As I Lay Dying Introduction
In A Nutshell
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William Faulkner wrote his fifth novel, As I Lay Dying, in only six weeks in 1929—in case you wanted to feel bad about the past six weeks of your life. (What have you been doing?!)
The novel, published after very little editing in 1930, tells the story of the Bundren family traveling to bury their dead mother. Sounds simple (and depressing) enough, but you have to remember: this is Faulkner. Nothing is simple.
As I Lay Dying is famous for its experimental narrative technique, which Faulkner began in his earlier novel The Sound and the Fury. In As I Lay Dying, fifteen characters—most of them with the last name Bundren—take turns narrating the story in streams of consciousness. It all happens over the course of fifty-nine, sometimes overlapping sections.
We repeat: nothing is simple.
At the time, Faulkner’s novel and writing style contributed to the growing Modernist movement, which saw disillusioned post-WWI authors and poets trying to find some sort of meaning in an otherwise meaningless world.
Our guy was also influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories about the subconscious were made increasingly popular in the 1920s. Long passages of italicized text within the novel reflect the inner workings of the characters' minds...all of which seems to be totally different.
And that's the point. For Faulkner, different perspectives means different realities.
Try not to get lost—and if you do, we'll provide the compass.
Why Should I Care?
As I Lay Dying might be one of the most important works in American Literature, but it just sounds to us like the greatest of all childhood games: The Oregon Trail. But let us demonstrate:
- Rations are low.
- You have set your pace to grueling and your prose to convoluted.
- Someone has died (though not of dysentery).
- Ford the river, or caulk the wagon and float it?
- Bad choice. You lost 2 mules, a leg, clarity of plot, some farm tools, and all the optimism you had left.
Chuckle. We knew this book would be easy.
- Wait a minute.
- You are crazy, according to one member of your party.
- You are the most logical guy around, according to you.
- You’re a threat, according to another member of your party.
- Someone is pregnant (and unmarried).
Whoops! That reminds us to tell you that As I Lay Dying features no fewer than fifteen different narrators, which can complicate the heck out of any trail you’re traveling, Oregon or not. Even the most basic of stories – a journey from location A to location B – is actually a patchwork of perspectives, opinions, and points of view. There isn’t a whole lot of objective fact.