William Faulkner As I Lay Dying

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This week we ventured into the amazing territory of William Faulkner’s re-creation of the world from the inside. He takes us right into the centre of the consciousness of each of his characters Addie Bundren, Anse Bundren and their children (Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, Vardaman and Jewel [fathered by Whitfield]. Each character has their own way of thinking, feeling and seeing the world. Each character suffers in their unique way, divided in some way or other against themselves.

Cash: I made it on the bevel. 1. There is more surface for the nails to grip…. 6. Except. 7. A body is not square like a crosstie……[For Cash the world is to be measured by his carpenter mind, all lines and squares- “Except”… there are always exceptions in the complex world of human beings, that Cash cannot quite reconcile.]

Darl: The lantern sits on the stump. Rusted, grease-fouled, its cracked chimney smeared on one side with a soaring smudge of soot…. [Darl sees what is around him as ugly and deformed, he is self-obsessed and rarely looks objectively at what is around him.]

Vardaman: “Jewel’s mother is a horse,” Darl said. “Then mine can be a fish, cant it, Darl?” I said. Jewel is my brother. “Then mine will have to be a horse, too,” I said….[measures everything by what he hears people say. He is deeply influenced by every utterance.]

In his famous Nobel Prize speech, Faulkner said that

“….Our tragedy today is a general and universal physical fear so long sustained by now that we can even bear it. There are no longer problems of the spirit. There is only the question: When will I be blown up? Because of this, the young man or woman writing today has forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat. He must learn them again….”

By which Faulkner meant that through his work – his writing- he was hoping to bring about a recognition in the young that the only thing worth knowing are the problems of the human heart that make up the burden of who and what we are. Humanity needs self-knowledge, in the great tradition of Socrates whose directive “Know Thyself” is the key to our full humanity.

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Blog topics for Week 9:

  1. CREATIVE: Using any one of Faulkner’s 15 character voices as a guide, create a paragraph in the voice of a character totally different to yourself. Think about people you might have overheard on the train or bus, or someone you might have seen randomly on a street corner. Invent their life, their consciousness in a paragraph. Who knows it might become the start of a larger work!
  2. CRITICAL: Using tutorial work from this week as a starting point, choose any passage from As I Lay Dying and analyse how the language shows the distinctiveness of the character and reveals the purpose of Faulkner’s writing.
  3. CRITICAL: How do you understand Faulkner’s extraordinary statement in his Nobel Prize speech “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself … alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat” ?
  4. CRITICAL:  What do you think Faulkner might have meant by the caption that is around his neck in the image at the top of this blog?
  5. CREATIVE/ CRITICAL: Create your own topic that draws on As I Lay Dying and that also brings aspects of your own experience into the writing.

Enjoy the process!!!

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