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As i lay dying characters words and insight to underlying

As I Lay Dying: Character's Words And Insight To Underlying Meanings

Fulfilling a promise they had made to their mother, Addie, Cash, Darl,

Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman, in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, journey

across the Mississippi countryside to bring her body to be buried in Jefferson,

alongside her immediate family. Each one, in turn, narrates the events of this

excursion as they are perceived. Though all of the family members are going

through the same experiences, each one expresses what they see and how they

feel by exercising their individual powers and limitations of language. What

each character says as well as how he/she says it gives insight into that

character's underlying meanings.

Darl, for example, uses his linguistic skills to gain power as narrator.

He possesses the ability to pick up on things unsaid and to read other

people's actions. Dewey Dell describes his intuitiveness when she says that "

he said he knew without the words, and I knew he knew because if he had said

he knew with words I would not have believed...and that's why I can talk to him

with knowing with hating with because he knows" (27). He uses his gift of

realizing things without them having to actually be told to him to gain

credibility with the reader. Who would doubt a narrator who possesses that

type of adroitness? Also, his language is clear and reflective. He uses

similes and metaphors and appears to have an acute awareness of spatial

relationships. Darl's sophisticated perception and poetic linguistics give him

the means of reaching for and maintaining his role as a competent observer and

reporter. However, his position does create certain problems for his siblings.

Tull describes Darl's "look" as being uncanny.

"He is looking at me. He dont say

nothing; just looks at me with them

queer eyes of hisn that makes folks

talk. I always say it aint never

been what he done so much or said or

anything so much as how he looks at

you. It's like he had got into the

inside of you, someway. Like somehow

you was looking at yourself and your

doing outen his eyes." (125)

It is the same penetrating gaze that gives Darl so much power that

makes the others around him so uncomfortable, especially Dewey Dell. She feels

that his strange knowledge of what has not been said is an invasion of her

privacy. "The land runs out of Darl's eyes; they swim to pin points. They

begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone:

I sit naked on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail" (121).

If Dewey Dell interprets his "knowing" as crossing some personal boundary that

she created then that would explain her fantasizing about killing Darl and why

she reported his setting fire to the barn. In fact, everything about Dewey

Dell is extremely personal. Whereas her brothers report what happened, she

tells how she feels about it. She uses language not as a means of describing

but rather as expressing.

"He could do so much for me if he just

would. He could do everything for me.

It's like everything in the world for

me is inside a tub full of guts, so

that you wonder how there can be any

room in it for anything else very

important. He is a big tub of guts and

I am a little tub of guts and if there

is not any room for anything else

important in a big tub of guts, how can

it be room in a little tub of guts.

But I know it is there because God gave

women a sign when something has happened

bad." (58)

She is not describing the sun as "poised like a bloody egg upon a crest

of thunderheads" (40) like Darl would or explaining how to do something in a

step by step manner like Cash. Dewey Dell is attempting to express her

confusion and her fears. She is a young girl who became pregnant and doesn't

know what to do about it. She knows she can't tell her family and she has no

means of taking are of herself. Instead of using language to describe the

world around her, she uses it to show how she feels on the inside. Language

is a personal thing to Dewey Dell and though she does not possess Darl's

polished quality of speaking, she demonstrates its power as well as he does.

Cash, like Darl, uses language as a means of gaining authority. He

begins the novel as not having any control because Darl possessed the role of

narrator. His first narration is in the form of a list. The second and third

are not even complete thoughts because nobody takes him seriously. He has no

power as a narrator; he is simply a character. It is not until Darl goes

insane, losing his role. The weight of that role is then passed onto Cash who,

in his last two narrations, finally has the ability to tell things as he sees

them. Language has importance to Cash in of itself. It gives him what he

previously lacked - the simple right to express what he thinks.

"Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere

a right to say when a man is crazy and

when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint

none of us pure crazy and aint none of

us pure sane until the balance of us

talks him that-a-way. It's like it aint

so much what a fellow does, but it's like

the way the majority of folks is looking

at him when he does it." (233)

Whereas language is a power to Darl, Dewey Dell, and Cash, it is a

limitation to their mother. She feels that words made up to describe certain

experiences are inadequate to the experiences themselves. She says that "words

dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at" (171). Phrases like "

motherhood" and "love" according to Addie, are completely separate from what

they actually mean; they are simply tools. How could the balding man wearing

glasses who spent hours staring at the alphabet to spell out the word "pride"

know that that's what a mother would feel when she's watching her child act out

the lead part in the school play? And how could that brilliant young woman

just out of college possibly understand the word "death." It has no meaning to

her - it is only a term used to describe the transition from living to

nonliving. Language is crucial to all of Addie's children, except Jewel, to

mark who they are but it is experience that matters to their mother.

The power and limitation of language can be used to explore different

perspectives of the same events. Although Darl, Dewey Dell, Cash, and Addie

all saw the same things, they each use different methods of expressing them to

portray what is important. The funcion of language is different for each

character but plays an equal part for each.

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