As I Lay Dying (Text Key 219)


As I Lay Dying, Faulkner's third Yoknapatawpha novel, was published on October 6, 1930. Like the second one, it is very much about family - but a very different class of family. The Compsons in The Sound and the Fury, like the Sartorises and Benbows in Flags in the Dust, belong to Yoknapatawpha's aristocracy, and Faulkner treats their dispossession by the forces of modernity in often tragic tones. The Bundrens, on the other hand, are dirt-poor farmers who live beyond Frenchman's Bend, in the far south-eastern part of the county. The novel's representation of their physical and psychological struggles during their journey with the mother's body through flood and fire is more often either comic or grotesque, though there are also moments of great pathos. The novel seems much less interested than the previous two in the issues of Southern history; its deepest concerns are more broadly human problems: family life and the fact of death.

Artistically the novel continues the type of narrative experimentation Faulkner had displayed in The Sound and the Fury. It consists of fifty-nine separate internal monologues, conveying the thoughts and perspectives of the seven members of the family (including the one who dies during the novel's first day) and eight other people who intersect the story at various points (including the lover who is the secret father of one of the siblings). The narrative excludes any third-person or omniscient point of view, although Darl Bundren, who has by far the most sections, seems both certifiably mad and conventionally omniscient by turns.

Our representation of the novel is based on the 1991 Vintage International paperback edition, which uses Noel Polk's corrected text.

Dating the Story: The narrative occurs during ten days in July. "July" is specified twice. But which July? The novel contains only one other unambiguous temporal marker: Darl's reference to having previously been "in France at the war" (254). Of the dozen July's between the first World War and the novel's publication, we have chosen 1927 as the year that Faulkner was most likely to have had in mind. 1927 was the year of the "Great Mississippi Flood" that devastated much of the region to the west of Yoknapatawpha. It did not, in fact, reach as far east as Lafayette County, the original Yoknapatawpha, but it clearly left a mark on Faulkner's imagination: the interpolated story "Old Man" in Wild Palms (1939) uses the 1927 flood as its setting. But it needs to be said explicitly: the year 1927 is essentially an arbitrary choice. The Bundrens' journey could have occurred during any year between, say, 1925 and 1930.

Mapping the Story: This is among the most perplexing Faulkner texts to plot on a map, and the way he himself located parts of it on his own 1936 map of Yoknapatawpha does not help resolve the problems. The first major challenge to the Bundrens in their quest to carry Addie's body to Jefferson is the flooded river that lies between their house and the town. They spend the first day of the trip looking for a bridge that still stands, and much of the second fording the raging waters with great difficulty. (Curiously, the novel does not bother to explain how the people from Frenchman's Bend who attend Addie's funeral managed to get over and back across the same river.) Once the Bundrens reach the far side, they learn that, because the broken levee at Haley Bottom has flooded the only road, they can't travel directly to town but will need to go through Mottson. The town of Mottson is not only a long way out of their way (allowing the unembalmed corpse to decay still further in the July sun); on both Faulkner's own maps the town is back on the other side of the river they have just worked so hard to get across. The "explanation" our map provides by bending the river southward is essentially a pure speculation, and probably says more about the needs of our project than the work of Faulkner's imagination. Throughout his career he was always willing to sacrifice consistency to the demands of the particular story he was trying to tell, and he probably never felt our anxiety to make sense of the Bundrens' route. In any case, in 1930 he was still at the beginning of the process of creating "Yoknapatawpha" - As I Lay Dying is in fact the first time Faulkner bestows that name on his fictional world (it was Yocona before) - and so its landscape was probably still imaginatively very fluid in his mind. A last pair of examples of this lack of fixity: on that 1936 map the recurring locations of Tull's and Armstid's farms are located in very different places than in this novel.

First Publisher: 
Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith
First Publisher Location: 
New York
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Edit Copy Publisher: 
Vintage International
Edit Copy Publisher Location: 
New York
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How to cite this resource:
Dye, Dotty, Erin Kay Penner, William Teem, Jennie J. Joiner, and John Corrigan. "Faulkner's As I Lay Dying." Added to the project: 2014.  Additional editing 2019-2020: Erin Kay Penner. Digital Yoknapatawpha, University of Virginia,