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"As I Lay Dying" a novel by William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying is a novel written by the American author William Faulkner. The novel was published in 1930, and Faulkner described it as a "tour de force". It is Faulkner's fifth novel and is read in schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other English-speaking countries. The title derives from Book XI of Homer's The Odyssey, wherein Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus: "As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades". Faulkner often recited this quotation from memory.

The novel is known for its stream of consciousness writing technique, multiple narrators, and varying chapter lengths; the shortest chapter in the book consists of just five words: "My mother is a fish".

Plot Summary
The book is told in stream of consciousness style by 15 different narrators in 59 chapters. It is the story of the death of Addie Bundren and her family's quest - noble or selfish - to honor her wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson.

As is the case in much of Faulkner's work, the story is set in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, which Faulkner referred to as "my apocryphal county", a fictional rendering of the writer's home of Lafayette County in that same state.

* Addie Bundren - Addie is the wife of Anse and the mother of Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. She had an extramarital affair with her preacher Reverend Whitfield which led to the conception and birth of her third child, Jewel. For his illegitimacy, Addie favors Jewel over her other children, as explained in a flashback narrated by Darl. As revenge for her hatred of Anse, she makes Anse promise her that he will have her buried in Jefferson, knowing that the journey will be long and difficult.

* Anse Bundren - Anse is Addie's widower, the father of all the children but Jewel. Anse is portrayed as lazy and greedy by various characters. He is under (or merely disseminates) the impression that he cannot work because he had a horrible illness as a child, and breaking a sweat will result in his death. He views going to Jefferson as an excuse to get a pair of false teeth.

* Cash Bundren - Cash is a skilled and dutiful carpenter and the eldest son of the family. He is in his upper twenties, most likely between 27 and 29 years of age. His narration tends to be dispassionate and withdrawn, even mechanical; one of his chapters is in the form of a numbered step-by-step list. Addie loves Cash because he is the first child she feels a real connection with, as shown in the chapter she narrates. As Addie's death approaches, she watches him build her coffin through the bedroom window. Though some characters criticize his proximity as distasteful and discourteous, Cash insists that she enjoys monitoring his work. During the funeral, Addie's body is placed reversed into the coffin by the town women who have attended her funeral, so that her burial dress fans out in the space where her head should be. Although Cash does not say anything to the women, he is very uneasy and upset about this, as he has put a lot of hard work to create the coffin in a way that fits his mother's weight and height perfectly; the misplacement of her body in the box causes the coffin to become off-balance. During the novel, Cash breaks his leg, which was previously broken when he fell off a church roof. Anse attempts to "fix it" by pouring cement over the broken leg. The cement heats and swells, essentially cooking Cash's leg and cutting off blood flow. The family, realizing that his foot will soon fall off, begins to chip away at the cement, obviously causing Cash an enormous amount of pain. By the end of the novel, after Darl's mental breakdown, Cash replaces him as the reasonable and more objective narrator.

* Darl Bundren - The second eldest of Addie's children, Darl is about two years younger than Cash. He has with a somewhat intuitive sense, giving him the "ability" to see into someone's soul. He is initially perhaps the sanest one in the novel despite his knowledge that the journey to bury his mother's body in Jefferson is madness. Many people, especially Vernon Tull, tend to view Darl as strange. He attempts to burn Addie in her coffin in the barn in an attempt to put an end to the frustrating journey, a fate from which Jewel saves her. Darl is the most articulate character and objective narrator in the book, therefore narrates 19 of the 59 chapters. At the end of the novel Darl goes mad and is placed in an enclosed mental facility in Jackson.

* Jewel Bundren - Jewel is the third of the Bundren children, at about ten years younger than Darl. He is a half-brother to the other children and the favorite of Addie. He is the illegitimate son of Addie and Reverend Whitfield. The novel reveals that Jewel, after sneaking off every night and clearing several acres of his neighbor's land in order to make the money, has bought a spotted horse. His ne'er-do-well "father", Anse, disapproves of this, complaining that he'd have to feed the horse. Jewel tells Anse that he would kill his horse before it ate any of Anse's food. After the mule team drowns as the family attempts to cross the dangerously flooded river, Anse bargains his children's money as well as Jewel's horse to pay for a new team.

* Dewey Dell Bundren - Dewey Dell is the only daughter of Anse and Addie Bundren, and at 17 years old she is the second youngest of the Bundren children. She is caught in a particularly problematic situation when she becomes pregnant with her boyfriend, Lafe MacCallum's, baby. She, Darl, and Lafe are the only characters who initially know about the pregnancy. Dewey Dell is afraid and desperate for an abortion, but is unable to pay for it with the ten dollars given to her by Lafe. She goes to a pharmacist in Jefferson, but is instead treated by a soda jerk named Skeet MacGowan. With dishonest intentions in mind, the "pharmacist" aims to take advantage of Dewey Dell. He provides her with random medication that he claims will help with her problem as well as his own "treatment", which is in fact sexual intercourse.

* Vardaman Bundren - Vardaman is the youngest Bundren child, and estimates of his age vary widely. He is present as his mother takes her last breath, and from that moment on faces trauma and confusion as he struggles to understand what has happened. Vardaman goes through delusional periods in which he believes that his mother is still alive, in the form of a fish that he had caught, and goes as far as drilling holes in the top of her coffin so that she can "breathe". He wants to buy a red toy train when he gets to Jefferson, but when he arrives it is not in the store window.

* Vernon Tull - Vernon is a good friend of the Bundrens. He appears in the book to be an average farmer who is not as religious as his wife but often agrees with her. He owns a house and farm near the Bundren house and had a bridge spanning a river that had to be crossed to reach Jefferson. It breaks as a result of heavy flooding, forcing the Bundrens to cross at the ford. A log hits the wagon, tipping it over. This causes Cash to become injured.

* Cora Tull - Cora is the wife of Vernon Tull. She is a neighbor of Addie's who is with her at her death. Cora is very self-righteous and focuses more on her own salvation and "Christian duty" than she actually does on people.

Literary techniques
Throughout the novel, Faulkner presents fifteen different points of view, each chapter narrated by one character, including Addie, who after dying, expresses her thoughts from the coffin. In 59 chapters titled only by their narrators' names, the characters are developed gradually through each other's perceptions and opinions, Darl's predominating.

Like James Joyce before him, Faulkner stands among the pioneers of stream of consciousness. He first used the technique in The Sound and the Fury, and it gives As I Lay Dying its distinctly intimate tone, through the monologues of the tragically flawed Bundrens and the passers-by they encounter. The story helped found the Southern Renaissance and directs a great deal of effort as it progresses to reflections on being and existence, the existential metaphysics of everyday life.

Addie Bundren's lone chapter helped bring issues of feminism and motherhood in literature to the fore, as her voice is clearly expressed only after her death. Addie regards all her children dismissively save two, Jewel and Cash; it profoundly affects them both psychologically and emotionally. [source: wikipedia]

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