Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Versions of Reality

By William Faulkner

Versions of Reality

He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words, and I knew he knew because if he had said he knew with the words I would not have believed that he had been there and saw us. (7.3)

Dewey Dell and Darl’s strange ability to communicate without words is the first indication that Darl has strange, magical narrative capabilities – it’s also the first indication that he’s crazy.

I have said and I say again, that’s ever living thing the matter with Darl: he just thinks by himself too much.

People mistake Darl’s pensiveness for insanity.

My mother is a fish.

The way Vardaman deals with his mother’s death is not dissimilar to Darl’s own surreal thought processes.

[…] we hadn’t no more than passed Tull’s lane when Darl begun to laugh. Setting back there on the plank seat with Cash, with his dead ma lying in her coffin at his feet, laughing. How many times I told him it’s doing such things as that that makes folks talk about him, I don’t know. (26.1)

Darl is laughing at the utter absurdity of his family’s situation. In a way, As I Lay Dying ends on this sort of dark humor (with Anse picking up a new wife while he borrows the shovels to bury his first).

He is looking at me. He dont say nothing; just look at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It’s like he had got inside of you, someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes. (31.15)

Darl’s eyes make people feel uncomfortable because his powers of perception scare them.

And then I knew that I knew. I knew that as plain on that day as I knew about Dewey Dell on that day. (32.63)

See? Darl perceives that which other people miss. This frightens Dewey Dell and anyone else trying to keep a secret.

And then I knew that I knew. I knew that as plain on that day as I knew about Dewey Dell on that day. (32.63)

Darl’s conception of fact is actually conjecture.

When the only sin she ever committed was being partial to Jewel that never loved her and was its own punishment, in preference to Darl that was touched by God Himself and considered queer by us mortals and that did love her.

Cora’s lack of knowledge of the Bundrens’ family dynamic as well as her devout Christian faith limits the accuracy of her perceptions.

I don’t know how he knowed, but he did. Vardaman seen him do it, but he swore he never told nobody but Dewey Dell and that she told him not to tell nobody. But Gillespie knowed it. But he would a suspicioned it sooner or later. He could have done it that night just watching the way Darl acted. (52.1)

Everyone seems to think they know something, but in the end a lot of information is assumed or told second-hand and thought of as factual. Faulkner leaves holes in the story so readers can interpret the truth for themselves.