As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions)

As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions)

by William Faulkner, Michael Gorra
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Pub. Date:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.


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As I Lay Dying (Norton Critical Editions)

Long been recognized not only as one of William Faulkner’s greatest works, but also as the most accessible of his major novels.
This Norton Critical Edition is based on the 1985 corrected text and is accompanied by detailed explanatory annotations.
“Backgrounds and Contexts” is divided into three sections, each of which includes a concise introduction by Michael Gorra that carefully frames the issues presented, with particular attention to As I Lay Dying’s place in Faulkner’s literary life. “Contemporary Reception” reprints American, English, and French reviews by Clifton Fadiman, Henry Nash Smith, Edwin Muir, and Maurice Coindreau, among others, along with Valery Larbaud’s never-before-translated preface to the first French edition of the novel. “The Writer and His Work” examines Faulkner’s claim to have written the novel in six weeks without changing a word. It includes his comments on the book’s composition along with his later thoughts on and changing opinions of it, sample pages from the manuscript, his Nobel Prize address, and the little-known short story in which he first used the title. “Cultural Context” reprints an essay by Carson McCullers and an excerpt from James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men along with other materials that address questions of Southern Agrarianism and the Southern grotesque.
“Criticism” begins with the editor’s introduction to As I Lay Dying’s critical history and scholarly reception. Eleven major essays are provided by Olga W. Vickery, Cleanth Brooks, Calvin Bedient, André Bleikasten, Eric Sundquist, Stephen M. Ross, Doreen Fowler, Patrick O’Donnell, Richard Gray, John Limon, and Donald M. Kartiganer.
A Chronology and a Selected Bibliography are also included.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393931389
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 12/04/2009
Series: Norton Critical Editions Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 95,182
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 14 - 17 Years

About the Author

William Faulkner (1897–1962) is the Nobel Prize–winning author of
The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, among other works.

Michael Gorra teaches English at Smith College. His books include After Empire, The Bells in Their Silence, and, as editor, the Norton Critical Edition of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. He lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Date of Birth:

September 25, 1897

Date of Death:

July 6, 1962

Place of Birth:

New Albany, Mississippi

Place of Death:

Byhalia, Mississippi

Read an Excerpt

Jewel and I come up from the field, following the path in single file. Although I am fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cottonhouse can see Jewel's frayed and broken straw hat a full head above my own.

The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision.

The cottonhouse is of rough logs, from between which the chinking has long fallen. Square, with a broken roof set at a single pitch, it leans in empty and shimmering dilapidation in the sunlight, a single broad window in two opposite walls giving onto the approaches of the path. When we reach it I rum and follow the path which circles the house. jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking straight ahead, steps in a single stride through the window. Still staring straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down, and steps in a single stride through the opposite window and into the path again just as I come around the comer. In single file and five feet apart and jewel now in front, we go on up the path toward the foot of the bluff.

Tull's wagon stands beside the spring, hitched to the rail, the reins wrapped about the seat stanchion. In the wagon bed are two chairs. Jewel stops at the spring and takes the gourd from the willow branch and drinks. I pass him and mount thepath, beginning to bear Cash's saw.

When I reach the top he has quit sawing. Standing in a litter of chips, he is fitting two of the boards together. Between the shadow spaces they are yellow as gold, like soft gold, bearing on their flanks in smooth undulations the marks of the adze blade: a good carpenter, Cash is. He holds the two planks on the trestle, fitted along the edges in a quarter of the finished box. He kneels and squints along the edge of them, then he lowers them and takes up the adze. A good carpenter.

Addie Bundren could not want a better one, a better box to lie in. it will give her confidence and comfort. I go on to the house, followed by the

Chuck. Chuck. Chuck.

of the adze

What People are Saying About This

Ralph D. Ellison

For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must return to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics.

Edmund Wilson

Faulkner… belongs to the full-dressed post-Flaubert group of Conrad, Joyce, and Proust.

Robert Penn Warren

For all the range of effect, philosophical weight, originality of style, variety of characterization, humor, and tragic intensity [Faulkner's works] are without equal in our time and country.

Reading Group Guide

1. Which are the most intelligent and sympathetic voices in the novel? With whom do you most and least identify? Is Faulkner controlling your closeness to some characters and not others? How is this done, given the seemingly equal mode of presentation for all voices?

2. Even the reader of such an unusual book may be surprised to come upon Addie Bundren's narrative on page 169, if only because Addie has been dead since page 48. Why is Addie's narrative placed where it is, and what is the effect of hearing Addie's voice at this point in the book? Is this one of the ways in which Faulkner shows Addie's continued "life" in the minds and hearts of her family? How do the issues raised by Addie here relate to the book as a whole?

3. Faulkner allows certain characters--especially Darl and Vardaman--to express themselves in language and imagery that would be impossible, given their lack of education and experience in the world. Why does he break with the realistic representation of character in this way?

4. What makes Darl different from the other characters? Why is he able to describe Addie's death [p. 48] when he is not present? How is he able to intuit the fact of Dewey Dell's pregnancy? What does this uncanny visionary power mean, particularly in the context of what happens to Darl at the end of the novel? Darl has fought in World War I; why do you think Faulkner has chosen to include this information about him? What are the sources and meaning of his madness?

5. Anse Bundren is surely one of the most feckless characters in literature, yet he alone thrives in the midst of disaster. How does he manage to command the obedience and cooperation of his children? Whyare other people so generous with him? He gets his new teeth at the end of the novel and he also gets a new wife. What is the secret of Anse's charm? How did he manage to make Addie marry him, when she is clearly more intelligent than he is?

6. Some critics have spoken of Cash as the novel's most gentle character, while others have felt that he is too rigid, too narrow-minded, to be
sympathetic. What does Cash's list of the thirteen reasons for beveling the edges of the coffin tell us about him? What does it tell us about his feeling for his mother? Does Cash's carefully reasoned response to Darl's imprisonment seem fair to you, or is it a betrayal of his brother?

7. Jewel is the result of Addie's affair with the evangelical preacher Whitfield (an aspect of the plot that bears comparison with Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter). When we read Whitfield's section, we realize that Addie has again allied herself with a man who is not her equal. How would you characterize the preacher? What is the meaning of this passionate alliance, now repudiated by Whitfield? Does Jewel know who his father is?

8. What is your response to the section spoken by Vardaman, which states simply, "My mother is a fish"? What sort of psychological state or process does this declaration indicate? What are some of the ways in which Vardaman insists on keeping his mother alive, even as he struggles to understand that she is dead? In what other ways does the novel show characters wrestling with ideas of identity and embodiment?

9. This is a novel full of acts of love, not the least of which is the prolonged search in the river for Cash's tools. Consider some of the other
ways that love is expressed among the members of the family. What compels loyalty in this family? What are the ways in which that loyalty is betrayed? Which characters are most self-interested?

10. The saga of the Bundren family is participated in, and reflected upon, by many other characters. What does the involvement of Doctor Peabody, of Armstid, and of Cora and Vernon Tull say about the importance of community in country life? Are the characters in the town meant to provide a contrast with country people?

11. Does Faulkner deliberately make humor and the grotesque interdependent in this novel? What is the effect of such horrific details as Vardaman's accidental drilling of holes in his dead mother's face? Of Darl and Vardaman listening to the decaying body of Addie "speaking"? Of Vardaman's anxiety about the growing number of buzzards trying to get at the coffin? Of Cash's bloody broken leg, set in concrete and suppurating in the heat? Of Jewel's burnt flesh? Of the "cure" that Dewey Dell is tricked into?

12. In one of the novel's central passages, Addie meditates upon the distance between words and actions: "I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth, clinging to it, so that after a while the two lines are too far apart for the same person to straddle from one to the other; and that sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words" [pp. 173-74]. What light does this passage shed upon the meaning of the novel? Aren't words necessary in order to give form to the story of the Bundrens? Or is Faulkner saying that words--his own chosen medium--are inadequate?

13. What does the novel reveal about the ways in which human beings deal with death, grieving, and letting go of our loved ones?

Comparing The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, andAbsalom, Absalom!

1. In all three of these novels the family is central to structure, plot, and meaning. It is the source of grief and identity as well as the locus of all individual psychic struggles. Do you see all of Faulkner's characters eternally trapped within their familial roles? How do the families differ in each of these novels, and how are they similar? How do the particularly important symbolic roles of the mother and the father differ from book to book?

2. Faulkner tries to make himself disappear in these works. Instead of using the traditional third-person narrator that most readers associate with the author, he directs a chorus of voices that intertwine, complement, and contradict one another. As readers, we must rely on what we learn from the characters themselves as to time, place, plot, and matters of cause and effect. Why do you think Faulkner prefers to make his characters speak "directly" to his readers? How does this technique affect your ability to believe in the worlds that exist in these novels? How would more direct intervention by an authorial voice change your experience?

3. In which of these works do you think Faulkner's style, his use of language, and his formal innovations are most finely tuned, most powerfully worked out? In which do you feel that his stylistic quirks are most annoying, most distracting?

4. All of these novels question our assumptions about time as regular, linear, sequential, predictable. What are some of the ways in which time is disrupted in these works?

5. The Compson family of The Sound and the Fury (1929) plays a central role in Absalom, Absalom! (1936) as well. Does Faulkner want readers of Absalom, Absalom! to assume that Quentin's involvement in the Sutpen story is one of the reasons for his suicide, which takes place three months later in The Sound and the Fury? Do you see a seamless characterization of Quentin and Mr. Compson in the two books?

6. Faulkner is interested in the causes and effects of extreme psychological pressures, as we see in Quentin and Benjy Compson, Henry and Thomas Sutpen, Rosa Coldfield, Vardaman and Darl Bundren, and many other characters in these novels. What are some of the forms that psychopathology takes in Faulkner's world?

7. Faulkner has often been accused of an extremely misogynistic representation of women. Consider Caddy Compson, Dilsey, Dewey Dell and Addie Bundren, Judith Sutpen, Rosa Coldfield, the wife of Charles St. Valery Bon, and other female characters in these three novels. How would you describe Faulkner's notion of the feminine, as compared with the masculine? Do you agree with the critic Irving Howe that "Faulkner's inability to achieve moral depth in his portraiture of young women clearly indicates a major failing as a novelist"?

8. Is the work of Faulkner necessarily different in its impact depending upon whether one is from the North or the South, whether one is black or white?

Customer Reviews

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As I Lay Dying 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 141 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is an outstanding book, however, it is extremely confusing. My English teacher, who required that we read the book our freshmen year in high school, told us that it's usually a book meant for grad students to read. The book is confusing, but Faulkner's style is unique and will definitely influence your own. His novel requires readers to stop and judge characters, it is necessary to constantly analyze. This is an excellent read for budding writers such as myself, because his style has had so much of an impact on my own. Read it not for enjoyment, because it is boring, but for the improvement of your own writing! It'll improve it so much, you'll notice it yourself.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When reading Faulkner, you always wonder whether the book doesn't make sense or if you are just not as intellectual as is he. I like to think I'm not as intelluctual so my brain is stiumlated by the endless meaning and layers within his books. As I Lay Dying is not a happy story, but that is kind of evident within the title. The syntax and diction used is spectatcular. You find meaning in the way the text is written and the format of the words. In order to understand the novel, you have to read with a pencil in hand, underlining anything that seems important or significant because it most likely is signifcant. The characters are all narrators to the book. I believe, 17 total different point of views. The tricky part is figuring out whose story it is and what is the main theme. I always look at the book and try to figure out what is the meaning. As I Lay Dying gave me endless meanings and i loved being challenged to find them. Although it is simple with language and style, it is close to impossible to decipher the deeper meanings. You constantly second guess yourself because it is hard to know what is "the right answer." But after reading I felt accomplished, and dare i say, smart. There are so many meanings and none that probably come close to Faulkner's original message but it is worth discovering your own meaning to the story. I believe not only this book but all of his books give readers the opportunity to gain their own message within the text. Faulkner is brilliant and I recommend all his books. They are challenging and I believe are best with discussion groups just so you can hear what other meanings are found. I really enjoyed this book it is short, easy to read just hard to decipher bigger meaning. I find it challenging yet enjoyable. I hope you enjoy as much as I did :)
BunnyFace More than 1 year ago
So, I just finished reading "As I Lay Dying" this morning on my way to work. Let me start off saying that this is the second novel that I have read by William Faulkner. I became intrigued by Faulkner's works when a co-worker told me that "The Sound and The Fury" is frequently called one of the toughest novels to read, and he would be impressed if I finished it. So of course I read and somewhat followed it, and feel comfortable in saying that I enjoyed it. That said, starting with "The Sound and The Fury" made reading "As I Lay Dying" feel like a cake walk. I completely and totally enjoyed this novel, and would read it again as well as recommend it to friends. Now I feel prepared to take on more of his on my list is "Sanctuary".
whitt1993 More than 1 year ago
In the book As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Addie, a wife and mother, becomes ill and dies. After giving birth to her second child, Addie had requested to be buried in Jefferson, Mississippi. Addie's husband, Anse, respects his wife's request and he devotes himself to getting her buried in her hometown of Jefferson. Anse does not realize at this time that the journey to Jefferson will be a long and challenging one, for many unfortunate events happen to the family before they reach their destination. One of these events being that all of the bridges on the way to Jefferson have either been flooded or washed away. The book also takes place in the 1920's so all they have to get her there is a wagon and horses which makes the trip even more challenging. Instead of having one set narrator, the author chose to let each person in the family and all of the people they encounter tell the story through their feelings and how they experience the events that take place. Addie is a mother to Dewey Dell, Jewel, Darl, Cash, and Vardaman who all react to their mother's death differently. All of the children are dynamic characters in the book. As I Lay Dying shows how everyone is affected by Addie's death. In my opinion, As I Lay Dying is a book worth reading. Faulkner makes the reader think about objects and ideas different from a way that they are used to. His use of stream of conscientiousness narration with each character telling the story allows the reader to choose whose story is the most reliable. Finally, his themes are ones that the reader can relate to and make their own opinion on. Towards the beginning of the book Addie's husband, Anse, says, "The Lord put roads for travelling: why he laid them down flat on the earth. When he aims for something to be always a-moving, he makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when he aims for something to stay put, he makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man. And so he never aimed for folks to live on a road, because which gets there first, I says, the road or the house?" (Page 35-36). Although from this quote we can question Anse's intelligence, this is one of my favorite descriptions because you have to actually think about what he is saying. Most people don't base an objects movement on whether its upright or not. The biggest theme that I recognize in the book is the questioning of existence and identity. Darl says, "Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. (Page 80-81). This confusing quote is important because after Addie dies Darl starts questioning the existence of everything. He believes that since his mother is dead she is now a "was" and not an "is". He thinks that if she doesn't exist then he has no mother and he cannot exist. Existence is something that everyone has their own opinion on and I can relate to this theme and Darl because if certain things did not exist I know that my life could not go on. The author often uses quotes like this and his words appear to be a riddle that you have to sort out and decipher. This language makes the reader actually think about what is being said and when you do figure out what it is actually saying it does make sense.
McCarthy92 More than 1 year ago
This is my first Faulker book and I now have promised myself to collect all of his books alog with Cormac McCarthy, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. First of all, I love the whole plot and technique of this novel and all the characters are all amazing. I read one review that said that people say they like this book just to sound smart, but I thought to myself, maybe he/she just had trouble reading it and gave up. I had trouble with some parts of the book so I just read the spark notes after reading that one troubling section.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It's probably most unlike anything you've ever read, as it is more of a collection of thoughts than a novel. The story centers around a family coping with their mother's death, and their journey to take her to be buried. It is very difficult to establish a sense of the characters in the beginning, but once you've figured it all out, the book becomes a many-layered and intricate beast of a beauty. It yields layers and layers of nuance and insight, creating a glorious web of intricacy and philosophy that is absolutely astounding. If you have a few weeks, take up this book. Read it, ponder it, and read it once more. Faulkner truly brings the human experience to life. If you read it with care -- with open eyes and open mind -- what you reap from this novel will last you a lifetime
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book AS I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner is written in a type of writing that only he could pull off. It's nothing like you've read before. It shows how the family copes through carrying their mother's rotting body to the town she wants to be buried in. It's very confusing in the beginning but once you get the jist of it it becomes a little easier to understand. What I found was hardest was figuring out who was who. You¿ll find that this book is harder to put down the deeper you get into the book. As you go through the family¿s tragedies and mishaps you¿ll find that it brings them closer in the end. In the end, although their mother is missed, the family must learn to adapt without her.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He wais
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks in boredly and loojs at sam
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She was walking around the edge of her pool in her Bathingsuite
Chancie More than 1 year ago
Very well written and interesting, even though not a whole lot happens. Good!
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