Tools of Characterization
We’re thinking it’s no coincidence that the Bundren family is called the Bundren family. Write a 10-15 page paper on these guys and you’ll probably find yourself tripping up and typing "Burden" instead of "Bundren." Indeed, the Bundren family is plagued with one burden after another, the principle one being that big ol’ coffin, ill-balanced on the wagon. There’s the burden of poverty which rests heavily on them all, and the metaphorical weight of their mother’s death, but there are also individual burdens which the characters each bear. Darl bears the knowledge of his sibling’s secrets, Dewey Dell the weight of the baby in her belly, Jewel the burden of his own illegitimacy as a member of the family. And that’s a lot of burden to carry forty miles to Jefferson.
As I Lay Dying is one of the few novels that can employ narrative voice as a tool of characterization for more than one character. We can tell the most about a given character by getting inside his head during one or more of his narrations. We know that Darl is perceptive and cerebral because of the internal observations he makes about those around him. We understand Dewey Dell’s feelings on sexuality because of the way she views the cow giving milk, or the nightmares she used to have as a younger girl. Vardaman’s own strange thoughts would be unfathomable if we weren’t allowed first hand access to them, and Anse’s true selfish character comes across most in the sections of novel he narrates.