The theme of As I Lay Dying centers around a family coming to terms with the death of their mother. Many of Faulkner’s major works center on family issues. Faulkner creates characters who readers can recognize by their all to real human frailties. I was interested to see Faulkner employ the allusion to the Snopes family in this novel - the Snopes first appeared in his novel Satoris. This is a method employed by Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King - you can always count on finding characters from previous stories in the new ones.
The family in As I Lay Dying personifies the dysfunctional aspects of the rural American family. Typically uneducated and depending solely on societal convention to determine behavior, these characters are driven by their ties to one another and then destroyed by those same ties.
Daisy Dew is lost without a mother figure when she needs one the most. In addition, she is tortured emotionally and physically by the one person she should be able to trust - her own brother. Darl is so shattered by (supposedly) his experience in the war that he no longer is capable of feeling empathy towards even his family members. Jewel is so lost that he can not even identify his own sense of self. Cash’s entire being is wound up in being his mother’s savior and ultimately he loses the battle to be protector, thus losing his ‘self’. Poor little Vardaman cannot even count on his family to help him locate his self in time and place. Darl teases him mercilessly at a time when the child should be being comforted not tortured.
The dynamics of this family peer so close to the dynamics of many American families that we find ourselves cringing from the identifiable traits located in our own selves. The stream of consciousness narrative parallels our own thought patterns with its fragmentation, sense of loss, and overall dislocation. Who among us can see that we definitively know who we are and where we are going? We are all struggling to locate ourselves and Faulkner hammers this home with his story of a truly displaced family.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2003, 2006