As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

dying63Here is something you need to know about William Faulkner.  The term for his writing style is “stream-of-consciousness”.  That means that as you’re reading his books, you are not necessarily reading a coherent, flowing story….(so this may not be a coherent, flowing blog post). Instead, the reader reads the random flow of a character’s thoughts as they occur.  As you can imagine, this makes it a little difficult to decipher the story line at times.  I confess, I had to read free notes on along with it.

“As I Lay Dying” is a story about the Bundren family and is told from the points of view of the following family members:  Darl, Jewel, Cash, Dewey Dell, Vardamen, Anse, and Addie.  They live in a rural Mississippi county on neighboring farms with Vernon Tull, Cora and their daughters Kate and Eula, and the doctor, Peabody…who also flow along the stream of consciousness.  The mother of the family, Addie Bundren, is dying, and the story opens with Addie lying in bed next to a window through which she can see and hear her son Cash, building her coffin.

“The quilt is drawn up to her chin, hot as it is, with only her two hands and her face outside.  She is propped on the pillow, with her head raised so she can see out the window, and we can hear him every time he takes up the adze or the saw.  If we were deaf we could almost watch her face and hear him, see him.  Her face is wasted away so that the bones draw just under the skin in white lines.  Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks.  But the eternal and everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her.

…beneath the quilt, she is no more than a bundle of rotten sticks.”

 Peabody has always attended to the family’s sicknesses and has his own opinion of Anse Bundren (Addie’s husband)…not a very good one.  Addie wants to be buried in her hometown which is some distance away from the family farm.  Peabody observes that Anse has never been good to her but is adamant about honoring her wish to be buried in a certain place.  It’s funny to him that Anse would wait until she’s dead to start honoring her wishes.

It is threatening rain as father and sons prepare the wagon and load the coffin to make the journey to Jefferson, where Addie wanted to be buried. Meanwhile  Dewey Dell is secretly stricken by the fact that she has an unwanted pregnancy, thanks to her indiscretions with a farmhand, and so she is making plans to find a way to get an abortion in Jefferson.  Most townfolk think that Darl is a little bit crazy, and Vardamen is the youngest son who has just recently caught a fish and killed it…so now that his mother is dead, he thinks she is a fish.

They have built the coffin in the classic coffin shape (that you would think of a vampire resting in)…wider at the top and more narrow at the bottom.  However, once Addie has passed away, they do not lay her the traditional way.  They have adorned her in her wedding dress, and since the skirts are wide, they lay her head-to-foot in the coffin…so that they can spread her skirts in the wider part.

They load the coffin in the wagon and set off on their journey.  It is an 8 day trip to get to their destination, so you can imagine what happens to a corpse in the Mississippi heat in the bed of a wagon after that time period.  On top of that the rains don’t let up, and a bridge they must cross is flooded.  They inevitably sink the wagon in the river.

This morbid and depressing tale does not end here, but you will have to read it to find out what happens next.  This book review is just barely scratching the surface of the story. The main reason my attention was drawn to this particular literary work is the fact that James Franco just finished filming a motion picture adaptation in Canton, MS.  In about a year’s time, William Faulkner’s writings will be brought to life on a silver screen.  I am excited for the exposure of Mississippi literature and culture.

Total number of pages: 302, FoA pages: 10,048 (The total number of pages reported upon by the Friends of Atticus)


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