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Literature / As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay Dying is a 1930 novel by William Faulkner. It's arguably among the least Mind Screw-like and most comprehensible of his works, and thus a good starting point.

The basic plotline: Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the Bundren family, has died and expressed a wish to be buried in her hometown, Jefferson. Her husband Anse and children Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell and Vardaman comply — although in many characters' cases, for not-entirely-altruistic reasons — pack up the corpse and go. This being a Faulkner novel, of course, things go wrong. Very wrong.

A film adaptation, directed by and starring James Franco, was released in 2013.

As I Lay Dying contains examples of:

  • Anti-Hero: Jewel. Despite being a bastard, he's the only one of the Bundrens with completely good intentions and the one who cares the most about Addie.
  • As the Good Book Says...: Each chapter starts with a verse from the KJV Bible; one of the chapters has a malaproperism of Proverbs 3:12, which is also cited in Hebrews 12:6.
  • Beige Prose: "My mother is a fish." This also applies to Cash's sections before he replaces Darl as the objective narrator.
  • Back-Alley Doctor: Skeet MacGowan, but blatantly without the "doctor" part.
  • Bastard Bastard: Jewel
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: The entire plot, being driven by Anse Bundren's attempt to return his wife's body to her family graveyard, through a rainstorm. Though rather unusually, Addie requested this specifically because she wanted the journey there to destroy her family.
  • Character Catchphrase: Among others:
    • Cash: "It don't bother me none"
    • Jewel: "Goddamn you" and "Shut up, Darl!"
    • Darl: "Jewel's mother is a horse"
    • Vardaman: "My mother is a fish"
    • Kate: "She oughta take them cakes"
  • The Chessmaster:
    • Anse, if you believe that he acts stupid and useless on purpose so that he never has to work a day in his life. He even ends up getting a new wife, along with his new set of teeth, at Jefferson so that he has a new set of hands to replace Addie.
    • Addie, whose burial in Jefferson was specifically requested in order to destroy her family.
  • Crapsack World: It's Faulkner, what do you expect?
  • Downer Ending: Oh Anse, you Jerkass, you.
  • Due to the Dead: The whole plot, but subverted in that most of the characters are just using it as an excuse.
  • Dysfunctional Family: All Anse cares about is getting new teeth and a new wife, most people think Darl is weird because he's clairvoyant, Jewel is angry about everything, and Vardaman thinks his mother is a fish. Dewey Dell is slightly less dysfunctional than the aforementioned, though she does have a slightly incomprehensible dream where she couldn't feel anything, even the fact that she was a woman, except for the cool wind blowing across her naked body. All things considered, Cash seems rather normal, though he obsessed over creating the coffin.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Jewel is male, not female.
  • The Hero: Darl, the only one who understands that Addie was a loveless, cruel individual who only wants to be taken to Jefferson out of revenge, and so he tries to bury her as quickly as possible, first in the river, then in the fire.
  • Holier Than Thou: Cora Tull. Contrast Vernon Tull, who's actually a pretty decent guy.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Where to start, to begin almost no one in the family actually cares about the body they're carrying.
  • Inner Monologue: Of most of the characters, including Addie's corpse (maybe)
  • It's All About Me: Anse doesn't care about anyone but himself. Special mention should go to his reaction to his son Cash being horribly injured.
  • Jerkass: It's easier to list the characters who aren't. For one, Anse cares for no one in the entire family.
  • Karma Houdini: Nothing bad ever happens to Anse, despite some underhanded things he did. MacGowan too, who gets away with raping Dewel Dell.
  • Magical Realism
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Jewel, because he is Addie's most beloved. It's also an Ironic Name, as he's not exactly a "jewel" as far as personality goes.
    • Bundren sounds similar to burden, which the family certainly is, to themselves, and to everyone else.
  • Mind Screw: Not as much as Faulkner's other works, but still; especially concerning Darl and Addie.
    • In Section 30, Dewey Dell describes a nightmare she had where she could not feel anything, even the fact that she was a girl, and then she felt a "they" beneath her that was "like a piece of cool silk dragged across [her] legs." It's really a metaphor for her repressed sexuality.
  • My Significance Sense Is Tingling: Darl is clairvoyant. Darl narrates the moment of Addie's passing when he isn't even in the room. He also knows that Jewel is Addie's illegitimate son and that Dewey Dell is pregnant.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Darl has his moments, but Addie takes the cake.
  • One-Paragraph Chapter:
    • "My mother is a fish."
    • Similarly, there's a later chapter consisting of Cash's two-line winding thought that the coffin wasn't balanced properly, ending as suddenly as it begins as he realizes no one is "listening" to him.
  • Only Sane Man: Cash.
  • Parental Favoritism: Jewel is Addie's favorite largely because he isn't Anse's son. It's a bit more nuanced in the novel, but that's the gist.
  • Posthumous Character: Addie, in one chapter. Sort of.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right
    "[Jewel] is my cross and he will be my salvation. He will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me."
  • Shout-Out
    "Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse."
  • The Quiet One: Cash.
  • The Rashomon: As I Lay Dying features fifteen different narrators. The majority of the narration comes from the Bundrens, sans Jewel and Addie who only narrate one section of their own.
  • The Stoic: Darl. Hardly ever does Darl display any emotion. He doesn't even become emotional as he narrates the event of Addie being placed in her coffin.
  • Sanity Slippage: What happens to Darl over the course of the novel, eventually resulting in his being institutionalized.