As I Lay Dying | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying | 10 Things You Didn't Know

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William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, traces the plight of the Bundren family as they try to honor Addie Bundren's wish to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. Faulkner presents the adventures and encounters of Addie's children and their father, carrying a corpse with them all the way, in both grim and humorous terms. As I Lay Dying features a combination of modern literary techniques, varying points of view and chapter lengths, and stream of consciousness to convey the characteristics of this poor, rural family. The novel was instrumental in forming Faulkner's reputation as a literary genius and is a fundamental text of the Southern Gothic genre, a literary movement of post–Civil War fiction from the American South.

1. When writing As I Lay Dying, Faulkner used a wheelbarrow as a writing surface.

While composing the novel, Faulkner was working a night shift at a local power plant in Oxford, Mississippi. Since there was little use of electricity during the late hours of the night, he took this time to work on As I Lay Dying, using a wheelbarrow as a writing surface.

2. The title of As I Lay Dying is an allusion to Homer's Odyssey.

Faulkner could quote from memory the line in the Greek epic that inspired his title. He chose an excerpt from Agamemnon's speech to Odysseus, which reads, "As I lay dying the woman with dog's eyes would not close my eyes for me as I descended into Hades."

3. The power plant where Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying has been torn down.

The plant, which was located on the campus of the University of Mississippi in the town of Oxford, was torn down to make way for a state–of–the–art science building. Since the structure wasn't maintained well over the years and bore little resemblance to the building Faulkner would've known, there wasn't much public outcry to preserve it.

4. As I Lay Dying helped found the Southern Renaissance.

Along with Faulkner's other novels, As I Lay Dying was a fundamental text of the Southern Renaissance movement, which saw the gradual artistic rebirth of the southern United States after decades of recovery from the Civil War. Whereas earlier southern writers had focused primarily on mourning the loss of the Civil War and lamenting the burdens of Reconstruction, Southern Renaissance literature approached the troubled decades of the South in a more cosmopolitan light, addressing the South's moral failures, particularly in regard to slavery.

5. An author rewrote the story of As I Lay Dying from an African American family's perspective.

Suzan-Lori Parks's 2003 novel Getting Mother's Body focuses on the plight of an African American family in the southern United States coping with the death of the family matriarch. In a review the New York Times noted Getting Mother's Body is far less grim than As I Lay Dying, and it incorporates humor in ways Faulkner's work does not.

6. Faulkner was a pioneer of stream of consciousness.

The literary technique presents narration through a series of thoughts and emotions that pass through a character's mind directly on the page. This device was popularized by authors including Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce during the 20th century and is considered a staple of modernist fiction.

7. The character Darl Bundren appeared in another work by Faulkner.

Darl Bundren, Addie's second oldest son, is also featured in a 1935 short story by Faulkner entitled "Uncle Willy." The story chronicles the life of a man whose family covers for the fact that he stole a great sum of money several years in the past.

8. The family name Bundren has a surprising meaning.

Readers often see Bundren as an allusion to burden, given the numerous trials the family must overcome to bury their mother. However, Faulkner intended the name to evoke a spirit of camaraderie, as the root bund, from Germanic languages, is used to mean "league" or "association."

9. A Grammy-nominated metal band borrowed As I Lay Dying's title for its name.

The band used the title of Faulkner's novel "As I Lay Dying" as its name. When asked in an interview about the correlation between the band's name and the novel, lead singer Tim Lambesis responded, "We got the idea from the name. I wouldn't say that there is a correlation in the meaning of the book and the meaning of the band. We stole the name from there."

10. A literary contest encourages entries that imitate Faulkner's writing style.

The Faux Faulkner Contest is held by the University of Mississippi and the Faulkner-inspired Yoknapatawpha Press. It encourages entries that comically parody the Southern Gothic genre, while retaining Faulkner's style. The contest notes that Faulkner would often poke fun at his own writing style by using one-liners such as, "Between scotch and nothing, I'll take scotch."

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