consciousness technique. Through using this technique Faulkner represented the flowing and flux-ridden thoughts of characters in the way these thoughts occur in the psyche of the character. This technique helped Faulkner to dig beneath the mine store of characters' thought and to explore the underlying thought, which accentuates characters' behavior.

The second important technique is the mythic method. Like James Joyce, the great writer of the experimental modernist novel Ulysses, Faulkner has brought into the narrative foreground the technique of mythic method. He has presented some of his characters at the backdrop of mythic character. Faulkner has evoked many characters from Greek and biblical myth. By evoking these mythical characters Faulkner offers a yardstick against which his modern characters are judged. For instance Faulkner describes Jewel's horse in terms of the mythical horse Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. Jewel is described and characterized by some of the dominant characteristics of god Dionysus. God Dionysus is impulsive, assertive, impetuous, and intoxicatingly proud. Along with these parallels Jewel is described. Even if Jewel is portrayed at the backdrop of Dionysus, he is not exactly Dionysus. By presenting Jewel against the backdrop of Dionysus, Faulkner gave his readers an ample change to see how detached jewel is, how fallen, Jewel is and how deviated Jewel is from the pedestal of Dionysian qualities. We see a bleak similarity between mythic hero and Jewel. By presenting Jewel against Dionysus Faulkner gave his readers a better chance to evaluate the real position of Jewel. By using the mythic method Faulkner foregrounded how deviated his modern characters are from legendary mythic characters.

In the portrayal of Dewey Dell the novelist has used the Persephone myth. Dewey Dell is described in terms of Persephone, the goddess of spring and of fertility. Like Persephone Dewey Dell is also fertile. Due to this growing fertility of her, Dewey Dell surrendered to Lafe sexually. Consequently, she became pregnant. But irritated and oppressed by her untimely and unwanted pregnancy, she gets an opportunity for abortion. When Dewey Dell is put against the Persephone myth, we get a significant idea about modern fertility.

The third important technique Faulkner used in this novel is the technique of flashbacks. In chapter 32, 39, 40, and 41 this technique of flashback is used with a considerable degree of caution. Faulkner was under a certain pressure to make readers able to understand the story entirely. There is a total authorial absence in the narrative. To include any important element from the past Faulkner had to make use of an effective narrative technique. By listening to the monologue of some characters only we, the readers, cannot understand the story in totality. To reveal some harsh facts regarding Addie's life before her marriage Faulkner had only one method to use. That is the flashback method. In chapter 32 Darl through flashback technique, reveals facts concerning the growing exclusive relationship between Jewel and Addie. Through flashback the novelist throws light upon the crime of adultery Whitfield had committed. Through the same narrative device we happen to know that both Anse and Addie came into marriage via loveless courtship. Thus the narrative device of flashback fills the several gaps and holes in the smooth progression of the narrative action. It also helps us to know the story inside out.

The forth poetic technique used in the novel is the technique of objective correlative. Faulkner was a great fan of Eliot. He exploited the device of objective correlative to capture poetic emotionality of a complex experience. To enable the readers to get to experience his characters' feelings, Faulkner has made use of objective correlative. For example Vardaman associates being shut up in a corn crib with being shut up in a fish. Darl says Jewel's horse is his mother.

The fifth technique Faulkner used in As I Lay Dying is the technique of using diametrically opposite imagery. He has used imagery of desolation and the Christian imagery. He used the imagery of desolation in the description of the swollen river. Darl describes the swollen as a desolate place, a scene of barrenness and waste. Three times he refers to its desolation. Its swiftness calls up before the final precipice. Such end-of-the-world imagery has led to some readers to conclude that Faulkner is trying to evoke one of those mysterious rivers in Greek mythology that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. One of those rivers that the souls of the dead were ferried across was the hateful Styx, the sacred river by whose name the gods took their most solemn oaths.

Last but not the least, Faulkner makes a super-effective use of the narrative device of maintaining the balance in narrative voices he has been handling. The story is not only presented from the perspective of Bundren family members. Even outsiders are used to present the story from the different perspective. Outsiders and insiders are used to present the action from a different perspective. Doing so Faulkner has maintained a tight sense of balance.