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William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying Explicatory Essay

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Updated: Oct 22nd, 2019

Written by William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying is a masterpiece addressing different societal issues that were pertinent in 1930s and have even persisted to contemporary times. This story is intriguing given the numerous numbers of narrators involved, each upholding different views from the others.

To some extent, each character is pursuing his/her ambitions and does not seem to care about the rest. Nevertheless, even though dead, Addie Bundren stands out in this story. She determines, controls, and directs the entire story. All events result from her, if not so, they revolve around her. Her perspective determines the novels structure and most of the themes of the story.

Addie Bundren

Addie dies shortly after the story starts; however, the short period she appears in the play and her dead body directs the structure of the story setting themes in place. From the short stint that Addie appears in the play, it is evident that she is a strong-willed and well-informed woman whose only shortcoming is disillusionment.

She is unloving and unfaithful mother too. She does not love her husband; children, save for Jewel; and her surrounding. Her unfaithfulness comes out clearly when she cheats on her husband, sleeps with Whitefield; a local church minister, and bears Jewel out of wedlock.

She clearly points out her disinterest in life by saying, “the reason for living is to get ready to stay dead a long time” (Faulkner 46). This caps her character. Someone whose purpose of living is to prepare for death cannot be interested in anything and this describes Addie. Nevertheless, as aforementioned, Addie’s perspective determines and dictates the plot and most themes of this story.

Addie’s Perspective in Plot and Themes of the Story

Addie’s perspective toward life that, the purpose of living is to prepare for the long time one spends in death, coupled with the fact that she does not love her environs makes her request to be buried in Jefferson; the land of her ‘people’. The journey towards Jefferson is the storyline of this story.

The bigger part of the plot and structure of this story revolves around this journey. If Addie had not asked to be buried in Jefferson, the story would end soon after she dies. However, the story carries fifty-nine sections most of them revolving around the journey to the town of Jefferson.

In this journey, many events unfold that are core to this story. The motives of all the Bundrens come out because of this journey. For instance, Jewel’s love for Addie comes out as he takes care of her dead mother including rescuing her corpse from being swept away by water and burnt by fire. Darl’s caring character comes out for he wants to fulfill his mother’s will.

On the other side, Anse’s selfishness stands out for he only wants to go to Jefferson to get some false teeth whilst Cash and Vardaman want to get phonograph and toy train respectively. On her part, Dewey wants to abort and the only way she can do this is being on journey for she would meet new people, probably experts in abortion. Therefore, Addie’s perspectives underpin the plot of this story; moreover, its themes revolve around her and her perspectives as exposited next.

The four main themes of this story viz. mortality; disillusionment, religion, and duty revolve around Addie’s perspective and character. Mortality takes centre stage in this story. After Addie dies, some of her children have many questions about existence and mortality. For instance, Vardaman does not understand all this; actually, he compares his death mother to a fish he had cleaned into, “pieces of not-fish” (Faulkner 29). Mortality brings transformation similar to that of cleaning a fish.

Darl understands mortality as transformation from “is” to “was” because that is how Addie is being referred. By having sex with a church minister, Addie exposes the challenges facing men of the cloth. Religion is only in words, not in actions. Addie’s perspectives portray the theme of disillusionment. She does not seem to understand anything going around her.

Her husband and children are disillusioned for they do not understand maternal love that she does not offer. Finally, the theme of duty is hinged on Addie. After she passes away, her family realizes that it is their duty to bury her despite the fact that they have ulterior motives of going to Jefferson.


Addie Bundren passes as a strong-willed, intelligent, unfaithful, disillusioned, and unfaithful woman. She cheats on her husband and shows no love towards her many children. Nevertheless, her perspectives drive and shape the plot and themes of this story. The storyline of this story lies in the journey to Jefferson to burry Addie and fulfill her dying wishes. She only wants to rest with her ‘people’ and this perspective and request sets the story in motion. Themes of religion, duty, mortality, and disillusionment revolve around her.

Addie’s affair with Whitefield exposes cynicism in religion. If it were not for Addie’s perspectives in life, readers could never know of Jewel’s love for his mother, Anse’s selfishness, Dewey’s inhumanity, Cash’s selfish ambition and Vardaman’s innocence and gullibility. Therefore, Addie’s perspective in life makes unfolds a lot in this story; defines its plot and presents its themes. Without Addie’s perspective towards life, the story would end after her death.

Works Cited

Faulkner, Wiliam. “As I Lay Dying.” New York; Vintage Books, 1985.

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1. IvyPanda. "William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying." October 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/william-faulkners-as-i-lay-dying/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying." October 22, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/william-faulkners-as-i-lay-dying/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying'. 22 October.

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