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Given As I Lay Dying’s experimental nature, it does not have a conventional protagonist. One could argue that three different characters fill the role of protagonist: Darl is one possible protagonist, Addie and Anse are the two others.
If we consider that Darl narrates the greatest number of sections (19), which is nearly twice what anyone else narrates, we can then consider him the narrator/protagonist. Further support for Darl as the narrator/protagonist can be seen if we look at one of Faulkner’s favorite narrator/protagonists, Quentin Compson, who appears in Absolom, Absolom and The Sound and the Fury; since Darl has some qualities similar to Quentin, Faulkner may be trying to create a "white trash" Quentin. Since Darl twice tries to pre-empt Addie’s burial in Jefferson, he could also be argued as the antagonist.
Since the title of the novel is As I Lay Dying, we should consider Addie, the "I" of the title, as a possible protagonist. The actions of all the characters are determined by her presence as a corpse, and it is her dying wish that drives their actions. Faulkner’s placement of Addie’s one section in the middle of the novel, after she is long dead, emphasizes her importance to the narrative.
The final possible protagonist is Anse. His adherence to Addie’s request forces the rest of the characters to follow him. The family members follow Anse on a trip, which is detrimental to them. Anse is the one who comes out of the novel ahead; he gains new teeth and a new wife.
If we consider Darl to be the protagonist, then there are a number of antagonists. Addie is the one whose body Darl tries to dispose of. Darl’s attempt to burn her body is what leads to his arrest. Dewey Dell is the one who turns him in, but that is the only action she takes against him. Towards the end of the novel, Jewel becomes Darl’s nemesis. Anse also could be argued as Darl’s antagonist since he initiates and continues the trip to Jefferson.
If Addie is the protagonist, then Anse would be the antagonist. Since Anse uses Addie’s death for his own gain, he would be the best candidate for antagonist.
If Anse if the protagonist, then Darl is the antagonist. Darl is the one who actively seeks to end the trip to Jefferson; if Darl succeeds, Anse cannot get new teeth or a new wife.
Darl’s burning of the barn functions as the climax. This action leads to Darl’s arrest and leads to the end of the trip. Although Addie’s burial might seem like the climax, it is more or an anti- climax; Faulkner barely even mentions the event. Addie’s burial is only a climax for Anse; her burial allows for Anse to get his teeth and a new wife.
Darl is arrested. Dewey Dell is still pregnant. Addie is buried. Cash is lame. Jewel is burned and has lost his horse. Anse is married and has new teeth.