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Essay/Term paper: As i lay dying

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Faulkner

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Fulfilling a promise they had made to their mother,
Addie, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, in
William Faulkner"s As I Lay Dying, journey across the
Mississippi countryside to bring her body to be buried in
Jefferson, alongside her immediate family. Each one, in
turn, narrates the events of this excursion as they are
perceived. Though all of the family members are going
through the same experiences, each one expresses what they
see and how they feel by exercising their individual powers
and limitations of language. What each character says as
well as how he/she says it gives insight into that
character"s underlying meanings.
Darl, for example, uses his linguistic skills to gain
power as narrator. He possesses the ability to pick up on
things unsaid and to read other people"s actions. Dewey
Dell describes his intuitiveness when she says that "he said
he knew without the words, and I knew he knew because if he
had said he knew with words I would not have believed…and
that"s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating with
because he knows" (27). He uses his gift of realizing
things without them having to actually be told to him to
gain credibility with the reader. Who would doubt a
narrator who possesses that type of adroitness? Also, his
language is clear and reflective. He uses similes and
metaphors and appears to have an acute awareness of spatial
relationships. Darl"s sophisticated perception and poetic
linguistics give him the means of reaching for and
maintaining his role as a competent observer and reporter.
However, his position does create certain problems for his
siblings.
Tull describes Darl"s "look" as being uncanny.

"He is looking at me. He dont say
nothing; just looks at me with them
queer eyes of hisn that makes folks
talk. I always say it aint never
been what he done so much or said or
anything so much as how he looks at
you. It"s like he had got into the
inside of you, someway. Like somehow
you was looking at yourself and your
doing outen his eyes." (125)

It is the same penetrating gaze that gives Darl so much
power that makes the others around him so uncomfortable,
especially Dewey Dell. She feels that his strange knowledge
of what has not been said is an invasion of her privacy.
"The land runs out of Darl"s eyes; they swim to pin points.
They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and
then my dress is gone: I sit naked on the seat above the
unhurrying mules, above the travail" (121). If Dewey Dell
interprets his "knowing" as crossing some personal boundary
that she created then that would explain her fantasizing
about killing Darl and why she reported his setting fire to
the barn. In fact, everything about Dewey Dell is extremely
personal. Whereas her brothers report what happened, she
tells how she feels about it. She uses language not as a
means of describing but rather as expressing.

"He could do so much for me if he just
would. He could do everything for me.
It"s like everything in the world for
me is inside a tub full of guts, so
that you wonder how there can be any
room in it for anything else very
important. He is a big tub of guts and
I am a little tub of guts and if there
is not any room for anything else
important in a big tub of guts, how can
it be room in a little tub of guts.
But I know it is there because God gave
women a sign when something has happened
bad." (58)

She is not describing the sun as "poised like a bloody
egg upon a crest of thunderheads" (40) like Darl would or
explaining how to do something in a step by step manner like
Cash. Dewey Dell is attempting to express her confusion and
her fears. She is a young girl who became pregnant and
doesn"t know what to do about it. She knows she can"t tell
her family and she has no means of taking are of herself.
Instead of using language to describe the world around her,
she uses it to show how she feels on the inside. Language
is a personal thing to Dewey Dell and though she does not
possess Darl"s polished quality of speaking, she
demonstrates its power as well as he does.
Cash, like Darl, uses language as a means of gaining
authority. He begins the novel as not having any control
because Darl possessed the role of narrator. His first
narration is in the form of a list. The second and third
are not even complete thoughts because nobody takes him
seriously. He has no power as a narrator; he is simply a
character. It is not until Darl goes insane, losing his
role. The weight of that role is then passed onto Cash who,
in his last two narrations, finally has the ability to tell
things as he sees them. Language has importance to Cash in
of itself. It gives him what he previously lacked - the
simple right to express what he thinks.
"Sometimes I aint so sho who"s got ere
a right to say when a man is crazy and
when he aint. 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 it"s like
the way the majority of folks is looking
at him when he does it." (233)

Whereas language is a power to Darl, Dewey Dell, and
Cash, it is a limitation to their mother. She feels that
words made up to describe certain experiences are inadequate
to the experiences themselves. She says that "words dont
ever fit even what they are trying to say at" (171).
Phrases like "motherhood" and "love" according to Addie, are
completely separate from what they actually mean; they are
simply tools. How could the balding man wearing glasses who
spent hours staring at the alphabet to spell out the word
"pride" know that that"s what a mother would feel when she"s
watching her child act out the lead part in the school play?
And how could that brilliant young woman just out of college
possibly understand the word "death." It has no meaning to
her - it is only a term used to describe the transition from
living to nonliving. Language is crucial to all of Addie"s
children, except Jewel, to mark who they are but it is
experience that matters to their mother.
The power and limitation of language can be used to
explore different perspectives of the same events. Although
Darl, Dewey Dell, Cash, and Addie all saw the same things,
they each use different methods of expressing them to
portray what is important. The funcion of language is
different for each character but plays an equal part for
each.

 

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