Hannibal Free Public Library

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

April 28, 2008

As I Lay Dying centers upon a single family. It is the often comic, often grotesque story of their single-minded effort to carry out their father's promise to his dying wife, Addie Bundren, who wishes to be buried with her family in the town of Jefferson, forty miles away. This journey, delayed by flood and fire and attended by a growing flock of buzzards, takes nine days. Throughout their absurd and quixotic ordeal, the family members exhibit a deep respect for their mother's desire, but they also have desires of their own that might be fulfilled by this chance at visiting the town. The father, Anse, wants a new set of teeth; the only daughter, Dewey Dell, is pregnant and hopes to get a pill to bring on a miscarriage; Cash wants a gramophone; Vardaman, the youngest, wants a toy train. The two remaining brothers, Jewel and Darl, want nothing for themselves, but the journey brings to its crisis a rivalry that has deep roots in their relationship with their mother.

Born in 1897, William Faulkner and his family soon moved to the university town of Oxford, Mississippi, where he was to spend most of his life.  His first novel, Soldiers' Pay, was published in 1926.  His first undisputed masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury, came out in 1929 and was followed by another masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, in 1930. With the publication of Sanctuary in 1931, Faulkner was invited to write scripts for MGM and Warner Brothers, which he continued to do for twenty years. Light in August (1932) was his first attempt to engage the rending racial issues of the South, an effort continued most successfully in Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and Go Down, Moses (1942). Until the appearance of Malcolm Cowley's The Portable Faulkner in 1946, Faulkner had been seen as a regional writer; afterward, critical assessments began to register the major stature of his work.

In addition to several collections of short fiction, his other novels include Pylon (1935), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), Intruder in the Dust (1948), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962). Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in 1950 and was awarded France's Legion of Honor in 1951. In the 1950s he became a spokesman for the growing movement against racism in the South. He died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962.  

  1. Describe the relationships among different members of the family. How do the siblings feel about each other? Anse? Addie?
  1. How does Faulkner control your closeness to some characters and not others? Which characters do you identify with the most? The least?
  1. In what ways is this novel realistic and in what ways is it symbolic?
  1. Why does Faulkner deliberately make humor and the grotesque interdependent in this novel? What is the effect of such horrific details as Vardaman's accidental drilling of holes in his dead mother's face? Of Darl and Vardaman listening to the decaying body of Addie "speaking"? Of Vardaman's anxiety about the growing number of buzzards trying to get at the coffin? Of Cash's bloody broken leg, set in concrete and suppurating in the heat? Of Jewel's burnt flesh? Of the "cure" that Dewey Dell is tricked into?
  1. What does As I Lay Dying reveal about how people deal with death grieving, and letting go of our loved ones?
  1. Why do you think Addie's chapter is placed where it is in the novel? What does it reveal about earlier chapters?
  1. What does Cash's list of the 13 reasons for beveling the edges of the coffin reveal about him?
  1. In what ways does Darl have visionary powers? What does this mean in light of what happens to him?
  1. Are the obstacles the Bundrens on their way to Jefferson the result of forces being set against them or are they sabotaging themselves?
  1. Did you find this novel hopeful or pessimistic?

Book discussion questions adapted from http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780679732259

and http://bestsellers.about.com/od/bookclubquestions/a/AsILayDying_q.htm