Places: As I Lay Dying

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1930

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Places DiscussedBundren house

Bundren As I Lay Dyinghouse. Home of Addie and Anse Bundren, located in Yoknapatawpha County on a ridge far removed from a secondary gravel road and nearly inaccessible. The house is a fortress of “white-trash” values, tension, and ignorance. There, Anse and Addie have reared five children, all of whom characterize some aspect of the Old South in its demise. The family members occupy the house in disharmony, at odds not only with one another but with the universe itself. Nevertheless, they are representative members and products of their society, who manifest the stench of the South’s decay. Addie dies in the house in the opening chapter, and the family’s struggle to dispose of her body drives the rest of the narrative.

Road

Road. Unnamed and little-traveled road leading to New Hope Baptist Church and Varner’s Store that provides the main backdrop of the novel’s setting during the Bundrens’ six-day journey conveying Addie’s body forty miles to Jefferson. Taking the form of a mock epic, the funeral journey occurs mostly on a backwoods route that is beset by a dangerous flood and a fire. Though remote and isolated, the road contains much to mimic and intimates the cosmic setup of the universe as the Bundren family attempts to get Addie’s decomposing body to town so they can bury her in the cemetery she chose before she died.

Barns

Barns. Like most barns in totally agrarian societies, the barns in the novel indicate the livelihood and sustenance of the society itself. Symbolic of continued perseverance and orderliness and more important even than homes to these farmers and share croppers, barns provide settings for two pivotal scenes in the novel. In the barn of the Bundrens’ neighbors, the Tulls, buzzards discover Addie’s body and begin to follow the wagon and funeral procession ominously. Later when the body is being stored in a barn belonging to a helpful stranger named Gillespie, who lives outside Jefferson, Darl Bundren tries to perform an act of sanity by burning down the barn to cleanse his mother’s body with fire. Instead, he fails and is sent to an asylum for the insane.

River

River. Unnamed stream that is more a creek than a river and that impedes the Bundrens’ progress when it becomes too swollen to cross. The river’s waters universally represent the water of cleansing, purification, birth, and baptism that a flood can provide through total destruction. Although the river is the most formidable obstacle that the Bundrens confront on their journey, it is the one that can, perhaps, provide the greatest chance of redemption: Nature itself rebels against the continued attempt of the family to outrage God by not burying the body at once. The family escapes the river just as it escapes the flames of the burning barn.

Drugstore

Drugstore. Pharmacy where Dewey Dell Bundren tries to buy an abortion “medicine” from a corrupt employee, who later seduces her as part of his treatment. Representative of the ability of science to correct moral faults, this pharmacy fails to provide any relief and serves only to worsen the predicaments of the members of the family.

Jefferson

Jefferson. Seat of Mississippi’s Yoknapatawpha County, in whose cemetery Addie is finally buried, after Anse borrows a shovel to dig her grave. This small southern town gives shelter and approval to the Bundren family for their actions by hypocritically ignoring the violation against nature that the delayed burial manifests. Thus, the town itself participates in the further corruption of the entire society.

BibliographyBleikasten, André. Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” Translated by Roger Little. Rev. ed. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973. The only book-length study of Faulkner’s novel. Lucid and comprehensive; an excellent starting point for serious study. Discusses Faulkner’s manuscript and typescript and includes two facsimile pages.Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. An enormously detailed work. Begins with discussion of Faulkner’s ancestors and traces the writer’s development from precocious poet to preeminent novelist.Cox, Dianne L., ed. William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying”: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1985. Contains a dozen essays examining such topics as the novel’s chronology, language, and narrative design. Interesting individual chapters focus on the novel’s debt to the Cubist movement and to the works of T. S. Eliot. Extensive annotated checklist of criticism.Vickery, Olga W. The Novels of William Faulkner. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959. A classic treatment of the Faulkner canon, still relevant despite years of subsequent scholarship. Asserts that the heart of As I Lay Dying is not the fulfillment of the burial promise but rather Addie herself and her effect on the Bundren family.Volpe, Edmond L. A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner. New York: Noonday Press, 1964. An excellent beginner’s source for discussion of Faulkner’s works. Analyzes structure, themes, and characters and includes a useful appendix that clarifies the often-confusing chronologies and scene shifts of Faulkner’s complex novels.
Categories: Places