Study Guide

As I Lay Dying Women and Femininity

By William Faulkner

Women and Femininity

Then I would wait until they all went to sleep so I could lie with my shirt-tail up, hearing them asleep, feeling myself without touching myself, feeling the cool silence blowing upon my parts and wondering if Cash was yonder in the darkness doing it too, had been doing it perhaps for the last two years before I could have wanted to or could have. (3.3)

Darl, too, associates shame with his sexuality. (He’s talking about masturbation here, by the way.)

"Don’t tell me," I said. "A woman’s place is with her husband and children, alive or dead. Would you expect me to want to go back to Alabama and leave you and the girls when my time comes, that I left of my own will to cast my lot with yours for better and worse, until death and after?" […] When I lay me down in the consciousness of my duty and reward I will be surrounded by loving faces, carrying the farewell kiss of each of my loved ones into my reward. (6.9-11)

Cora is a firm believer in the standards of womanhood which Addie rejected.

I said if it dont mean for me to do it the sack will not be full and I will turn up the next row but if the sack is full, I cannot help it. It will be that I had to do it all the time and I cannot help it. (7.2)

Dewey Dell bases her decision on something arbitrary (cotton-picking), so she doesn’t have to feel responsible for the consequences.

And that’s why I can talk to [Darl] with knowing with hating because he knows.

Dewey Dell is referring to the fact that Darl knows she had sex with Lafe. She clearly associates a great deal of shame with her actions.

"Poor Anse," I say. "She kept him at work for thirty-odd years. I reckon she is tired."

"And I reckon she’ll be behind him for thirty years more," Kate says. "Or if it ain’t her, he’ll get another one before cotton-picking." (8.42-3)

Anse doesn’t care who his wife is as long as he has a woman taking care of him.

She watches me: I can feel her eyes. It’s like she was shoving at me with them. I have seen it before in women. Seen them drive from the room them coming with sympathy and pity, with actual help, and clinging to some trifling animal to whom they never were more than pack-horses. (11.27)

Addie was treated like a servant in her own home – this is the position woman have in this novel.

He could do so much for me if he just would. He could do everything for me […] But I know it is there because God gave women a sign when something has happened bad. (14.1)

Dewey Dell looks to men to solve her problems.

The cow nuzzles at me, moaning. "You’ll just have to wait. What you got in you ain’t nothing to what I got in me, even if you are a woman too." She follows me, moaning. (14.45)

Dewey Dell compares her own situation to that of the cow. Indeed, women are little more than animals in this world.

Pa was looking back at the house. He kind of lifted his hand a little and I saw the shade pulled back a little at the window and her face in it. (53.40)

Women are a source of resentment and conflict in As I Lay Dying.

"You guess three times and then I’ll show you," [MacGowan] says. (55.65)

Sex is a commodity in As I Lay Dying.

"It ain’t going to work," she says. "That son of a b****." (56.20)

Dewey Dell is so desperate to discreetly get rid of her pregnancy that she ignores her better judgment and has sex with a stranger. Even though she suspects MacGowan is tricking her, she feels compelled to participate.