“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”
I did it. I read William Faulkner and I survived, all the way to the end!
It really wasn’t so bad. Well, at first it was, but eventually it got easier, and that THICK AS MOLASSES southern dialect finally began to make more sense.
What’s interesting to me about this is that I’m from the south. I’ve been here my whole life. When I go anywhere that’s not in the south, people like to ask where I’m from, because they hear the accent in my voice. (Which I don’t even think is that significant.) When I was a junior in high school, I went to New York with my mom on a work trip. While another girl and I were in Bloomingdale’s, the store employees would just ask us to talk, so they could listen to our accents and smile. Anyway, that all came to mind because of the work it required in me to get to comfortable with the language in As I Lay Dying. The story takes place in the deep south, 80 or 90 years ago, and I would equate the dialect with what you might hear from those native to the NC or Tennessee Mountains. But this was so much more. And then when you consider that part of the story is told in stream of consciousness, which often doesn’t appear in complete sentences, then you’ve got yourself a challenge. But, like I said, it got easier as it went along.
As I Lay Dying tells the story of the Bundren family of Yoknapatawpha county, Mississippi. Addie Bundren, the matriarch of the family, is dying and her last wish is to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. The family is preparing for her death and the eventual long wagon ride to take her to her final resting place. The story is told in the point of view of 15 narrators. All of the family contribute to the story, as well as neighbors, friends and one reverend.
When I first read from Dewey Dell’s perspective, I imagined her a him so I didn’t know who the girl was that was fanning Addie by her bedside. This is not unusual, as Faulkner doesn’t really spell anything out for you. You as the reader get to piece the story together as you read along. And when I read the scene of her and Lafe picking cotton, I remember thinking, “wait, something’s going on here and she’s not making it clear,” but I totally got the mood of the scene. Then when I watched the scene from the movie on Youtube, the SAME mood was portrayed and I was so proud of myself for getting it. Then I knew my reading instincts would be alright for the rest of the book.
Many dangers and mishaps happen along the way to Jefferson. Darl, my favorite son, is thoughtful, intellectual and brooding, Dewey dell is hiding a secret, Jewel is angry and defiant, Cash is injured and the treatment is grotesque and unbearable. Animals die, Addie decomposes, and Anse, the father/husband, is focused on the task but useless in any other way.
There was a time in the beginning where the language was so mixed up, repetitive and convoluted that all of a sudden I could hear Bill Clinton saying, “Well, it depends on what your definition of IS is.” Because that’s how much sense it made! I read the paragraph aloud to my husband and he just looked at me, blankly. I’m sure he wonders why I spend my time reading such hullabaloo.
Overall I’m glad I read it. It’s not a happy book nor a hopeful book, but it’s a picture of a family and what they experience. It ends abruptly and I was like, “What..?” I’m unsure of whether Dewey Dell’s issue got resolved and I don’t like how things turned out for Darl. If you’ve read As I Lay Dying and you have thoughts on these things I’ve mentioned, please comment below and let me know what you think.
Thanks for reading!