As I Lay Dying Novel – Literature Essay
Although the novel As I Lay Dying is a work which contains numerous universal lessons as well as countless personal applications, there are a number of these which cannot be ignored. One message that appears to be very important to both the plot and the central theme is that of love. Specifically, Faulkner makes the point that love can be expressed in many ways. This
aspect of the book is a major lesson that can be learned from the actions of the various Bundren family members and their relationship to Addie Bundren.
Often times, people in our society suppose that, because a person, be it a family member, romantic interest, or other relation, does not express their love to someone in literal terms, i.e. saying, “I love you,” that the person feels little or no love for them. Other people can see love when it is expressed not only in literal but in related ways, such as kindness and service. Nevertheless, as Faulkner shows in this novel, love for another can be expressed in various and extraordinary fashions. To begin with, one must examine the actual love the members of the family possess for Addie.
Addie Bundren extracts a promise from her family, “when Darl was born I asked Anse to promise to take me back to Jefferson when I died…” When she indeed does die, all of the members of the family go on the trek to Jefferson, but each for different reasons. This displays the inherent love they have for their mother. Dewey Dell has no love for her mother, in fact, she is only glad to go on the trip because she needs an abortion. Darl says to her, “‘You want her to die so you can get to town: is that it?’”
Darl himself has no specific reason expressed in the novel to want to go to Jefferson, and although he probably really loves Addie, despite his statement, “I cannot love my mother because I have no mother,” he accompanies the family centrally for respect of the promise she has left them with. The statement he makes shows how he apparently can feel the favoritism his mother has toward her “Jewel.”
Jewel is truly the only character in the novel who clearly shows outward signs of love towards Addie. Although these signs are generally symbolic and very deep, they are there. The only way Jewel knows how to express himself is through anger and violence. This he displays countless times throughout the novel, with his physical actions and his verbal assaults, such as the one against the negroes and the white man. “I can see his [Jewel’s] ears taking on a still deeper tone of furious red… When we pass the negroes their heads turn suddenly with that expression of shock and instinctive outrage. ‘Great God,’ one says; ‘what they got in that wagon?’ Jewel whirls. ‘Sons of bitches,’ he says.” This passage, for example, shows how defensive Jewel gets when normal people react to the obvious reeking stench of his deceased but beloved mother. Jewel is very violent and vulgar in his love. When he, concerning his mother’s grave, speaks, “Who the hell cant dig a damn hole in the ground?” His father, Anse, who apparently believes in only literal love, replies, “‘It aint respectful, talking that way about her grave,’ pa says. ‘You all dont know what it is. You never pure loved her, none of you.’” This statement is ironic in that Jewel is the one who loves his mother and Anse is traveling to Jefferson not for love or even respect, but for a selfish reason: “now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort, it will.”
Additionally, Jewel shows his love for his mother through a zoological conduit—his horse. The horse is a symbol of Jewel’s love for Addie as declared, “Jewel’s mother is a horse,” countless times throughout the novel. When they depart on their trip, Anse makes the comment that “I told him not to bring that horse out of respect for his dead ma, because it wouldn’t look right, him prancing along on a durn circus animal and her wanting us all to be in the wagon with her that sprung from her flesh and blood…” Again, this is another ironic statement by Jewel’s hypocritical and disrespectful father. In truth, to Jewel, his horse represents his mother, and so, by riding it, he is much closer to her than he could ever be in the wagon next to her dead body.
When the Gillespie’s barn is burning, Jewel rushes in to save his mother from burning, it is of importance to note that he rescues the horses first. “he [Jewel] leaps toward the stall where the horse screams… he appears, his back arched, the muscles ridged through his garment as he drags the horse out by its head…He drags it on, slowly, terrifically… and beats the maddened horse on out of the door.” It is only after he has done this feat that he goes back in and grabs the coffin containing Addie’s dead body. “Jewel runs crouching to the far end of the coffin and stoops to it… We see his shoulders strain as he upends the coffin and slides it single-handed from the saw-horses.”
Vardaman, the youngest son, although he loves his mother, is too young and inexperienced with life to understand the scope of what has happened. He wants to go to town to look at a toy train in the toy store. He says, “We are going to town. Dewey Dell says it [the toy train] wont be sold because it belongs to Santa Claus and he taken it back with him until next Christmas. Then it will be behind the glass again, shining with waiting.” He, like Jewel, also symbolically transfers his mother’s spirit into an animal; in this case, a fish. Again, because of his youth and limited experience, he does not accept the fact that his mother is gone. Instead, as he sees her dead body, he consistently talks about how the body in the box is not his mother. “My mother is not in the box. My mother does not smell like that. My mother is a fish.” Vardaman loves his mother very much, and so cannot bear the thought of his mother being gone forever. Although he never literally talks about how he loves his mother, he always expresses it in his own way.
It is often difficult to tell, from actions or words, if one person loves another. However, one very moving point that Faulkner made in this novel is that love can be expressed in more ways than simply saying, “I love you.” Although these three words can be in themselves very moving and meaningful, to many it is very important and comforting to know that the human psyche is capable of deeper and more intense feelings than what is literally apparent. Such a concept can be learned and more greatly comprehended from reading this novel.