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Free Study Guide-As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner-Free Book Notes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Faulkner uses the characters to provide different insights into specific events and into each other. By giving the major characters as well as some of the minor characters their own sections to narrate, Faulkner shifts the role of the individual character from merely being an actor to being a narrator as well. Thus, how a character describes an event is at least as important as their physical role in it.

Darl

Darl’s narrative is the most sophisticated literarily. Darl narrates, at times, in a stream of consciousness manner. At other times, he narrates events for which he is not present as if he were. Darl’s language is also the most developed of any of the narrators. However sophisticated his narrative may be, Darl is cruel and isolated. He teases and harasses his brothers Jewel and Vardaman, and he comes between his sister and her lover. In fact, he does not connect with any of his family members. It is significant that we are told near the end of the novel that Darl was in the war. This gives us a reason why he cannot interact with his family: he has seen the worst in human nature and he has not be able to recover. The hopelessness of war is translated by him into a local and familial hopelessness.

Anse

Anse is less complex than Darl. Anse can sum up his entire philosophy rather simply: people, because they are erect, are meant to stay in one place. Anse’s philosophy is isolationist and fails to address the role of the individual in a larger community. While this may be socially irresponsible, it does allow him to survive: Anse is the one who ends the novel with new teeth and a new wife. One should not assume that this means Faulkner is promoting egocentrism; Anse is a character who uses his family for personal gain. He is not "heroic" by any means.


Addie

Addie is a presence which haunts the novel, literally. She speaks to the reader long after she has died. Her philosophy is no better than Anse’s: the purpose for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time. In a sense, she is the perfect husband for Anse: he uses others mercilessly for his pleasure while alive and she is concentrating the entire time on being dead. Addie’s affair with Whitfield can be read two ways: either she is enjoying life, or she is trying to destroy herself. The fact that she names the product of that liaison "Jewel" suggests the former, but it is not conclusive.

Cash

Cash derives his philosophy from carpentry. He believes that if he does things "on the line," they will succeed. However, when he details how he will make Addie’s coffin, he mentions that he must also consider "animal magnetism." Animal magnetism is not rational, but requires that Cash take into consideration how bodies interact with each other. In a sense, animal magnetism is what Darl, Anse, and Addie all lack; none of them knows how to interact with those around them. Cash is not without problems at the end, but the one thing that he does want from this trip is to have a source of music in their house, which the new Mrs. Bundren provides with her graphophone.

Jewel

Jewel does not formally present a philosophy, but he is dedicated to his mother, or least to her memory. He saves her corpse from the river and later saves it from the fire. He even sacrifices his horse, which Darl says is Jewel’s mother, for a team to carry the body do Jefferson. His dedication to his dead mother sounds like a variation of Addie’s death-centered philosophy.

Dewey Dell

Dewey Dell’s narrative is noticeably less grammatically correct than most other characters’, and this fits with her own lack of "real-world" experience. Lafe can trick her into sex. Darl can possibly force her into sex. MacGowan can trick her into sex. Dewey Dell does gain a modicum of revenge when she turns in Darl, but for the most part, Dewey Dell is the victim of circumstances with little knowledge to better her situation.

Vardaman

Vardaman’s philosophy is "my mother is a fish." Reality for him is fluid. Sometimes his mother is in the coffin, sometimes she is lying in the frying pan. Ultimately, the toy train and a bunch of bananas steal his focus. Vardaman’s reality it sensual: what he can see, taste, and feel are real. Everything else is blurry.

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