As I Lay Dying Character Essays

As I Lay Dying Analysis Essay

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February 18, 2013 Duty is a Four Letter Word with a Three Character Meaning In William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, the Bundrens sacrifice a great deal to lay Addie in her final resting place at Jefferson. They obediently follow her burial orders despite the hardships along the way because of the moral obligation they have to their mother and wife. These ignorant people may not have had the task of taking their father’s place in the Chinese army and fending off the Huns to defend the emperor, they just had to get to one place with a coffin. However, the size of the sacrifice does not matter because duty is duty.

Helen Keller once said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble. ” This quote emphasizes the theme of duty in As I Lay Dying because even though the endeavor of taking their deceased family member to her home town was not an enormous achievement for the sake of mankind, it still significantly mattered to the Bundrens. Duty is considerably expressed by the characters Dewey Dell, Darl and Jewel. Dewey Dell makes a striking introduction into the minds of the reader when questions arise like “Why does she keep talking about cakes? to “Is this character a woman? ” Faulkner first epitomizes Dewey Dell as the annoying girl who sat fanning her mother for days, not letting Addie get a break or the others a proper chance to say goodbye to their mother or wife. She slowly transforms into a more mature and astute character when Addie dies and she is forced right away to perform her duties as the woman of the house. Faulkner writes, “Pa looks down at the face, at the black sprawl of Dewey Dell’s hair, the out-flung arms, the clutched fan now motionless on the fading quilt. “I reckon you better get supper on,” he says. Dewey Dell does not move. ” But she does move.

She gets up and makes supper and the audience also sees a motherly role thrust upon Dewey Dell in two ways. One of which is through her unexpected pregnancy and the other is in how she has to take care of young Vardaman from then on. Cash, Anse or Jewel would not care about the wellbeing of Vardaman and so Dewey Dell has to watch the “baby” of the family. She also exemplifies duty in her pregnancy by how alone she has to face the consequences. With a small bit of money from Lafe, she must go to drugstore after drugstore, quietly begging the pharmacist to get her the poson she is desperate for with the quiet of her eyes.

Faulkner seems to think that it is not a 50/50 split in responsibility between Lafe and Dewey Dell as he imposes duty on her so much as to even fall into the hands of such scum as MacGowan. Another character Faulkner instills duty on is Darl. Darl feels like it is his responsibility to keep track of every one. Unlike Dewey Dell or Jewel, he is incapable of interacting and participating in the family the way they do, but he contributes to duty in other means. He stayed on the farm and helped out his mother and father until the years grew by and he turned thirty.

He fulfilled his duty by helping out his parents for longer than should have been allowed, even prompting Cora Tull to say, “Maybe Cash and Darl can get married now. ” His mother had taken over his life but his spite towards her and her fiendish ways could not distract Darl from doing his duty and helping get Addie to Jefferson. The final Faulkner bombards with duty is Jewel. As one of the youngest siblings yet so close to manhood, Jewel was stuck in a transaction of being his mother’s favorite to proving to his brothers he was a tough and serious person.

For some reason, it always seemed to be Jewel’s duty to rescue his coffin-confined mother. When Addie lets loose in the water, Jewel has to be the one to save her because Cash could not swim, Vardaman was too small, Anse was a careless brute and she slipped right out of Darl’s reach. Then again, when the Gillespie barn begins to flare bright with flames, Jewel is the one to throw himself into the barn to ger her out. He even does more than that, helping the men find the cow and get it to come outside.

In saving Addie, he sacrifices much more than exhaustion this time, suffering as described by this passage, “His back was red. Dewey Dell put the medicine on it. The medicine was made out of butter and soot, to draw out the fire. Then his back was black. ” Jewel’s purpose in As I lay Dying is to salvage his mother time and time again even though he does not want to. He never returned his mother’s affections and barely acknowledged her yet in her death he developed a sense of duty to his mother because he knew subconsciously that he was probably the only stable ‘Bundren’ left.

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William Faulkner’s As I lay Dying portrays the theme of duty in a very distinct and barely comprehendible way. His stream-of-consciousness narrations from the characters of Dewey Dell, Darl and Jewel plainly bring out the underlying forms of duty these siblings elicit. Even though some duties are larger than others as noticed by the quote, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble,” by Helen Keller, other tasks have to be achieved not for the sake of size but for the sake of duty to others.

Author: Donnie Mathes

in As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying Analysis Essay

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The following paper topics are designed to test your understanding of the novel as a whole and to analyze important themes and literary devices. Following each question is a sample outline to get you started.

Topic #1
Nature plays as vital a part in many stories and poems as the characters do. As I Lay Dying relies a great deal on Nature and her forces to move the story line along. What universal natural symbols does Faulkner rely on and how does he incorporate them into the action of the novel?

I. Thesis Statement: The forces of Nature and the natural world compete against man in Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying.

II. The Bundren homestead
A. House built on a very steep hill
B. Gravity and angles make house seem warped or mysterious
C. Anse’s view of the road in front of the Bundren house

III. The rainstorm
A. Keeps people away from the house
B. Makes travel from or to the Bundren house difficult
C. Accompanies or announces Addie’s death
D. Causes bridges to be washed out

IV. The flooding river
A. Impedes crossing and slows the family down
B. Drenches Addie’s corpse
C. Drowns mules
D. Causes Cash to break his leg and get kicked by the horse.

V. Hot weather
A. Adds to discomfort and short tempers
B. Causes decomposing body to decay and smell sooner
C. Helps attract cat and buzzards to the wagon

VI. Birth and death
A. Dewey Dell’s view of birth/pregnancy
B. Addie’s view of birth and children
C. Bundren children’s relationship to Addie Bundren
D. Addie Bundren’s view of death
E. Addie’s family’s view of death
VII. Conclusion: The Bundrens, an “unnatural” family, find every aspect of the natural world a challenge—whether it is birth, weather, geography, or death.

Topic #2
Addie Bundren maintains that words are not important; they go straight up and bear no relation to things that happen. Words are important for Faulkner, however. Examine the names and the descriptions of the characters. Paying careful attention to descriptive phrases, imagery, and adjectives, discuss whether or not Faulkner is successful in drawing his characters.

I. Thesis Statement: Faulkner selects his descriptive words and phrases carefully in order to help the reader create a better picture—both physically and psychologically—of the characters inAs I Lay Dying.

II. Dewey Dell
A. Double meanings in her name
B. Association with earth/land
C. Association with farm animals
D. Words used by MacGowan and Jody
E. Words used by Darl

III. Jewel
A. Why Addie gave him this name
B. Words Darl uses to describe him
C. Words Cora uses to describe him
D. Words Tull and Peabody use to describe him
E. Association with animals

IV. Darl
A. Meanings his name connotes
B. Words Anse uses to describe him
C. Words Cash uses to describe him
D. Words Cora uses to describe him
E. Words Tull and Peabody use to describe him

V. Anse Bundren
A. Meanings his names connote
B. Association with animals
C. Words Addie uses to describe him
D. Words Darl uses to describe him
E. Words Peabody and Tull use to describe him

VI. Addie
A. Meanings her name connotes
B. Self-description and association with the dead/death
C. Words Anse uses to describe her
D. Words Cora uses to describe her
E. Words Darl uses to describe her

VII. Conclusion: A reader can achieve a more complete understanding of characters by examining how they appear to others in a story in addition to studying their own dialogue or narratives.

Topic #3
In As I Lay Dying William Faulkner appears unhappy with how people understand or misunderstand and use or misuse their religion. Through a careful study of their narratives, consider what problems Faulkner might find inherent in religion and how those characters who express religious feeling should actually behave.

I. Thesis Statement: Though a number of characters in the novel express belief in God, most of their religious feeling is misdirected or self-serving and falls short of being, what Cora Tull calls, “pure religious.”

II. Cora Tull
A. Hymn singing
B. Use of Bible quotes
C. Her relationship/place with God, as she sees it
D. Her view/opinion of others, in terms of her religion
E. Her views on death/Great Unknown
F. Her interpretation of our purpose in life

III. Anse Bundren
A. How he interprets his place in God’s eyes
B. How he understands God’s will
C. His use of the Lord’s name (when and how he uses it)
D. His view of our purpose in life

IV. Whitfield
A. What his role in the community is/has been
B. How Cora Tull views his role
C. How he views his role
D. How Addie views him
E. His sin or hypocrisy

V. Jewel
A. His view of God
B. His use of anti-religious language/terminology

VI. Dewey Dell
A. Her motivation for believing in God
B. Her view of what God does for people
C. How she uses her church-going clothes

VII. Conclusion: Faulkner feels that religion is meaningless if its ultimate purpose is personal gain or it is empty if its teachings become mere words without human understanding.

Topic #4
Darl Bundren is a complex character who can be viewed as mysterious or menacing, sympathetic or deranged. Through a careful examination of Darl’s narratives and those narratives which describe him, try to establish the “true” character of Darl.

I. Thesis Statement: Though others consider Darl to be...

(The entire section is 2505 words.)

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