Lesson 4: Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying": Burying Addie's Voice

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."
—(Little Blue Light, through EDSITEment reviewed Internet Public Library)

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

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 impact does the sudden voice of a silenced (and dead) character have on the narrative?

How does Addie's voice change the reader's perception of the Bundren family?

Learning Objectives

After completing the activity in this lesson, students will be able to: Understand and explore the use of multiple voices in narration.

Describe in detail Addie Bundren's character both from her own as well as other characters' perspectives.

Examine the Bundren family through the subjective evidence provided by multiple characters.