Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: Form of a Funeral

"The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time" -- Addie Bundren in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

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 on Faulkner

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?

Students will also explore the context of the novel, examine background information on social and economic conditions in the rural South in the first decades of the twentieth century. This background will enable the teacher and students to "place" Faulkner's novel historically and sociologically; Faulkner wrote about his own time and a place he knew well. Faulkner's life will be presented, briefly, so that parallels can be drawn between his life and the life depicted in the text. Faulkner grew up in a small Mississippi town in a middle-class family and saw in his surroundings perfect models for characters like the Bundren family and their neighbors. In the lessons of this curriculum unit, students will

  • Explore the use of multiple voices in narration
  • Learn about the social and economic conditions of the rural South in the 1920s and about William Faulkner's life.
  • Read, annotate, and discuss the text in class, individually and in groups.

Guiding Questions

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?

What does the final portrait of the Bundrens look like? Are they as rotten as Addie's corpse, full of despair and dissolution? Or are they a tribute to the vigor and resolve of a Southern family, who successfully complete an overwhelming task? Does Faulkner truly resolve this issue?

Learning Objectives

Define Faulkner's place in American literary history

Describe Faulkner's "South" in the context of the historical South

Understand and explore the use of multiple voices in narration

Examine the Bundren family through the subjective evidence provided by a multiplicity of characters