Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Suffering

By William Faulkner

Suffering

I strike. I can hear the stick striking; I can see it hitting their heads, the breast-yoke, missing altogether sometimes as they rear and plunge, but I am glad.

"You kilt my maw!"

The stick breaks, they rearing and snorting, their feet popping loud on the ground; loud because it is going to rain and the air is empty for the rain. (13.9-11)

Each member of the Bundren family reacts to suffering in a different way. Here, Vardaman wants to blame it on someone or something, like Peabody’s horses.

When we are going out, Whitfield comes. He is wet and muddy to the waist, coming in. "The Lord comfort this house," he says. "I was late because the bridge has gone. I went down to the old ford and swum my horse over, the Lord protecting me. His grace be upon this house." (20.26)

Whitfield seems to have no trouble crossing the bridge – the same crossing which will later devastate the Bundrens. Faulkner suggests that suffering is meted out unjustly, given that Whitfield is a hypocrite and a coward. (He preaches fidelity but has had an affair; he is too afraid to admit his action to Anse.)

"He ain’t never been beholden to no man," he says. "I rather pay you for it." (29.36)

Jewel, like his father, is willing to make sacrifices on behalf of his pride.

I felt the current take us and I knew we were on the ford by that reason, since it was only by means of that slipping contact that we could tell that we were in motion at all. What had once been a flat surface was now a succession of troughs and hillocks lifting and falling about us, shoving at us, teasing at us with light lazy touches in the vain instants of solidity underfoot. Cash looked back at me, and then I knew that we were gone. (34.52)

In a way, Anse is right about bad luck – the Bundrens suffer at the hands of every possible calamity. It almost feels as though the world, or at least nature, really is against them.

"They can’t be far away," pa says. "It all went together. Was there ere a such misfortunate man." (37.4)

Anse selfishly pities his luck after his sons unsuccessfully and almost fatally ford the river while he watched from the other side.

And then, life wasn’t made to be easy on folks: they wouldn’t ever have any reason to be good and die. (45.37)

This suggests that Addie got the better end of things by dying – she was at least spared the suffering of continuing to live.

The stall door has swung shut. Jewel thrusts it back with his buttocks and he appears, his back arched, the muscles ridged through his garments as he drags the horse out by its head. In the glare its eyes roll with soft, fleet, wild opaline fire; its muscles bunch and run as it flings its head about, lifting Jewel clear of the ground. He drags it on, slowly, terrifically; again he gives me across his shoulder a single glare furious and brief. (50.5)

Jewel’s bravery and heroism shine in the novel’s most violent moments.

It just cracked. It wouldn’t come off.

"It’ll take the hide, too," Mr. Gillespie said. "Why in the tarnation you put it on there? Didn’t none of you think to grease his leg first?"

"I just aimed to help him," pa said. "It was Darl put it on."

"Where is Darl?" they said.

"Didn’t none of you have more sense than that?" Mr. Gillespie said. "I’d ‘a’ thought he would anyway."

Jewel was lying on his face. (51.13-8)

Jewel and Cash, the sons who do the most for the family, are punished the most.

"I reckon he ought to be there," pa says. "God knows, it’s a trial on me. Seems like it ain’t no end to bad luck when once it starts." (53.7)

Again, Anse’s lament revolves only around his own pain. He doesn’t seem to recognize (or care?) about the rest of his family.