Maddie Daniel Essay


Using Digital Yoknapatawpha to Investigate Addie and Dewey Dell Bundren's Relationship in As I Lay Dying

By Maddie Daniel
University of Virginia

Despite a female filling the role of catalyzing character in As I Lay Dying, females throughout the novel are mostly emotionally disconnected from the men around them. The Bundren women specifically are estranged from the men around them due to various issues. Dewey Dell feels uncomfortable with her sexuality and pregnancy, while Addie feels resentment towards the institutions of marriage and childbirth. While reading the novel, I found myself questioning their relationship as mother and daughter. Dewey Dell mourned her mother's death, but she was also preoccupied with her pregnancy. Addie had no idea the pregnancy was going on and seemed to be focused more on Jewel and her past while she was dying. I wanted to use Digital Yoknapatawpha to see if I could investigate their relationship further. Was it just a relationship of proximity or did they actually engage emotionally with each other?

I wasn't sure what tools on Digital Yoknapatawpha would help me, so I began to explore with the character-location graphs. Because part of my question had to do with spatial relationships, this seemed like an appropriate jumping-off point. I used the character-location force directed graph, and then selected "Present", "Major" rank, and "Female" gender. My search produced this graph:

This clearly showed that Addie and her daughter Dewey Dell were only present in three of the same locations in the text: the Bundren House, Woods, and Farm. This makes sense, since Addie is dead at all of the other locations connected to Dewey Dell. Additionally, the locations connected to only Addie are ones from her past before children. This graph didn't really get me any closer to insights about their relationship, so I decided to try another search.

The next graph I utilized was the character-character visualization function. I wanted to see how Dewey Dell was connected to Addie in comparison to the other Bundren children. I searched for the name "Bundren" and selected "Present", to see how many times Dewey Dell was present with Addie as compared to the other Bundren kids. This is the resulting visualization:

Addie's connections are thin because she is not alive for much of the novel. Dewey Dell's connection is roughly as thin as the other children's connections, so not much is revealed in regards to my investigation. I switched the criteria "Present" to "Mentioned" to see if perhaps Dewey Dell and Addie commented on each other more than other characters did. The visualization below was more revealing:

Dewey Dell and Addie's connection is much thinner than the one between Addie and Jewel, or Addie and Darl. Dewey Dell's connection is actually the thinnest of all of the children. Finally, I had a visualization that was revealing of the mother-daughter relationship compared with Addie's other relationships. Addie's commentary did not focus much on Dewey Dell, and Dewey Dell didn't focus much on Addie. Much of Addie's chapter focused on her past and explained the story behind Jewel's special status in her heart. Dewey Dell was too worried about her pregnancy to properly mourn her mother. Both of them are focused on other things instead of their relationship with each other.

I decided to use the search tools next to see if there was anything else I could glean about Addie and Dewey Dell's relationship. I used the event search and put "Addie Bundren" in the "Character" field with "Dewey Dell Bundren" in the "With another Character" field. I selected "Mentioned" for both. Only four results were shown: one of Vardaman's chapters, Samson's hesitation about the Bundren's staying on the farm, Vernon Tull following behind the Bundren's towards the river, and Moseley's jokes about the smell of the Bundren caravan.

This reveals to me that the two characters are not closely associated together in the minds of others. I wanted to see if they were present together in many events, so I changed "Mentioned" to "Present". Nine results came up, and these events all occur in the room where Addie is dying except for the final result. On page 176, Addie describes how she "gave Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel" (Faulkner, 176). Because Jewel was not Anse's child, Dewey Dell was brought into the world as compensation.

I think that this search tool gave me the most insight into Addie and Dewey Dell's relationship. They had very little connection beyond the biological fact that Addie is Dewey Dell's mother and daughters in the rural south were expected to care for their mothers as they died. This reveals more about Addie's emotional capabailities as a mother, since they have clearly impacted Dewey Dell. Dewey Dell is not associated emotionally with her mother, which have lasting impacts on her thoughts towards her own pregnancy and future motherhood. Dewey Dell seized the opportunity to get an abortion because of both societal expectations and her mother's example. Addie resented motherhood and described it like accounting; Dewey Dell grew up in this environment and thus harbored similar feelings towards her own impending motherhood.

Digital Yoknapatawpha was helpful in coming to this conclusion, however, there is not as much flexibility in the visualizations as there are in the search tools. The "Character" and "With Another Character" options would be very informative in the Character-Location visualizations. The existing criteria in that visualization is not specific enough to look closely and compare effectively inter-character relationships, especially those between genders. The visualizations that result from the bipartite graphs and force-directed graphs are informative, but adding an option to select several specific characters would assist greatly in character analysis. While using the visualizations, I learned more about Addie and Dewey Dell's relationship by comparing it with other characters. The search function gave me the specificity I needed, but a visual representation of that level of specificity would have been very helpful to my investigation.

While going about this project, I found myself coming back to a comparison of Dewey Dell and Jewel. The typical mother-daughter relationship seems to be manifested in the emotional connection between Addie and Jewel. If I were to keep investigating in Digital Yoknapatawpha, I'd look for ways to analyze Addie and Jewel's relationship. Then, I'd bring it back into conversation with Dewey Dell and Addie's relationship. Perhaps using the Bipartite Character-Location graph would be helpful as a clear visualization. Using these tools was confusing at first, but they became intuitive after playing around with the different search and visualization options. I think Digital Yoknapatawpha, while not yet perfect, is an innovative way to look at a set of texts (texts that have been familiar to the American literary canon for decades) in entirely new ways.

    Citing this source:
"Using Digital Yoknapatawpha to Investigate Addie and Dewey Dell Bundren's Relationship in As I Lay Dying," by Maddie Daniel. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia, (Date added to project: 2020)