As I Lay Dying Essay

william faulkner / as i lay dying / psychology / virtue / humanism / society / death / indifference / selfishness

William Faulkner’s novel «As I Lay Dying»


William Faulkner’s novel «As I Lay Dying» not only asks for, but simply demands the psychological approach due to the face that some nuances are terrifying even for our contemporary harsh and bloody era. No outside sources are needed for me to present the psychological criticism that it has given birth to in my soul. It is not about the concrete details of the novel, but the impression that they have made. Even a professional psychologist would not be able to separate and to systematize the feelings which overwhelm the reader of this novel. The reader is mercilessly taken out of the real world and thrown into some terrible place that makes the human perception of “hell” fade out.

The novel is infinity of human vice both “innocent” and “sickening” ones. There is no place for virtue there and what may seem to be a virtue turns out to be a mask. The characters in the novel do not even realize themselves who they really are and WHAT they are: creatures not humans. They do not live, but only function, as if they were mechanisms waiting for the moment they will be switched off. Addie Bundren as one of such mechanisms defines the meaning of life as the process of getting used to being dead. It is impossible to think about something more solemn than that. Historically, people back than dedicated themselves to not dying of starvation and struggling against poverty, but in this struggle they lost every sense of humanism. Society, with its rules destroys them both mentally and physically – they take whatever the world gives provides them with. They take a laissez-faire attitude towards life itself. Dewey Dell reveals such perception through her position of anything happing being “not her will” without giving a try to understand the motivation behind the deeds.

Still, there are some people among the characters of the novel who create a pseudo-motivation of their deeds, but for the motives they take absurd and senseless manias. Of course, each one of them can have their little, useless hobby. But can we call a “hobby” the fact that Cash is so fascinated with woodwork that he makes a coffin for his own mother “inter vivos”, without considering her presence and actually discusses the details of this construction. The characters are selfish, self-centered people who follow only the needs including the most primitive ones. The system of such “mechanisms” presented by Faulkner is very self-sufficient: how easy Cora finds the “answers” to all, even the most inexplicable questions, especially if they have a religious character. These people cannot afford to make their “system” unstable. The idea of changing anything in the world around cannot be born in such society. 

Darl seems better than the others , but… Darl, just like the rest of the family, is so fascinated with his observations and thoughts, that does not notice Addie herself, her presence, her sufferings, her death. As the rest, he is indifferent to his own mother and to the living world. The worst trait of that society, of our society is indifference. Such indifference to everything both from the side of men and women astonishes the reader with its parallel to the contemporary world. It is Darl that wants to burn the dead noisome body of his mother seeing that it is complete nonsense to keep this going. And, oh miracle, the family opposes Darl’s mania with their ill desire to save the corpse of a woman, who when alive was ignored and sometimes this very family wished for her death. Those who were waiting for her to finally pass away throw themselves into fire and water to save her dead body. The absurd goal has to be achieved!

Nevertheless, there is no theme of DEATH in the world of Faulkner's characters. But characters reveal degradation of the society because a healthy, normally functioning social structure cannot give birth such behavior. By the end of the novel the motivation of the characters becomes clear – Cash wanted to get to the city to get new tools, Dewey Dell to make and abortion, old Anse to get new teeth and a woman. Then, the only thing that surprises is that in order to get to the city they were willing to suffer and constantly save the dead body. Why did not they let the body to drown or to burn down?

Faulkner’s characters closed themselves down from the outside world, they become selfish people without any spiritual values but we have not…the situation is not hopeless. We can still love and the sense of our life is not completely lost. The psyche of Faulkner’s character provokes a protest and this gives a slight hope that the mankind CAN WIN this battle against indifference and selfishness.


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