David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
As We Lay Dying

January 19, 2017

I am trying to invoke the spirit of William Faulkner.  It's a pretty good idea anytime, because, in my humble opinion,  he may be America's most important writer. And if we ever needed a good re-write of "As I Lay Dying," it is this actual moment.

"As I Lay Dying" is either, depending upon your viewpoint, I suppose, a hilarious or tragic novel of a poor family trying to get their matriarch's dying (quickly dead) body across Mississippi for burial.  The novel is told from multiple perspectives, including the dying (quickly dead) Addie, her husband, Anse, kids (Darl, Jewel, Cash, Dewey Dell and Vardaman), and the horrified bystanders who watch them on their trek.  Highlights include Cash building her coffin; Vardaman (the youngest, most confused child through all of this), drilling airholes into the coffin (and ultimately into her face), and thinking his dead mother is the fish he caught and cleaned; the family getting swept away by the raging flood of the local river, causing mule team to die, Cash to re-break his leg, and the coffin to break away; the revelation that Jewel is her illegitimate son by the local minister; Darl burning a barn; Dewey Dell trying to buy an abortion drug and being tricked by the drug store clerk into trading sex for a worthless drug; and eventually, Anse, the patriarch, appearing with his new wife and new false teeth immediately after finally burying Addie.

Like I said, you either find it tragic or hilarious.  I am twisted enough to be able to see both.

What is not hilarious is how Faulkner might update the novel.

What's dying is not Addie, but America.

What's being built is not a coffin, but a wall.

All of this is going to be built on the backs of Cash.  Good luck with getting that broken leg fixed and paid for.

On the face of it, what's the difference between fake mouthpiece and hairpiece?

Good luck to all the Dewey Dells of the world trying to get accurate information about pregnancies and abortions. 

The horrified bystanders have already started commenting.

Our Anse ending up with a new bride, a seductive foreign mystery.  I would never want to presume that.

And where is Vardaman, confused simpleton who thinks a human being is some kind of sub-species?  Hmm?

Actually, as I read through parts of "As I Lay Dying," I realize that Faulkner has already said it all.

  • "He set there on the wagon hunched up, blinking, listening to us tell about how quick the bridge went and how high the water was, and I be durn if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself."
  • "It was as though, so long as the deceit ran along quiet and monotonous, all of us let ourselves be deceived, abetting it unawares or maybe through cowardice, since all people are cowards and naturally prefer any kind of treachery because it has a bland outside."
  • "Sometimes I lose faith in human nature for a time; I am assailed by doubt."
  • "Their [mules] gaze sweeps across us with in their eyes a wild, sad, profound and despairing quality as though they had already seen in the thick water the shape of the disaster which they could not speak and we could not see."
  • "It's better to build a tight chicken coop than a shoddy courthouse."
  • "In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his little, dirty, sniffling nose, instead of going home, I would go down the hill to the spring where I could be quiet and hate them."
  • "She has had a hard life, but so does every woman."

I guess I don't really need Faulkner to come back and re-write "As I Lay Dying." We simply need to assign it to every student everywhere.  I know, I know, I should have, could have, chosen "Brave New World" or "Utopia," but history has shown again and again that most people miss their points.