Book review: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Alex Wilson, Reporter

My English teacher told me that William Faulkner is one of those authors that you either love or hate, and usually, those who enjoy his work are the same people that find enjoyment in analyzing literature. So, of course, I loved As I Lay Dying. It was an interesting story on the surface, but the symbolism and meaning of the novel as a whole added an entirely new layer to the story.

   The novel is about a family that is suffering from the loss of their mother and their subsequent trip to the next town in order to bury her. Each character is a narrator of the story; even the dead mother narrates a chapter-long after she has died. What is most interesting about this choice of narration is that each character is dealing with this loss on top of whatever other personal problems they have. For example, Dewey Dell, the only daughter, is secretly pregnant and has immense issues with the father of her child.

   The youngest child, Vardaman, presents the most unique narration because he is only six years old. His story-telling is a jumble of run-on sentences that make little sense as he attempts to comprehend the situation around him. My favorite chapter in the entire novel comes from him; he says “my mother is a fish.” That is the entire chapter. Of course, it is arguably the most symbolic phrase of the story. That is just how it is with Faulkner.

   On the surface, the story just seems like a family taking a trip to bury their late mother, a wholesome journey that builds familial love and understanding. However, each character is coming along for the trip for their own selfish desires; Vardaman wants a new toy train, the father wants a new set of teeth, and Dewey Dell is looking for a doctor. Faulkner so intricately explores how human beings can be so self-centered even in times of despair, and that life is not what it seems.

   Layered in this take on family relationships is the idea that to live is to suffer, and to die is to be released from the pain. In the chapter that the dead mother, Addie, narrates, she tells the story of her unfulfilling life, suggesting that dying has been her long-awaited escape from her misery.

   I give this book an objective ten out of ten, and a subjective seven out of ten. Its symbolism and underlying meaning is absolutely worth a perfect score, but it was very slow and difficult to read.