“Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but its the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it” (Faulkner 233). After the death of Addie Bundren, the Bundren family battles the forces of nature, their own selfish motives, and the critical judgement of their neighbors to fulfill the mother’s dying wish to be buried in Jefferson.
Although this eccentric behavior is viewed as insane and irrational, William Faulkner reveals throughout the novel the reasonability of their motives while creating a satire of the rural poor through the tragic events that occur. Before Addie Bundren died, she makes her family promise to her that they will bury her in Jefferson, a town over 40 miles away. One could easily assume that the reason for this wish is due to her desire to be buried next her father, but this is not the case.
Addie Bundren discusses how her father never shows his love or affection for her, and he tells her “the reason for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time” (Faulkner 169)”. In Addie’s rejection by her father, she feels lonely, and she attempts to fill this void through various actions and in violence rather than in words. Instead of having her family say a few words over her dead body, she wants them to take action in carrying out her final request.
She states that “I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack” (Faulkner 172). She demands attention and wants people to recognize her presence not in words, but in their attention, awareness, and in their action. As Addie Bundren uses violence in her life to fill her void of loneliness, her family struggles violently to carry out her final wish.
For example, on the first night of their journey, the main bridges leading over the local river have been flooded and washed away due to severe flooding, and the Bundrens are forced to turn around and attempt to cross the river over a makeshift ford. Just when the audience begins to believe that the plan will be a success, a stray log races down the river upsetting the wagon, knocking the coffin out, re-injuring Cash’s broken leg, and drowning the team of mules. Additionally, he family deals with the awful stench of Addie’s rotting corpse and the buzzards that surround the coffin as it takes them nine days to arrive in Jefferson. In the midst of this tragedy, one may easily assume that the reasonability of the Bundren’s motives is to carry out their beloved mother’s dying wish no matter the cost, but the characters’ actions reveal that many members of the family have ulterior motives for the trip to Jefferson. Addie Bundren shows very little love or affection towards her family.
The only son that she favors is Jewel, who is conceived from a secret affair that Addie shared with the local minister, Whitfield. Addie Bundren even states “I would look forward to the times when they [the children] faulted, so I could whip them” (Faulkner 170). This statement demonstrates Addie’s bitterness toward her children. Her lack of affection influences her children to return this feeling of hatred and apathy towards her, and this attitude remains constant even through Addie’s death.
When Addie dies, the Bundren family takes the coffin to be buried in Jefferson, but they each have selfish motivations: Cash to buy himself a gramophone, Anse to buy a pair of false teeth, Vardaman to buy a toy train, and Dewey Dell to get an abortion. Jewel desperately wants to get his mother to Jefferson, and he acts as a heroic character in the novel by saving the coffin from the raging river and the blazing fire, but these acts are done in selfishness and pride, only to promote his own ability.
Darl recognizes his family’s selfish motivations and he tries to end the trip by setting the barn on fire in attempt to burn the coffin. These actions demonstrate the family’s reasonability for their trip to Jefferson. They did not partake in it out of love for their mother, but they did it in order to satisfy their own needs and desires. This incidence in the novel demonstrates the work’s underlying themes of existence verses identity and the tension between the characters’ words and their inner lives. In the novel, Addie’s desire for attention reflects her desire for identity rather than just existence.
Her abandonment by her father lead her to become a very bitter woman who wanted to be recognized and appreciated. This is why she made her family promise to bury her in Jefferson. While the family deals with the external conflict of battling the forces of nature, each character faces internal conflict that is reflected in how they react individually to different circumstances throughout their journey to Jefferson. The most obvious example of each character’s diverse outlook is portrayed in the scene when Tull arrives at the river’s edge.
Each character stares at Tull in various ways that confirms each character’s traits repeated throughout the novel. Tull sees sexual resentment in Dewey Dell’s eyes, demonstrating her fixation with sex. When Addie dies, Faulkner describes how Dewey Dell is too worried about her recent pregnancy with Lafe to mourn for her mother’s death. Jewel’s angry glare reveals his fierce independence. He demonstrates this independence by putting action in his own hands by burning down the barn that holds Addie’s coffin. Darl’s enigmatic gaze supports his air of mystery.
Although Darl narrates the majority of the novel, his own opinions toward his mother’s death are mostly kept to himself. Tull remarks on the intensity of Darl’s gaze, stating that it is “like he had got into the inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes” (Faulkner 125). Darl has the ability to see things as they really are, which is a threat to the rest of the characters who treasure their hidden secrets. This portrays how the rich inner lives of the characters are hardly communicated between individuals.
Rather than having a chronological sequence of events throughout the novel with a sole narrator, Faulkner uses brief monologues to focus on the emotional and psychological aspect of each character’s point of view in dealing with the tragedies that occur to this family. Though the journey to Jefferson is difficult for the Bundren family, it is a reflection of their desire to fulfill their own selfish needs. As Henry David Thoreau quotes, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” (1).
The Bundrens were so desperate for their secret wants and desires that they would do almost anything to get them. They did not carry Addie Bundren’s coffin to Jefferson out of love and respect for her will, they did it out of selfishness and pride. Faulkner uses this demonstration of desperation to show the psychological tension of poor, rural, American families in this satirical tragedy. Works Cited Thoreau, Henry David, and Edwin Way Teale. Walden; Or, Life in the Woods,. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1946. Print. Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Random House, 1964. Print.