Addie Bundren In William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
Addie Bundren in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying
Woman is the source and sustainer of virtue and also a prime
source of evil. She can be either; because she is, as man is not,
always a little beyond good and evil. With her powerful natural
drive and her instinct for the concrete and personal, she does not
need to agonize over her decisions. There is no code for her to
master, no initiation for her to undergo. For this reason she has
access to a wisdom which is veiled from man; and man’s codes,
good or bad, are always, in their formal abstraction, a little absurd
in her eyes . . . 1
In William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying,” all roads lead to Addie. As Diane
York Blaine aptly observes: “The title informs us that this is her story.”2 It
is very surprising, then, that Addie, the center of the novel, was so slighted
by the lack of criticism regarding her from the first half of the century. The
reason for this is self-reflexively connected to Addie’s dilemma in the book.
Just as Addie is unable to define herself through anything but words that represent
the oppressive patriarchal society to which she is opposed, early criticism
only evaluated her in these terms, focusing less on Addie’s first person
narrative, and more on what other characters in the novel (the men) had to
say about her. However, the changing social and political tides of the 1960’s
and 1970’s gave rise to feminist criticism, which was at least partially able to
break out of the patriarchal infrastructure, and evaluate her under a new set
of values, giving new insight into her character, and thus, to the novel as a
There is a conspicuous lack of early criticism regarding Addie’s function in
the novel. It is possible that critics felt less need to discuss her character simply
because of her physical absence from a vast majority of the story. Addie
narrates a significantly shorter portion of the novel than the rest of the
Bundren family (only one chapter, in fact), and her death occurs well before
the story’s conclusion. For these reasons, earlier criticism evaluated Addie not
as an individual, but in relation to the other members of the Bundren clan,
specifically, the men. Overall, Addie’s importance to the novel was grievously
underestimated by early critics such as Edwin Muir, who observes:
We are told far more about Addie Bundren’s corpse . . . than
about herself . . . The most interesting character is the corpse, not
in its former incarnation as a human being with feelings, affections,
and a soul, but simply in its dead, or rather gruesomely
alive state . . .3
Just as Anse is unable to discern the difference between words and acts, Muir
is unable to recognize Addie in anything but a symbol, defined by the physical
presence of her dead body.
Other critics were more overt in their patriarchal assessments. James
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This Is A Character Analysis On Addie Bundren In William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying."
As I Lay Dying and Decomposing
William Faulkner is one of the most published major American authors in the twentieth century. He uses many literary techniques that often times disorient the reader, but that is what makes his writing so unique. As I Lay Dying is a literary work with many voices and Faulkner's style seems to vary according to whichever character is narrating the section in his fifty-nine-section novel. The major technique that Faulkner uses in many of the sections is called "stream of consciousness." This is when the author writes as though he is inside the mind of the characters. Since a normal person's mind can jump from one event to the next, stream of consciousness tries to capture this idea (Cliffnotes.com). In many ways "As I Lay Dying" is a novel about language, speech and interpersonal communication, and in this paper I will show how Addie Bundren's soliloquy reflects upon that.
This story details a journey in which the Bundren family embarks on to bury the matriarch of their family, Addie. Addie wants to be buried in the family plot in the town of Jefferson. Each of the family members have their own reasons and motives for the journey but they agree to go on the adventure nonetheless. The first problem we must decipher is the reason why Addie insists that Anse promise to take her back to Jefferson. From the very beginning of her life, Addie feels that she has been neglected and that her father was unaware of her presence. He did not seem to notice her nor care for her. Moreover, early in Addie's section she tells us of her abhorrence towards her students, "I would go down the hill to the spring where I could be quiet and hate them" (Faulkner169). Addie hates being a schoolteacher and feels lonely around her students with "dirty snuffling" noses. She loved when they made mistakes because it gave her a reason to whip them. "Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever" (Faulkner 170). Here we see how Addie physically makes her presence known to her students by whipping them. She wants to let it be known that she is a person, not just someone taking up space.
Then when she marries Anse, she feels that she failed to make her presence on him or her children. She is honest with the reader and says that her family was not filled with an abundance of love. So she makes it her business to assert her presence in the family and in the world. "Then I realized that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love, and that the same word tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that he would never know I was taking revenge" (Faulkner 172). So this difficult journey to Jefferson is Addie's last chance at forcing her presence on everyone,...
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