10 Books to Read: "As I Lay Dying"

BY: JULIE CHUNG 

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William Faulkner is considered one of the 20th century’s greatest writers and wrote his novel "As I Lay Dying," in his weeks while working at a power plant. It is one of Faulkner’s most famous masterpieces along with "The Sound and the Fury and Light in August." Like in many of his works, "As I Lay Dying" is also set in Yoknapatawpha County, a made-up county based on his hometown in Mississippi. The novel tells the story of the long and arduous journey the Bundren family takes to bury Addie Bundren, the mother of the family, 40 miles away in Jefferson as her last dying wish.There are 59 sections in the book, each narrated in the perspectives of different characters.

As the novel begins, Addie Bundren lays in her bedroom dying, as her eldest son Cash builds her coffin right outside. Addie’s selfish husband Anse starts preparing for their trip to Jefferson. Anse’s reasons for going to Jefferson are less about Addie and more about getting fitted for a new set of teeth and also to find a new wife.

The daughter of the family, Dewey Dell, is a humble yet unintelligent young woman who is incapable of forming educated thoughts. Dewey Dell is pregnant and needs to go to Jefferson for an abortion. The money her child’s father gives her is given to Anse for his new teeth. The two other sons, Darl and Jewel, both have a hard time accepting their mother’s death and have to endure not only physical but mental struggles. The youngest child of the family, Vardaman, is too young to understand what death is and confuses his mother with a fish that he catches the day she dies.

To grant Addie’s final wish, the family makes their way to Jefferson during a hot, wet spell in Mississippi, causing Addie’s body to decay faster and attract buzzards. When they realize they cannot use the bridge that will cross Addie over the river to Jefferson, following scenes are both comical and tragic.

The novel is structured in a way that allows the characters to tell their own story. The different narrators for each section are believable and expressive of their own beliefs, but the reader must determine for themselves what is reliable information and what is true only to one character.

The novel may sound dry and unpromising, but if you enjoy Faulkner’s style of writing, you will enjoy another compelling story that explores raw human thoughts and emotions.