As I Lay Dying: William Faulkner’s Irony and Wit
A short novel, written in six weeks on the night shift, As I Lay Dying presents the story of a dying mother, her death, and the tremendous struggle that her bereaved undertakes to fulfill her wish to be buried, far away in the place of her birth. In acquiescence to her wishes, the family undertake a long and difficult journey, by horse and a broken down cart, finally burying their mother’s body.
The novel is stylistically unique in that it presents individual chapters from the perspective of each of the characters. The first half of the novel unfolds under the heavy anticipation of the death of the mother, and of the preparations that are being undertaken in the wake of her immanent death. With her death, we are taken on an incredible journey, washed out roads, the ever stinking corpse, inevitable delays, through towns that are strange, ‘modern’, highlighting their own destitution.
The mother is buried, but it is only then we read the chapter which tells her story. Her narrative describes all the events taking place around her – but reveals the core futility of the entire situation, and all that has occurred, in light of her utter hatred towards her entire family and her disdain for all of their work and preparations.
The irony of the narrative, a tapestry of dutiful actions undertaken for the sake of an unattainable ideal, is shattered by the dark wit of a dying mother.