Lesson Plans: Grades 9-12

Lesson 1: Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: Images of Faulkner and the South

Tools

The Lesson

Introduction

Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

Portrait of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten.

Credit: Courtesy of American Memory at the Library of Congress.

William Faulkner's self-proclaimed masterpiece, As I Lay Dying, originally published in 1930, is a fascinating exploration of the many voices found in a Southern family and community. The following lesson examines the novel's use of multiple voices in its narrative. Faulkner:

often told his stories using multiple narratives, each with their own interests and biases, who allow us to piece together the 'true' circumstances of the story, not as clues in a mystery, but as different melodies in a piece of music that form a crescendo. The conclusion presents a key to understanding the broad panorama surrounding the central event in a way that traditional linear narratives simply are unable to accomplish."
—Evan Goodwin 

The novel's title—As I Lay Dying—invokes a first-person speaker, presumably the voice of the dead mother, Addie Bundren. Yet she only speaks once in the novel, and she is dead, not dying, throughout most of the novel (aside from the beginning chapters). How does Faulkner's form for the novel—a series of competing voices and perspectives presented as a multiple-voice narrative—work for or against the novel's title?

Guiding Questions

  • Who is William Faulkner?
  • What makes "the South" an interesting setting?
  • What does it mean to have multiple voices or perspectives instead of just one?

Learning Objectives

After completing the activity in this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Learn Faulkner's place in American literary history
  • Explore Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South
  • Understand and explore the use of multiple voices in narration

 

Preparation Instructions

Review the curriculum unit overview and the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. If necessary, download and print out any documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Images of Faulkner and the South

Using the following websites, students will (preferably in groups) explore one aspect of or perspective on Faulkner's life and the culture of the South. Students should explore the webpage in detail and then write a brief summary of what they discover. If there are images on the website, students should also analyze them—what kind of image is it (graph, photograph, etc.) and what does it reveal about the subject? What does it obscure? The Document Analysis Worksheets, available via EDSITEment-reviewed Digital Classroom, might aid in this process.

Questions that students might want to consider:

  1. What is the 'voice' of their website? Who wrote it? For what purpose? [these are also good questions for students to ask when viewing any webpage for academic purposes]
  2. What effect does the style or form of the source have on your interpretation of the content? Does it matter if you read a biography, a chronology, a map, or an image? Do certain forms illuminate certain things while obscuring others? In what way?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages to having multiple perspectives on the same subject?

The teacher should have each group present their findings, recording important aspects on the board (it might help the teacher to compile a list of possible findings on his or her own prior to class in order to supplement or confirm student findings).

Web Links:

Allow each group to offer a perspective, writing the information on a black board. After all groups have presented, you should have a list of different "perspectives." Discuss them and put them in the context of Faulkner's life and work. This activity serves two purposes. First, the fact finding aspect simply educates students about Faulkner's life, as well as some history of the South. Secondly, and equally importantly, the teacher can use this opportunity as an introduction to the idea of multiple perspectives or points-of-view in describing the life of one person. They are creating a narrative of Faulkner just as many perspectives help shape the narrative of Addie Bundren and her family.

Finish by reviewing the quotation by Evan Goodwin at the beginning of this lesson:

[Faulkner] often told his stories using multiple narratives, each with their own interests and biases, who allow us to piece together the 'true' circumstances of the story, not as clues in a mystery, but as different melodies in a piece of music that form a crescendo. The conclusion presents a key to understanding the broad panorama surrounding the central event in a way that traditional linear narratives simply are unable to accomplish.

Discuss how Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, like history, can be made up of sometimes competing or confusing bits of knowledge, based on the perspective of the viewer.

Assessment

Ask students to maintain a journal while reading As I Lay Dying, where they can write down thoughts, questions, and ideas about the novel. They should be sure to include page numbers to relevant passages in the text. Their first entry can explore the following question: what makes "the South" a compelling literary setting?

The Basics

Grade Level

9-12

Time Required

1-2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • Literature and Language Arts > Place > American
  • Literature and Language Arts > Genre > Novels
Skills
  • Critical analysis
  • Critical thinking
  • Discussion
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Internet skills
  • Literary analysis
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Writing skills
Authors
  • Sara Tusek (AL)

Resources

Media