As I Lay Dying Critical Essay

A masterpiece by William Faulkner called “As I Lay Dying” was published in 1930, and soon became very popular with the public due to its innovative and original style. The novel consists of 59 sections which are in the form of monologues, and 15 different people narrate the story from their viewpoint. In the novel the author depicts the Bundren family as they go through an unfortunate period of their life – illness and death of Addie Bundren, who is the wife of Anse Bundren and the mother to Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman.  Thus, all the characters take part in narrating the story, and that’s why the events seem a bit different because of the differences in viewpoints of the main characters.

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The main point of this essay is to speak about one of the main characters – Darl Bundren, who is the second child in the Bundren family. However, before analyzing his traits and behavior, it is necessary to say a couple of words about the content of the novel. The story takes place in the little county called Yoknapatawpha, where a very poor rural family is getting ready for the death of their mother, – Addie. Being very ill, the women are expected to die in the nearest future, and for this reason, her oldest son Cash is making a coffin for her, which happens right in front of her bedroom window.  Addie’s younger sons Jewel and Darl leave the town, and upon their arrival, they realize that their mother is already dead and they have to start a journey to Jefferson, where the woman wanted to be buried. Their journey starts with some absurd events, as such when Vardaman, the youngest child in the family, trying to make holes in the coffin injures the face of his mother. During the trip to Jefferson, all members of Bundren family seem to care very little about the death of Addie, because Anse is more concerned with the future purchase of false teeth, and the only daughter of Bundrens is trying to buy some medicine to abort her undesirable pregnancy.  Only Darl Bundren seems to care about the real purpose of their journey – burial of his mother. Because the Bundrens face a lot of obstacles while going to Jefferson Darl Bundren finds it difficult to see how his dead mother’s body suffers and decides to help her. He doesn’t find any other ways besides burning the coffin with Addie Bundren while staying overnight at the house of Gillespie. For this reason, he sets fire to Gillespie’s barn, however, his brother Jewel “saves” the corpse of the mother, and she is buried in Jefferson the next day.

Darl Bundren is the brightest character in the novel, whom the readers meet more often than others, as he narrates the story in nineteen sections of the novel. Darl Bundren is a poetic and understandable character, despite, the fact that he is described as “queer, lazy, pottering about the place no better than Anse” [1] by some of the main characters. From the very beginning, he doesn’t like the idea of his mother being buried outside their hometown, as he probably knows how much pain it will cause to her body. However, the other members of the family seem rather comfortable with it. Darl is depicted to be not very communicative, but very sensitive and intelligent because he is the only one who knows about the pregnancy of his sister and the fact that his brother Jewel is illegitimate. The author of the novel depicts Darl to be very discerning as he can describe his mother’s death without seeing how it happens. Other members of the family don’t wish to communicate with Darl, because of their fear that he might get to know their secrets. When Dewey Dell realizes that Darl is aware of her secret pregnancy, she is the first one to deliver up her brother to the people from the asylum after the arson. Darl Bundren is disturbed by the death of his mother more than other members of the family. He is sensitive, and he realizes that this trip to Jefferson will cause only harm to his dead mother, thinking that her only wish now is to be buried somewhere and to be out of people’s sight. That’s why he doesn’t help to drag the coffin out of the water and tries to burn it later. Of course, this is not the best way to help his mother, but Darl is very much traumatized, and, thus, cannot find any other way out.  Faulkner very accurately depicts the hurting soul of Darl, which makes the readers sympathize with him, despite Darl’s sometimes weird actions.

Darl Bundren is a rather controversial character, because, on the one hand, he is caring, intelligent and sensitive, and on the other, he is crazy, rude and emotionally unstable.    


1. Faulkner, William. “Novels, 1930-1935: As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, Pylon” Library of America 1985

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