As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Vardaman is Addie’s youngest son and narrates sections 13, 15, 19, 24, 35, 44, 47, 49, 51, and 56.
Vardaman’s thoughts are not easy to decipher, are they? His language is convoluted, turning on itself, using pronouns seemingly unassigned to any object. Vardaman speaks like a little kid…because he is a little kid. But he’s not just any youngin’ – he’s a youngin’ who has just lost his mom. He’s a traumatized youngin’. And he deals with this trauma in a variety of little kid ways. Many of his actions and thoughts seem ridiculous and silly, but when you put on your six-year-old hat you’ll realize that, from Vardaman’s perspective, it all makes perfect sense.
Let’s start with Vardaman’s decision that his mother is a fish. Vardaman caught a fish and was holding it in his hands. Then he cut it all up into little pieces; once it was cut up, it was no longer a fish. So it was a fish, and then it was not a fish. Or, as Vardaman sees it, it was a fish, and now it’s a not-fish. (By the way, have you seen Kill Bill? The final scene totally steals this fish/not-fish discussion from Faulkner.) In Vardaman’s yes, this is just like his mother. She was his mother…and then she was not his mother. She functions the same way the fish functions, so she must be a fish.
Let’s look at another seemingly crazy action: drilling holes through his mother’s face. First of all, Vardaman didn’t know he was drilling through her face; he was only trying to drill through the coffin. He thought his mother was still alive. If she’s still alive, then she needs air, and she can’t get air when the coffin is nailed close over her. So the answer is to put some holes in the box. Makes sense, right?
Think about another one of Vardaman’s stunts: beating and letting loose Peabody’s horses. In his mind, there must be some reason why his mother died. His mother was alive. Then Peabody’s horses showed up. Then his mother died. Conclusion? Peabody’s horse made his mother die. Do you see what we’re getting at here with little-kid logic? Kind of makes us want to go spell out words in our alphabet soup.