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As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Section 11 of As I Lay Dying, how does William Faulkner use setting to reveal Peabody's and Anse's points of view?

William Faulkner uses Peabody's description of the house on the bluff and the crooked path up the bluff to show how difficult Anse makes everything for the people who try to help him, especially Peabody, who is trying to get up to the house to see Addie. Peabody, who is elderly and big, needs to hold onto a rope in order to get up the path. Once Peabody makes it up the hill, Anse just lets go of the rope, leaving it for Peabody to pick up. This shows how distracted Anse is by Addie's impending death, and how much he is worrying about having to pay Peabody for the visit. He drops the rope and makes it difficult for Peabody because Anse does not want Peabody to be there. Faulkner also uses the description of the stormy weather coming in, the sounds of Cash's sawing, and the sulfur color the light gives the coffin wood to show not only that death is imminent for Addie, but that things are about to go very wrong for everyone, and Peabody is not going to be able to get home for quite a while thanks to the weather. He is angry he has to go up on a day when a big storm is coming. The setting also reflects how Peabody is angry Anse has waited until it is too late for him to treat Addie, but feels that Addie, by dying, is finally ridding herself of Anse, which is a blessing.

In Section 11 of As I Lay Dying, what does Peabody mean when he says Addie's eyes are "shoving at" him?

Peabody realizes, from the way Addie is looking at him, that she wants him to leave and does not want medical help. Addie actually wants to die, and she is fine with Anse's decision not to call Peabody. To Peabody, this looks as if Addie is hanging onto her pride, right into her grave. It also looks to him as if she is denying the help of someone who actually cares about her well being and is instead "clinging to some trifling animal to whom [she] never [was] more than [a] pack-horse." This describes how Anse has treated her, getting her and the children to do everything for him, while acting like he is the one doing all the hard work. Peabody leaves the room because he isn't about to drag her back into the land of the living just so she can continue to support Anse.

In Section 12 of As I Lay Dying, what does Darl's description of Addie's dead body reveal about her character?

Darl's description of Addie's dead body reflects the way she felt when she was alive. He describes Addie's hands as still looking like they might be alive, exhausted but still expecting to work. Even in death, Addie's hands show she always expected peacefulness and aloneness to end because someone would need her to do something for them. Nothing Addie thought was good lasted in her life, and her hands are "guarding ... the cessation they know cannot last." Darl also describes the light moving each time the sound of the saw could be heard, and says Addie's face changes each time it moves, almost as if she is counting the strokes. When she sits up and yells for Cash, he shows her the coffin wood through the window and mimes the shape of a coffin, to let her know he is taking care of her final resting place and she can go ahead and die. Her face, after she dies, is peaceful, though rigid, mirroring how she felt when she figured she had done enough for Anse and decided to die. Before she dies, she does not move for 10 days, so her body not moving now is not much of a change from the last days of her life, except for her eyes. The light goes out of them as if someone blows out a candle in each one. This description reflects how the happiness in her marriage is gone, and how even the brief flame and hope she found in Whitfield was snuffed out after a short time.

In Section 13 of As I Lay Dying, why does Vardaman associate the fish with his mother?

Vardaman looks at the place where the fish was, and remembers that when the fish was there, his mother was still alive in her bed. Now that the fish is gone and his mother is dead, he associates the fish being gone with his mother also being gone. Vardaman is a very young child, and is just learning to see himself as his own person, separate from other people, and thinking about what it is to be in the world. Therefore, when something ceases to be in the world, it goes into the category of all the things that cease to be. The fish was something he was going to show his mother, but he didn't have a chance. Instead, he cleaned it and cut it up for Dewey Dell to cook. At first, Vardaman thinks Peabody killed Addie because she dies after he leaves the room. However, once he has taken out his anger and frustration on Peabody's team of horses, he starts to feel his mother's absence from the world and from the body in the bed very strongly. The fish he was so proud to bring home was also something he loved that has disappeared from its whole state of being, so the two disappearances are linked in his mind.

In Section 16 of As I Lay Dying, why does Vardaman go to Tull's house, and why does he open the windows when he gets back home?

Vardaman goes to get Tull because he is convinced Tull will help bring his mother back to life. Vardaman knows Tull saw the fish when it was on the ground and whole, so he believes bringing Tull to his house to prove the fish was there will stop Cash from nailing his mother into her coffin. He opens the windows a few times when he gets home and lets the rain and wind come into the room so his mother can breathe again; but of course, it doesn't work, and Cash and the others put Addie into the coffin, nailing it shut. Then, once she is nailed into the coffin, Vardaman still wants to get her to breathe, so he drills holes into the coffin to let the air and rain in. By this time, he is exhausted and falls asleep next to the coffin. Unfortunately, he drills two nails into his mother's face. Vardaman is too young to understand that just because two things happen at once doesn't mean one causes the other, but he persists in believing the whole fish and his mother alive have something to do with each other because they existed at the same time.

In Section 17 of As I Lay Dying, what is the significance of William Faulkner's use of light, shadows, and rain, and what do they suggest about Darl's character?

Darl is with Jewel in the wagon far from their farm, visualizing what his family members are doing in the same moment. The first comment he makes is, "The lantern sits on a stump." Darl follows the lantern—and the light and shadows it casts—in his mind throughout the section. William Faulkner thus sets the appropriate tone and imagery to reflect being inside Darl's imagination, serving as a key for the reader to understand how Darl is able to "see" what his family is doing when he isn't there. The first powerful image Darl supplies is one of Cash sawing, and as he saws, Darl says, "the saw appears to be six feet long, into and out of pa's shabby aimless silhouette." Then Cash puts the saw down and picks up a plank, "sweeping pa away with the long swinging gleam of the balanced board." This image of sawing through Anse and sweeping him away in shadow says more about Darl then it does about Cash; it subtly reveals Darl's unconscious feelings toward Anse, as his imagination runs loose here, so to speak. When the rain comes, Darl describes it as "the ultimate outrage" to Anse, and he says Anse's face is streaming with a "monstrous burlesque," implying Anse is crying and trying to hide his grief. This seems out of character for Anse, but Darl also narrates Anse, saying, "I don't begrudge her the wetting," which does seem like something Anse would say. However, if there is any moment in As I Lay Dying in which Anse lets his tears flow for Addie, it happens only here, in the rain (in Darl's vision of events), which do seem accurate because they are so detailed. It is possible, however, that this image reflects Darl's feelings more than they reflect Anse's. The combination of the lantern light, the flickering shadows, and the dramatic rain seem to imply a coalescing of reality and imagination, which embodies the nature of Darl's character.

In Section 18 of As I Lay Dying, why does William Faulkner provide a list of Cash's thoughts?

William Faulkner's use of the list shows how diligent, detail-oriented, and analytical Cash is. Not only does Cash think about how the coffin is going to look, but he goes so far as to use animal magnetism to explain how a body moves inside the coffin when it is being carried. He uses this information to dictate how he is going to change the design of the coffin to accommodate this movement. He is extremely slow in carrying out these steps, however, which is a complaint Tull (who at the same time appreciates how careful Cash can be) has about Cash—he takes too long. In the list, Cash even requires a whole step just to say, "Except." This slow speed of working and of communicating drives his siblings crazy, particularly Jewel, who yells at Cash and gets angry at him for trying to do things in such a methodical manner.

In Section 19 of As I Lay Dying, as in other sections in the novel, why does William Faulkner have Darl narrate events he doesn't actually see happening?

William Faulkner has Darl narrate the funeral and the actions of all of the people involved in it because Darl is the one person in the novel perceptive enough to know how each person would act and respond. Darl can see in his mind's eye the moment his mother dies, and, earlier in the novel, he tells Jewel Addie is dead. He knows Dewey Dell's secret about her pregnancy and her intention to get an abortion when the family arrives in Jefferson. He knows how methodical and slow Cash is about everything he does, including the meticulous shaping of plugs to fill the holes Vardaman drilled into the coffin. He knows Anse wants to look like the dignified widower, but hasn't done anything to prepare for the funeral or for departing for Jefferson to bury Addie. And he knows how all of the neighbors feel about Anse and his total inability to do anything for himself, right down to shaving his own face. Darl is so in tune with everyone in his family that he can predict what each of them will say and do, and he can see it without talking about it or actually being present to witness it. Darl's narration also introduces a spiritual element that allows Addie's spirit to pervade the novel.

In Section 20 of As I Lay Dying, why does Dewey Dell tell Vardaman there is a fish in the slough?

At the end of the section, Vardaman sits for hours at a slough, a ditch that collects water, trying to catch a fish. He has already stopped fighting Cora for cooking the fish he caught earlier because he is convinced if he can find a whole fish, the fish will be his mother, or his mother will be alive again. Vardaman is confused. This scene makes it clear: when Dewey Dell takes him away from the kitchen to the barn, she tells him there is a fish in the slough. Tull says there has never been a fish in the slough, but Vardaman will not believe him because Dewey Dell said there is. Vardaman really wants to believe there is a fish there, and sitting for so long serves the dual purpose of calming him down and keeping him out of the funeral proceedings. It may seem cruel of Dewey Dell to try to convince Vardaman a fish will appear in the slough, because at some point he's going to realize this isn't going to happen. Yet she has to redirect his attention somehow in order to keep him away from the coffin and keep him from going crazy with grief.

In Section 21 of As I Lay Dying, why does Jewel get upset with Darl, and how does this scene reflect the characters' different priorities?

After Darl realizes Addie has died, he tries repeatedly to get Jewel to admit that he has feelings for their mother. Jewel has successfully set aside the idea that Addie was about to die by convincing himself she wasn't that sick, but now that he sees the buzzards, he realizes he was wrong to make the delivery and should have stayed with his mother. He swears at Darl because Darl sees through Jewel's cover. When Darl says, "I cannot love my mother because I have no mother," it is as though Addie immediately ceases to exist for Darl. He insists throughout the novel on an existentialist perspective, brutally accepting the reality of what is in front of him, even as he appears to be far away from it in his mind. It is a perspective that is quite close to his mother's, which is unusual because the two were never close.

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