Term Paper: Dying Is a Unique Novel

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[. . .] According to Shields McElWaine, "The life of Anse suggests several aspects of poor-white mentality as presented by both Faulkner and Caldwell: first, the tendency of limited minds to obsessions; second, a marked insensitivity; and third, a somewhat paradoxical acuteness, perhaps better -- sensibility." (McLlwaine, 229)

From another perspective, Darl can be seen as the protagonist of the novel as he narrates the most chapters and can be said to be the most intelligent. The reader identifies with him more because his thought processes are more rational and better understood. Many of his interior monologues are fairly straightforward despite being a stream-of-conscious narrative. Because of his sensitivity and isolation from the other characters, most readers come to rely heavily on Darl's version of events. Darl is not insensitive to his mother, but sees the trek as meaningless, which is what causes him to try to set her body on fire. In that he is caught and punished for doing this while Addie gets her wish is almost a portrayal of death conquering life. In a way, it is the portrayal of the meaninglessness and stupidity that underscores Mississippi society defeating rationality and pragmatism.

In this light, Jewell represents all that is bad about his mother and about Mississippi. He saves the coffin and the pointless venture to Jackson, and is effectively a fatherless child: having a child outside a marriage is usually associated with lower class or white trash depravity. His sister, pregnant, is also a carrier of this sickly lower class pestilence, as is represented in that she saves her mother's corpse. In a sense, Darl represents modernity, the corpse the South, and Jackson the antebellum southern legacy. Darl is one of the characters of the book that the reader wouldn't just as soon see die, and yet he is imprisoned by a society that values pointless ventures and pointless gestures. The customs of the south are implicitly castigated in that the white trash family is willing to imperil their lives in order to get to Jackson.

This thesis isn't challenged by the fact that most of the family is going as a matter of self-interest. In order to sanctify self-interest, they have to bring the coffin: vested interests use moral legitimacy and traditionalism as an excuse to further their own ends. This is exacerbated by the sunk costs (the mules drowning) and the pettiness of the ends they wish to meet (in Anse's case, to get new teeth) The rational, Darl, who tries to stop this, is jailed. The mother and Jewell and sister are all the same pestilence, as is the father and the pregnant sister.

The ultimate impression given by the novel is that the culture is bankrupt; as dead as the woman in the box, and yet like Addie's corpse it is kept alive for irrational, unintelligible reasons. The image we are left with is that of the tribulations of people who deserve them; the only worthwhile outside take on the situation is that of the doctor, who Anse shoos away, limiting his input to only one chapter. Here we get the impression that Faulkner, an intellectual, had to interact with such people throughout all of his early life, and that far from being noble savages, they were little more than ragged animals. We are drawn to think like them, to understand them, through their interlocking dilemmas. Ultimately the impression given is that to do such a thing is a waste of time, as such people aren't worth spending time with. We are also left with the impression that even when these people are warm and compassionate, that it doesn't redeem them. Faulkner brings us into their world. Faulkner isn't teaching us to appreciate Southern culture, he is mimicking it as one who does impressions. This is where he differs from other writers that portray southern figures in character, such as Mark Twain's portrayal of Huckleberry Finn. Faulkner isn't trying to hide memes in his work: this is the equivalent of two homeless guys on a Homeric Odyssey to find an old car door; one can only understand the mentality he wishes to portray in light of Springer and other voyeuristic inquiries into the daily lives of modern-day peasant-folk.

In the seemingly valiant effort of protecting his mother's corpse and rescuing it from the fire, Jewell is not only his mother's legacy, he is the foot soldier in the perpetuation of a meaningless process. He reminds the reader of all people dutifully willing to protect the honor and tradition of things that possess no intuitive value.

Shields McLlwaine; The Southern Poor-White from Lubberland to Tobacco Road

University of Oklahoma Press, 1939

Bleikasten, Andre. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Bloomington/London: Indiana University Press, 1973.

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. Modern Library; 1946.

David P. Shuldiner. Folklore,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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