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As I Lay Dying

Term Definition
As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying, by Faulkner, is characterized by its use of multiple narrators: there are a total of 15 narrators that tell the story from their own perspectives over the course of 59 chapters. Moreover, the novel is written with a stream of consciousness style, which means that the reader is immersed into the consciousnesses of the characters. This novel has generally been acclaimed as one of the greatest works of its genre of the twentieth century.  


Plot Of As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying is a fiction drama published in 1930 by American poet, playwright, and novelist William Faulkner. A pioneering work in the stream of consciousness narrative style, the book centers on the tribulations of a dysfunctional southern family as they proceed on a lengthy trek to take their recently deceased matriarch to her burial site. The book is composed of 59 chapters that are split between the narrations of 15 different characters in the story.

At the start of the book, dying matriarch Addie Bundren withers through her last minutes as her eldest son, Cash, prepares her coffin. Following her death, a regional storm kicks in that obstructs the travel route between the family's home and the mom's intended burial place of Jefferson, Mississippi. Nonetheless, the family make their nine-day trek with various mishaps along the way: Cash breaks his leg, middle-child Jewel almost flees, and a stopover barn fire nearly destroys the coffin, which is almost lost on two occasions. When they finally arrive, daughter Dewey seeks out an abortion and second-child Darl is carted off to an asylum.

Themes Of As I Lay Dying

With each chapter titled after the name of its narrator, the characters of As I Lay Dying are developed through various points of view. Everyone takes turns narrating, including the mother, who narrates from the coffin after her death. But of all the characters, it's the perspective of Darl Bundren that dominates through much of the book. (Interestingly, that same character appeared in an earlier Faulkner work: the 1935 short story "Uncle Willy.")

Faulkner toys with narrative methods throughout this book by allowing the character to think out loud on paper, while also inviting perceptions and impressions of events and interactions as they occur. As such, the narrative in As I Lay Dying intermixes stream of consciousness style with plausible real-world dialogue. In the case of Darl, an interior monologue is revealed that belies the character's age and intellect.

Details About As I Lay Dying and William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying was written over the course of six weeks between the hours of 12:00-4:00 a.m. without a word changed in the editing phase. The title derives from a quote by Agamemnon in Book XI of Homer's The Odyssey. 

Like much of Faulkner's work during the 1920s and 30s, As I Lay Dying initially met with little fanfare, though its reputation grew over the years, and ultimately gained canonical status as the author rose to literary fame in the late 1940s. Today, As I Lay Dying is widely regarded as one of the greatest American novels of the 20th century.

The book has also been influential on numerous other works of fiction over the years, the most notable of which is Getting Mother's Body: A Novel by Suzan-Lori Parks, which takes on the themes of As I Lay Dying from an African-American perspective.

In 2013, As I Lay Dying was made into an independent film directed by and starring James Franco in the role of Darl Bundren. That same year, the novel was staged for the month of March at Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille.

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