Uploaded by Juan Roa

Teleology in William Faulkner; a Literary Analysis of As I Lay Dying through Individual Psychology

Juan Pablo Roa
Professor Ellen Perry
ENG 232
5th December 2021
Teleology in William Faulkner; a Literary Analysis of As I Lay Dying through Individual
As human beings gain understanding of and control over the natural world, their
treatment of human psychology likewise may be treated in an increasingly deterministic and
technocratic manner. This means that electing the direction of technological advances, especially
those dealing with the organization of human life, may become increasingly pragmatic, datadriven— a tenuous endeavor considering the oceanic mystery and threat of human
consciousness. The challenging aspect of rapid advancement is that the conception of a problem
depends on its context. Human consciousness is complex, plastic, and dangerous; it fits into
unimaginable molds, templates of being, which yield paradoxical outcomes. That is the central
dynamic that this research wishes to explore. The values that guide human progress are morally
ambivalent, they shift from vice to virtue indefinitely, lest they are understood holistically in
light of a goal.
A teleological analysis of human morality will be conducted as follows: firstly, by
examining the definition of “Teleology.” Then, by establishing why William Faulkner’s novel is
apt for an analysis according to Adlerian terms. This will necessitate a brief description of
Individual Psychology according to Alfred Adler, which is founded on a teleological
interpretation of human behavior. The principles of Individual Psychology will be simplified and
used to gain a deeper understanding of Faulkner’s characters. The result should be an amateur’s
analysis of the main characters of As I Lay Dying. In the end, a surface-level exploration of
various theoretical ramifications of teleological thought will take place, tying the literary analysis
to a contemporary setting. Pertinent examples of subjective and objective scenarios that guide the
telos of being will be discussed. The paper will close with some closing remarks.
The goal is to suggest that a teleological view of the human psyche relates to both
literature and science, that it presents a useful tool by which to contemplate the merits of classic
works of literature and prospective feats of engineering. The analysis will show that teleology
enables an appreciation of the dynamic morphology of human moral deliberation. The researcher
attempts to show that there is a parallel mechanism between the way a literary critic reads with
an intellectual prerogative, a person acts with a self-ideal in mind, and a society evolves with a
culture to protect. The analysis of As I Lay Dying, granted having established a unity between the
psychological microcosms of Faulkner’s characters and the work as a whole, should provide a
didactic example of applying a teleological perspective to literary criticism.
The concept of teleology offers a flexible heuristic that does not condemn any particular
goal, it merely signals the possibility of adjusting the definition of a goal to inform the unity of
its constituent motives. The concept serves both as a deconstructive and constructive device. A
goal may be implicit, explicit, or downright confounded. The questions determine, even if
partially, the nature of the potential answers. And the converse is also valid. Essentially,
teleology is the study of the purpose, function, or desired end of an object. For instance,
politicians deflect challenges by responding to a question, “what will you do about this?” with
an answer that fundamentally changes the direction of the question’s initial assumptions: “well,
the problem with this, is really that.” Such is the prerogative of someone who seeks to mask
their true motives; in other words, “let’s change the direction.” There is no lack of examples of
such characters simply ignoring a question, condemning the question, or even attacking the
questioner, before giving any answers, which if given may lack any internal logic of their own.
Similarly, literary criticism faces the problem of premature reductionism or historicity,
exemplified by the tendency to carry discourse with the presupposition that there is an
uncompromising logic that needs to be upheld. The current paper hopes to show that this is a
counterproductive effort, and that a more dynamic and compassionate view of humanity yields
more fruitful results.
Naturally, humans have a delicate ecology around truth. It is easier to invent convenient
conversations than to engage with inconvenient conversations. People arrive at the truth through
different means; they gain knowledge through academic rigor, science, art, religion, emotion,
intuition, magic, etc. What is the best way? How will people deliberate when there are so many
different forms of ideation? In the meantime, knowledge, data, is power. Teleology contradicts
this notion, by suggesting an emptiness of purpose. Human knowledge is intrinsically
According to teleological thought, knowledge is used to lead the direction of inquiry
rather than merely to hold information. The isolation of differing disciplines, in a way, is the
source of conflict. Given the myriad of cognitive mediums, teleology helps construct a context
by examining the ethical utility of that which is directed at obtaining truth. Teleology implies
that humans can examine the purpose of different kinds of truth-seeking objects. Moreover,
teleologically speaking, a purpose can be discerned in an object that at first glance is intrinsically
illogical; as a closed system, or rather as an object external from the common system, it should
still interact with whatever borders it. Alfred Adler, for example, exhorted that the individual is
inextricable from his social setting, no matter how eccentric they may be. Their language, their
morals, their biology is built in relation to others. Hence, teleology is also a study of the
transgressions of being, and in that, transgressions that claim truth about the nature of reality. In
the teleology of knowledge, this involves the act of producing objects from the unknown.
Ironically, it is demagogues who exploit the rules of public discourse by undermining society’s
more nuanced elements/pressure valves, i.e., the law, science, critical theory, etc.
The corollary is that selfish actors usurp the facilitated progress of ill-conceived
judgements to indoctrinate their followers; meaning, they drive people to accept ideas
uncritically, particularly in times of adversity, when tensions are high and complexity expensive.
However, as Devin Griffiths argues, it is more ethical to engage with teleology by using it to
open up the realm of possible ends (907). Griffiths points out that many important human
endeavors depend on the epistemological paradigm of teleology, applied in a critical and
productive way (908). He posits that Charles Darwin, for instance, was able to formalize his
ideas about natural selection by examining the purpose of adaptations and the gradual changes
they must have undergone over time (Griffiths 906). Griffiths furthers the implementability of
teleology in a critical setting by describing how the breakthrough of Darwin’s ideas was a
victory over teleological certainty; it denied a fundamentalist notion of attributing purpose and
function to the moving parts of the natural world, “[formulating] a softer, more flexible notion of
purpose for the study of social and natural systems” (907). It was not Darwin’s intent for the
ideas of natural selection to justify the deleterious directions of Social Darwinism. It is one
matter to understand the concepts of natural selection, and another to extrapolate their utility in
analyzing human social hierarchies to a discreet or noxious extent. In the pursuit of knowledge,
pernicious consequences involve premature applications. Humans should be able to discern when
a system of scientific inquiry is used to make irresponsible claims on human morality. The truth
is humans are quick to make moral claims, whether through reason or emotion. The degree of
complexity of certain ideas requires delicate understanding. Notably, because in essence, “as it
sidelined divine intervention and design, [the theory of] natural selection required positing what
selection selects for” (906). Griffiths writes that elegant, robust, and comprehensive systems of
thought, such as Darwin’s Origin of Species, or Kant’s Categorical Imperative, arose from
rigorous teleological considerations: “all studies of structure, whether morphological or social,
raise the problem of purpose, all inquiries into form imply questions of function; all questions of
transformation foster the study of new possibilities” (907). Facing the challenges of the age of
misinformation, it is valuable to look at this process of selecting purpose, whether deliberately,
unconsciously, or unskillfully, as a mental model that can be used to explore the full potential of
alternative contexts before rushing towards definite conclusions.
The Novel
William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying provides the raw material to exercise reparative
teleological interpretation. Reparative in the sense that the goals of people are viewed through
productive and constructive contexts. The novel is a complex story of a family weathering the
inevitable catastrophe of the passing of their matriarch. The interpersonal dynamics are
disquieting and difficult to penetrate in a compassionate manner. Additionally, the novel’s
setting may at first be associated with a stereotype that resides in America’s collective
unconscious and is ridden with negative connotations. The Bundren family’s journey takes place
between the little towns in Faulkner’s invented and revisited Yoknapatawpha County
(somewhere in Mississippi). However, though these are fictional characters, in a place that never
existed, Faulkner does not exclude any facet of the human experience. The author presents a
story that is a direct challenge to stereotypes in the fullness of its authenticity.
The novel lays bare the instantaneous mechanism of creating and implementing fictions
in all cognitive realms. With Alfred Adler’s philosophy, each individual is seen as a unification
of their various fictions. To appreciate each person as having a valid phenomenology the analyst
must practice tolerance. Also, As I Lay Dying takes place in the rural south of the the early 20th
century, and there is an opportunity for charity in this respect as well. Overall, the novel offers a
rich social ecology that asks the reader to challenge biases at a global level and connect with
America’s southern heritage. There is a great opportunity for recognizing and repairing social,
psychological, and biological shortcomings that are relevant to today’s world. Faulkner’s work in
some ways is also a celebration of the human condition, showing that there is beauty in the
variation of internal fictions.
As I Lay Dying is expressed poetically and prosaically. It has a deliberately boring pace
that forces one to contemplate the human condition exactly as it is, in its true inert and anxious
affection. The modern reader may lack the sensitivity to appreciate its finer accomplishments.
Faulkner employs a stream-of consciousness style, using the counterpoint view of contrasting
characters, to tell a genuinely tragic and commonplace story. It is easy to take this stylistic
innovation for granted. Faulkner sought to entertain, and he makes the reader face the stark
realities of life, with all the tedious austerities and traumas. The novel shows how each character,
from an eight-year-old boy to a woman on her deathbed, teeters between the mundane and the
sublime. The triumph is a portrayal of the fraught and tenuous road that lays between mankind
and redemption. Faulkner demonstrates that the psychological states of the individual blend to
inform those within the self and others creating reality immanently. With the care taken to
establish these sophisticated interpersonal dynamics, the poetry and the difficult themes are
practically a secondary treat.
Truly, Faulkner wrote one of the most famous chapters in American literature: standing
alone on the page, the title is the name of the boy, “VARDAMAN,” and it reads start to finish:
“My mother is a fish” (84). It is with such language that Faulkner helped to pioneer the modern
style. Faulkner embraces the language of human absurdity, using the unique voice of each
character to tease the full breath of human expression. Yet, the merit of an unapologetically
human story relies on human multiplicity and ambiguity. One must ask, “My mother is a fish?”
By concentrating on Faulkner’s stylistic choice of individuality, a connection will be drawn
between excavating the over-arching function of each character’s unique phenomenology and the
reflection of a larger unity and purpose in the work as a whole.
Individual Psychology
In this novel, Faulkner’s characters are placed in increasingly awkward situations that
reveal the texture of each of their decision-making processes. Alfred Adler’s Individual
Psychology is based on a practical and dynamic view of human nature. It is perfect for this
literary analysis because of its method of decryption through goal-driven ideation. Adler
believed that people construct their psychological worlds in such novel ways that a counselor had
to try and understand that world to offer any plausible treatment. The reader gathers a common
theme in the philosophies of Faulkner and Adler: that there should be compassion for all lives
because none is lacking in profound contemplation and activity. Deciphering each character’s
unified lifestyle relies on playing with the teleology of their traits gleaned from the text. No
matter how obtuse, the Adlerian novice must seek to find a common thread amongst the fictions
that lie within fictions. Using Adler’s philosophy as a primer, it is imperative to accept each
character’s phenomenology of self for its complete uniqueness, which proves to be a formidable
challenge. It is beautiful that Faulkner was deceptively intentional about his psychological
propositions. As the characters meet challenges along their journey, they must re-examine their
inner ecosystems. Furthermore, Faulkner and Adler embraced human interrelatedness, providing
ample ground to examine relationships between individual and community.
As I Lay Dying exhibits two characteristic literary devices, multiple narrators, and streamof-consciousness. These devices depend on the concept of interpersonal conflict. The story of the
Bundren family is told through the individual experience of each of its members and the people
on their periphery. Adler posited that the lifestyle of an individual was expressed in contrast with
the expected social background; the individual’s self is formed in contention with their social
ecology (so rich in Faulkner’s novel). Moreover, the character’s lifestyle in relation to society is
comprehended by testing their fictional goals, their teleology, in the given environment. Here
Adler condenses the application of teleology to understanding human psychology: “If we know
the goal of a person, we can undertake to explain and to understand what the psychological
phenomena want to tell us, why they were created, what a person has made of his innate
material, why he has made it just so and not differently, how his character traits, his feelings and
emotions, his logic, his morals, and his aesthetics must be constituted in order that he may arrive
at his goal” (196). Fortuitously, though the reader is not a trained psychologist, Adler provides
the tools by which to create an accessible view of the personalities that emerge from Faulkner’s
In contrast with the inherently difficult psychoanalytical perspective, offered by Sigmund
Freud and his intellectual descendants, Adler’s system is more pragmatic. It does not depend on
complex objective truths and the relatively far-fetched interpretations that may be drawn from
the human psyche. These are exhaustive systems of thought for persons well-educated on the
same to do them justice. The method of interpretation used in the present research was fabricated
to suit its specific purposes which are free from involved representations of human drives,
archetypes, projections, repressions, and the like. The figures, images, and symbols are drawn
entirely from Faulkner’s work and the interpersonal conflicts are taken only as the most selfevident in the story. Though the discipline of psychoanalysis is rich in interpretive power and can
offer endless opportunities for various symbolic and dynamic ideas, the goal is to intuit the
seemingly impenetrable nature of Faulkner’s novel and extrapolate the interpretation to a larger
context, highlighting the utility of the teleological perspective without dwelling on serpentine
elaborations (though serpents and complex fictions may figure into the analysis).
The principles employed in the analysis are all grounded on the system of Individual
Psychology. The method of investigation was formulated from a compilation of Adler’s work
that was “aimed at approximating the general presentation of a college textbook” (Adler,
Preface). Adler’s whole philosophy can be understood by a set of interlinked and comprehensive
concepts. The present research will implement the logic of the system’s central arguments,
summarized thus: (a) human beings are in a state of perpetual striving (towards security, overall
improvement, perfection, God, self-esteem, and so on); (b) in striving humans are in a position of
inferiority with respect to nature; (c) therefore humans act in a compensatory manner, aiming to
achieve a state of superiority; (d) moreover, the vehicle towards superiority is the self-ideal,
which directs and creates the consistency of a person’s psychological phenomena, or their
lifestyle; (e) in accordance with striving towards this self-ideal the individual has to set a fictional
goal, which, optimally, is safe-guarded by aiming beyond the self, towards cooperation with
others, interest in the welfare of human kind, and harmony with reality; (f) failing to set a goal
based on social interest, the individual will develop neuroses because they have become selfbounded (Adler). The latter concepts of social interest and self-boundedness are more
challenging to discern, but they stand to reason and common sense.
Adler’s focus on social interest is one of the reasons why his philosophy was considered
one of the first sociological disciplines. Adler regarded the individual as being inextricable from
their social embeddedness. Adler writes, “before the individual life of man there was the
community [and] in the history of human culture, there is not a single form of life which was not
conducted as social” (128). The most basic organization of human life, oriented towards survival,
has set boundaries for the singular person, mainly through the demands of communal life (Adler
126). Adler argues that in the impenetrability and darkness of human consciousness one can
discern the need to empathize with the environment to gain any understanding, and finally
superiority over it (135). The individual largely succeeds because they empathize with their
fellow men who are also trying to gain understanding of the world. To the extent that an
individual is able to assimilate (sympathize, empathize, adjust, and cooperate) with a reality
different than their own, and insofar as their goals reflect this, they will “gain connection to the
common ideal” (Adler 138), with all the benefits of belongingness and existential satisfactions
that this entails. In other words, the social fabric is an objective reality which the individual must
attempt to assimilate. Therefore, the way in which an individual relates to his fellow men, offers
the minimum insight that can frame a person’s unique perspective (Adler 128). When an
individual departs from self-configurations that allot them the benefits of social cooperation,
Adler highlights the phenomenon of being self-bounded, in pursuit of selfish goals that society
discourages because they are not deemed useful.
This conceptual order qualifies a major limitation in Adler, his metaphysical claim, that
“the indomitable progress of social interest, growing through evolution, justifies the assumption
that the very existence of mankind is inseparably tied up with being good. Whatever seems to
speak against this assumption is to be regarded as a mistake of [societal] evolution and can be
traced to errors” (138). Adler looks at social interest as an objective reality that is perpetuated
from a global and eternalist perspective intrinsically directed towards an ethical good. The
community grounds the individual in the collective striving towards perfection, and analogous to
Kant’s Categorical Imperative and John Stewart Mill’s Utilitarianism, the acts which are
universally useful are self-evidently justified. This discussion will be deepened towards the
conclusion of the research. In any case, Adler embraces the ontological bias inherent in
psychological speculation to emphasize the hierarchy of individuation that occurs from personal
feelings of inferiority and superiority, towards collective boundaries of social interest. A regard
for the transcendental position of the individual informs the teleology and consistency of their
personality, or as Adler categorizes, lifestyle.
What is important to understand in regard to social interest in Individual Psychology is
summarized in the response of Adler to Freud’s skepticism regarding human interrelatedness:
“The individual whose social interest is developed finds the solution to his problems, feels at
home in the world, achieves security and courage, and even approaches nearer to true
perception” (Adler, 160). In light of this Adlerian paradigm, how exactly are the characters in
Faulkner’s novel to be analyzed? The three principles that should be regarded in tandem-throughout the analysis of William Faulkner’s characters in As I Lay Dying-- are: (a) the
presence of and dichotomy between feelings of inferiority versus feelings of superiority; (b) the
hypothetical self-ideal that these feelings and connected traits imply, and (c) the level of social
interest in the character’s lifestyle. A character’s feelings will be synthesized from the perceived
interpersonal conflicts in the text, including personal monologues and comments on a character’s
reputation. As Adler remarks, “the foremost task of Individual Psychology is to prove this unity
in each individual—in his thinking, feeling, acting, in his so-called conscious and unconscious,
in every expression of his personality” (174). Each character (Darl, Cash, Jewel, Dewey Dell,
Vardaman, Anse, and Addie) will also serve to comment on compounding concepts of Adler’s
Individual Psychology, such as personality type, childhood development, organ inferiority, and
inferiority versus superiority complexes. By increasing the complexity of interpretation,
demonstrating the teleological principle in each character, there will be a natural development of
the theoretical implications that will unwind at the conclusion.
Analysis of the Characters
In Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Cash Bundren, the first-born, is probably the most
straightforward. This is because, by Adler’s measures, Cash represents a person who is well
adjusted: “Good adjustment is the striving on the ‘commonly useful side,’ while poor adjustment
is the striving on the ‘commonly useless side’” (154). Notably, Cash demonstrates his usefulness
to his community because he is a skilled carpenter. Darl, the second-born, closest in age, intently
admires this trait in his brother Cash, observing the detail that he gives to the craft (Faulkner 4).
However, other characters deride his attention to detail. Faulkner uses Tull, a neighbor, to
describe the more common view of the community surrounding the Bundren family:
I go around to the back. Cash is filling up the holes he bored in the top of it. He is
trimming out plugs for them, one at a time, the wood wet and hard to work. He could cut
up a tin can and hide the holes and nobody wouldn’t know the difference. Wouldn’t
mind, anyway. I have seen him spend a hour trimming out a wedge like it was glass he
was working, when he could have reached around and picked up a dozen sticks and drove
them into the joint and made it do. (Faulkner 87)
It is noted throughout the novel that Cash has an aversion for halfway measures. The line
“nobody wouldn’t know the difference” (Faulkner 87) highlights the extent to which Cash
acknowledges and guards the integrity of a structure beyond the level of attention that normal
folks would exercise. Faulkner creatively shows the reader Cash’s own introspections; in the
character’s most eccentric chapter, the author writes Cash listing his thoughts numerically to
justify a choice in design for his mother’s coffin, which he has labored to make flawless: “13. It
makes a neater job” (83). In this same chapter, the other numbered thoughts on the list exemplify
how Cash applies this organized view, central to his professional calling, to all aspects of life: “4.
In a house people are upright two thirds of the time. So the seams and joints are made up-anddown. Because the stress is up-and-down” (Faulkner 82). He demonstrates a long-held ability to
fixate on the architectural qualities of his surroundings, including the physical anatomy of
people, people’s personalities, life’s problems, moral values, and memories. Recounting the
events of an accident which led to Cash suffering a traumatic fracture on one of his lower limbs,
he is privy of the exact distance he fell from the roof of a Church he’d been fixing:
“Lucky Cash got off with just a broke leg,” Armstid says.
“He might have hurt himself bed-rid. How far’d you fall, Cash?”
“Twenty-eight foot, four and a half inches, about,” Cash says. (Faulkner 90)
Cash’s intense attention to detail, which Faulkner emphasized in the first half of the novel,
reveals his hypothetical self-ideal, a careful fellow (125). Cash is repeatedly fixated on the
balance of things (Faulkner 96). He projects this self-ideal to justify his eccentricity as well as to
signal his social utility. This insight is clearer at the onset of climactic events. In one of the most
momentous scenes, the Bundren family is trying to cross a river, but a recent storm has raised the
water level and covered the old, unreliable, bridge. The members of the family haphazardly
consider the risks of forcing a crossing, which would entail pulling their mules, wagon, and
deceased mother into the river, hoping to tread the withering bridge below the cold, murky, and
portentous water (Faulkner 125, 138). The heightened peril of this endeavor exhibits the
convergence of Faulkner, Adler, and the concept of teleology; each character is forced to
consider, in conflict with the desires of others, whether their own goals, their conscience, and
their self are apt or have power over the situation. Placed in mortal danger a person must
consider whether anything they are doing makes sense, whether corrections must be made, and
who they are in the present moment. Faulkner writes from Tull: “Like it couldn’t be me here,
because I’d have had better sense than to done what I just done” (138). On the other hand, the
situation highlights the iron-logic of social embeddedness, that people lose themselves to the
collective consciousness given the situation. Cash is perplexed by the chaos of the situation,
forced to compromise his logistical standards to appease the others (primarily his father, Anse).
Cash recognizes fully that these are all irresponsible considerations and laments not having the
chance to make a preemptive survey (Faulkner 144). Notwithstanding, he accepts the direction
that Anse has chosen, and this reveals the ideals that lay beyond his regularly organized self.
Nevertheless, Cash is himself, he embodies his lifestyle, trying to carry on the task of crossing
the river with as much attention as possible, making sure, for instance, that his elderly father, his
teenaged sister, his eight-year-old brother, and their guileless neighbor, find the safest way across
(Faulkner 126). Meaning, in the course of making conscious decisions, Cash’s psychology is still
self-consistent with a tentative self-ideal. Moreover, his level of risk-assessment and decisionmaking show Cash’s quality of social interest; “He is and wants to be the master of his fate with
an effective regard for the welfare of others” (Adler 156). The caveat is that his character is not
benignly adjusted.
Adler recognized a societal error when an individual adjusts to common ideals so well
that it brings detriment to their own being. Society, in this case the father figure, has stunted the
creative powers of the child, yielding a self-bounded affectation that is not useful but the
contrary (Adler 138). Cash’s feelings of inferiority are not so varied, yet they do bring about
problems. He is in a perpetual struggle against disorder, which symbolizes the position of
absolute inadequacy-in-the-face-of-nature that Adler explains is innate in all people. Principally,
Cash shows a willingness to gain a socially acceptable form of superiority that will hold chaos at
bay, namely carpentry and attention to detail. However, he attributes too much authority to his
parents. The decision to cross the river placed the entire family in danger, yet Cash would not
exercise his powers of heightened awareness and censure. Though Cash is able to appraise the
futility of crossing the river, he succumbs to social pressure. His tragic flaw is that he is willing
to compromise his highest values, betraying his most useful self-ideal, to keep his father content.
It is important to note that Cash’s dominant need for his parents’ approval can be understood
within the domain of a sub-optimal self-ideal that is most consistent with his actions.
In the crossing of the river Cash suffers a new fracture on the leg which had been
previously damaged. This injury is quite serious, requiring obvious medical intervention.
Thereafter, Cash has multiple opportunities to alter the course of the family’s journey to attend to
this wound. But he pretends and minimizes the gravity of the wound, which progressively
worsens. Faulkner echoes Adler by showing that Cash’s values degenerate as he mimics his own
father’s persona, included a pessimistic outlook on life and defaulting to material gains for
personal fulfillment. Anse’s analysis will show the lifestyle of catastrophizing in more detail.
Overall, Cash demonstrates a path from feelings of inferiority to feelings of superiority,
most obvious through his methodical mastery of the craft of carpentry and ultimately his
environment. He leans towards the useful side of socially oriented activities, and his psychology
is consistent with a self-ideal of a careful fellow concerned with neatness and balance-- yet
anxious for parental approval. Consequently, his lifestyle grants him business and consideration
from his community, such that “society derives a certain advantage from his work” (Adler 154).
But he neglects physical well-being to meet the standards of his immediate social circle (his
family) in spite of the futility of their fictions. As touched on, the configuration of his self is
quite functional until his various factors degenerate due to excessive feelings of filial piety.
Insight into Cash’s tragic flaw is offered by Jewel, the third of Addie Bundren’s children.
Incidentally, Jewel’s manner of criticizing his brother reveals a lot about his character, which is
consistent with what Adler described as the dominant or ruling type. Adler admitted that these
types were inspired by the age-old four temperaments. In this case, Jewel would be considered a
choleric individual, “a man who furiously hurls aside a stone which lies in his way” (Adler 170).
But firstly, as Adler admonishes, “each individual must be studied in the light of his own
peculiar development (167). Jewel’s opinion of Cash, and everyone else for that manner, shows
the first time Faulkner speaks through his unique voice:
It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that
goddam box. Where she’s got to see him. Where every breath she draws is full of his
knocking and sawing where she can see him saying See. See what a good one I am
making for you. […] I said Good God do you want to see her in it. It’s like when he was
a little boy and she says if she had some fertilizer she would try to raise some flowers and
he taken the bread pan and brought it back from the barn full of dung. […] If it had just
been me when Cash fell off of that church and if it had just been me when pa laid sick
with that load of wood fell on him, it would not be happening with every bastard in the
country coming in to stare at her because if there is a God what the hell is He for. It
would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill at their
faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill faces and teeth and all by God
until she was quiet and not that goddam adze going One lick less. One lick less and we
could be quiet. (Faulkner 14)
Even the punctuation (setting the reading pace) is angry, with the repetition at the end
corroborating. The reader gather’s some of Cash’s shortcomings, yes, but from Jewel, a wholly
acerbic and enormous persona. Firstly, Jewel may feel inferior to Cash’s sense of
conscientiousness, precisely because he ridicules it. Jewel is a man who feels capable in his own
self-efficacy, but he looks down on others because they are not as vital as he. He is in denial of
other people being better adjusted than he is, therefore, he criticizes Cash. Moreover, it is clear
that Jewel’s greatest insecurity is not being wholly filled with his mother’s attention, not being in
charge of her well-being, and not being able to protect her from the debased presence of others.
Jewel is quite antisocial, and his dominating and forceful nature comes across with how he
curses the people and objects around him, often relating to the world in an antagonistic manner.
When Addie Bundren has died, Jewel is teased by his brother Darl because he is in denial
about her passing. For instance, they, Darl and Jewel, have been away at the time of Addie’s
death, and as they approach their home the memorial is being held at the top of the hill where the
house is, with the figures of people gathered around the house at the distant sight of the two
brothers, and vultures flying above. Darl mockingly points out this milieu, saying caustically that
it is not Jewel’s horse who has died (Faulkner 94). Jewel’s feelings towards his horse happen to
symbolize most accurately his lifestyle and self-ideal. Darl is a recursive object of Jewel’s anger
because he is aware of this symbolic relationship: “‘Goddam you,’ he says. ‘Goddam you’”
(Faulkner 95). It is plausible that Jewel also has feelings of inferiority with respect to Darl’s
ability to quickly comprehend and accept a jarring situation. When Addie Bundren’s body has
been set in its coffin, the family is moving it to the wagon, with Jewel in a turmoil of violence to
get it done as quickly as possible, he commands Cash thus:
“Pick up. Goddam you, pick up.”
“I’m telling you it wont tote and it wont ride on a balance unless—“
Pick up! Pick up, goddamn your thick-nosed soul to hell, pick up!” (Faulkner 96)
It is a periodic theme in As I Lay Dying, that characters covertly implement religious
connotations in their language to undermine the will of others. Jewel’s case might be one in
which this tendency is exacerbated out of him in an unskillful way, but there are characters that
employ this cognitive device, a slight-of-hand baked into the language, more deliberately. Jewel
curses things to denigrate them, belittle them, and manipulate them into his course of action.
Another example, and there are plenty, occurs when the family is trying to convince
Vernon Tull of strapping one of his mules, prized capital in their society, to the mule team of the
Bundrens’ wagon, in the hopes that this will aid with crossing the river. Tull denies this inane
request, prompting Jewel’s reply: “Jewel looks at me. His eyes look like pieces of broken plate.
‘I’ll pay for your damn mule. I’ll buy it from you right now.’ / ‘My mule aint going into that
water,’ I say” (Faulkner 127). And Faulkner offers many justifications to show how this
domineering character developed. Darl, who is greatly captivated by Jewel’s personality, makes
the first proposition: “Jewel’s eyes look like pale wood in his high-blooded face. He is a head
taller than any of the rest of us, always was” (Faulkner 17). Physical height, as both an objective
and subjective factor of influence in human teleology, is an attribute of the human body which
grants certain cultural benefits, almost universally.
Another compelling idea is that Jewel benefitted from favoritism. It may be hypothesized
that much of his vitality grew out of the disproportionate encouragement he received from his
mother. For example, when the family is at the foot of the river, full of ill-conceived notions,
Darl and Cash reminisce as Jewel steps boldly into the water:
“He can swim,” I say. “if he’ll just give the horse time, anyhow…….” When he was
born, he had a bad time of it. Ma would sit in the lamp-light, holding him on a pillow on
her lap. We would wake and find her so. There would be not sound from them.
“That pillow was longer than him,” Cash says. (Faulkner 144)
It isn’t clear whether the anecdote illustrates that Jewel’s mother was helping him develop his
coordination, or if he had an innately choleric disposition and his mother labored to placate him.
In another sense, the two brothers are musing on how their younger brother has grown, and how
his lifestyle is evident from a young age.
Cora, a neighbor, gives further evidence of favoritism: “Not that Jewel, the one she
labored so to bear and coddled and petted so and him flinging into tantrums or sulking spells,
inventing devilment to devil her until I would have frailed him time and time” (Faulkner 21). It is
interesting that a person could require “frailing” in their development. Jewel is the classic
example of a big, intimidating, tough, and rude mama’s boy; the kind of adventurous and sinful
man whom Americans praise in movies and television because of their rough exterior and shortfused prides. It is speculation, of course, but Jewel demonstrates the kind of uninhibited devotion
and confidence that these types of men are known for. In the novel there are no explicit
references to iconic figures, but there are various instances that show Jewel’s blunt traits to
afford him more of his community’s recognition, as with the infatuation of women, or the high
regard of other men. There is a paradoxical social logic at play.
Paul R. Smart, something of a technology ethicist, explored the role of a phenomenon
called Mandevillian Intelligence. Smart focuses on the way in which individuals and collectives
navigate problem-solving in the complex networks of the contemporary world. Mandevillian
Intelligence denotes “specific [forms of] collective intelligence in which certain kinds of
(individual-level) cognitive and epistemic properties are seen to be causally relevant to the
expression of intelligent behavior at the collective level” (Smart 254). Applying this to the
analysis of Jewel’s lifestyle is relevant if Mandevillian Intelligence applies to his personality.
Smart writes “we do not have Mandevillian intelligence if we observe the presence of cognitive
vice (or virtue), but we do not observe collective intelligence” (Smart 254). The reader
acknowledges that Jewel’s various psychological traits have not been examined empirically for
their cognitive/epistemic function, nor have they been extrapolated to test their utility in
manifesting collective intelligence— however, the present research suggests that it would be a
productive investigation.
Smart develops the applicability of the the concept of Mandevillian Intelligence as
follows: “it is perfectly possible for individual cognitive vices to undermine or enhance
collective performance depending on the specific context in which collective processing occurs.
The value of the concept of Mandevillian Intelligence is that it forces us to acknowledge the
potential role of individual vice in securing collective forms of cognitive success” (Smart 254).
This is a powerful idea because it opens up the teleological implications of Jewel’s, and for that
manner everyone’s, lifestyle (in Adlerian terms). As Smart explores some personality traits and
virtues that may emerge across social scales as forms of intelligence, he mentions tenacity
(apposite to Cash, Smart also mentions carefulness, thoroughness, and attentiveness) (256).
Jewel repeatedly embodies an authentically American grit, though Faulkner may narrow the
quality of this archetype by his figurative choices. Jewel’s essence is assimilated with that of a
horse (Faulkner 11). Also, Darl describes his brother as being wooden and rigid— many times
throughout the tale (Faulkner 4, 12, 95). Dewey Dell, their sister also notes this, “Jewel sits on
his horse like they were both made out of wood, looking straight ahead” (Faulkner 122), showing
a combination of these traits. Jewel is extremely vital, dynamic, strong, and tenacious, and the
interplay between rigidity and vigor are touched on with care. If American grit is admired, it is
because it mixes vice and virtue in a functional way. On the eve of Addie Bundren’s death, Darl
observes Jewel invested in the following activities:
When Jewel can almost touch him, the horse stands on his hind legs and slashes down at
Jewel. Then Jewel is enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings:
among them, beneath the upreared chest, he moves with the flashing limberness of a
snake. For an instant before the jerk comes onto his arms he sees his whole body earthfree, horizontal, whipping snake-limber, until he finds the horse’s nostrils and touches
earth again. Then they are rigid, motionless, terrific, the horse back-thrust on stiffened,
quivering legs, with lowered head; Jewel with dug heels, shutting off the horse’s wind
with one hand, with the other patting the horse’s neck in short strokes myriad and
caressing, cursing the horse with obscene ferocity.
They stand in rigid hiatus, the horse trembling and groaning. (Faulkner 12)
It is not from a stretch of the imagination that humans could produce a personality that is able to
muster great strength due to a compensatory or poor faculty for social sensibilities. Humans have
a long history of brutalizing nature for amusement. By neglecting social expectations an
individual is freer to connect with other potentialities. A close connection with animal ferocity
and fear gives Jewel great insight, but they also make him “brutish” in light of interpersonal
preoccupations. It is in this sense that Addie’s coddling (evinced most clearly in the Darl’s
recounting of how Jewel initially procured his horse (Faulkner 128)) is perceived by Cora to be a
detriment to Jewel and the community, because it creates the notion in him that he can behave
transgressively without being gravely reprimanded. And this is consistent with Adler’s
description of the dominant personality type: “It’s because the ruling type, to a low degree of
social interest [combines] a high degree of activity” (169). In spite of Jewel’s brusque manner,
his mother, sister, and neighbors favor him—even though he is antithetically antisocial. Dewey
Dell thinks, “And Jewel don’t care about anything he is not kin to us in caring, not care-kin”
(Faulkner 26). Jewel is profoundly practical in his selfishness because he does not want to
interact with others, but in expressing plainly what he does care about he is easier to manage,
seldom straying from his own values.
Smart suggests that there is some kind of cognitive high yield involved in the promotion
of traits that are considered vices at the individual level; in all likelihood, because these traits
contribute to a community’s ability to approximate the true nature of a problem, “enhancing the
probability that the community (as a whole) will discover the best available solution” (259).
Jewel’s animalistic simplicity and fervor are useful in his social realm— at least that is what
Faulkner suggests.
In summary, Jewel’s feelings of insecurity are related to his perception of social
standing, but these perceptions are buried so far from his conscious efforts that he dismisses
them with the same violence and ability with which he was raised to contend with nature (the
horse, the river, the weight of the casket, the fire, and other people). Moreover, Jewel’s self-ideal
is closely linked to his horse; his goal in life is simple, to be free, to not be beholden, a
vice/virtue which will become more evident with the analysis of Addie Bundren. This theme of
not wanting to be beholden is prevalent throughout the novel and is common to most of the
members of the Bundren family. Adler points out that there is an inescapable logic to
understanding a person through the social ecology in which they are embedded, and Jewel
mimics the tenacity of the horse, who is kept against his will, who cares not for his keepers and
holds nothing but animosity for them. Additionally, the horse is well-taken care of, and his
power is used by the community in spite of the reciprocal chagrin.
There is another set of circumstances in which an individual’s talents are not
acknowledged by the collective. Faulkner writes, from Tull’s perspective:
He is looking at me. He dont say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of his
that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said or
anything so much as how he looks at you. It’s like he had got into the inside of you,
someway. Like somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes.
He’s talking about Darl. What is interesting about Darl is that he is fixated on Jewel in a way that
suggests he might hold him as a kind of self-ideal. But throughout the novel, Darl demonstrates a
heightened awareness of psychological teleology itself, and he just as easily becomes fixated
with others and their lifestyles. He is repeatedly remarking details about being on the fringes of
selfhood, and it is this special awareness which makes people feel awkward, because he has an
apprehension of their own teleology, and he does not project a definite lifestyle of his own.
At the very start of the novel Darl says “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” (Faulkner
3). Darl is aware of his physical inferiority, but he is also deeply aware of the social context in
which it is regarded, and his focus on Jewel’s rigid and wooden nature is put forth in comparison
to an awareness of his own contrasted fluidity or softness. In other words, he is aware of the
feelings of inferiority that are thrust upon him. Moreover, this opening scene seems to prescribe
the way in which both brothers may be eccentric characters in their community, but one is
acknowledged while the other is spurned.
In the classic sense, Darl is a thinker rather than a doer, so the community regards him as
acting less on the useful side of cooperation. This is Tull’s view once again, representing the
common view:
For the Lord aimed for him to do and not to spend too much time thinking, because his
brain it’s like a piece of machinery: it wont stand a whole lot of racking. It’s best when it
all runs along the same, doing the day’s work and not no one part used no more than
needful. I have said and I say again, that’s ever living thing the matter with Darl: he just
thinks by himself too much. (Faulkner 71)
Darl’s open creativity makes him appear indolent. And it is not a secret that people attach his
introspective nature as straying from the common sense of self-boundedness. While Darl
bargains with the social landscape Jewel is much more self-reliant, ready to contend with the
moral landscape of the people. For example, in this scene Darl dwells on the character flaws of
his father, teasing Anse to correct his social short-comings, while Jewel responds
straightforwardly, immune to the dimension of passive-aggression, focused on practical matters:
“Why didn’t you?” I say. “You could have telephoned.”
“What for?” Jewel says. “Who the hell cant dig a hole in the ground?” (Faulkner 228)
It is possible that Darl uses his insight, as with the knowledge of Dewey Dell’s pregnancy, not to
control others, but to inspire them to do better. Cora, Tull’s wife, supports this notion:
I always said he was the only one of them that had his mother’s nature, had any natural
affection. […] It was Darl, the one folks say is queer, lazy, pottering about the place no
better than Anse, with Cash a good carpenter and always more building than he can get
around to, and Jewel always doing something that made him some money or got him
talked about, and that near naked girl […] I saw that with Jewel she had just been
pretending, but it was between her and Darl that the understanding and the true love was.
(Faulkner 21-25)
Cora is the only one to place any token of admiration on Darl’s regard. Faulkner offers reason to
presume why Cora held this exclusive view. She was more inclined towards abstract thinking
(immersed in religious and moral deliberations), predisposed to judging others and dispensing
advice, and she was more intimate to Addie Bundren’s thoughts (Faulkner 21, 74, 153, & 166). It
may be hypothesized that for someone such as Darl who is perpetually aware of the creative
imperative of fabricating a self-ideal, that a worthy living purpose is simply to deepen their
sensitivity for the world. It is evident that Faulkner might have identified himself with Darl
because it’s that is the artist’s goal in relation to mankind. Perhaps William Faulkner saw himself
as one with “his eyes full of the land” (36). Darl dwells in the following kind of ideas:
When I was a boy I first learned how much better water tastes when it has set a while in a
cedar bucket. Warming-cool, with a faint taste like the hot July wind in cedar trees
smells. It has to set at least six hours, and be drunk from a gourd. Water should never be
drunk from metal. (Faulkner 11)
There are many examples in As I Lay Dying that are elevated by the poetic form of a character’s
voice. But this line of thought doesn’t explain why Darl embodies this tendency in such an
obvious manner, while other characters don’t operate from the same kind of sentiment. Darl is
invested in delicate aesthetic rules of being, interpreting extraneous queues from nature. It is this
kind of complex self-boundedness that inhibits his level of activity. Other characters become
aware of the composition of their being, but they are uncomfortable in it, aside from Addie
Bundren, from whom Darl inherited his romantic personality.
There are four characters that overtly showcase a marked experience of dissociation, or in
psychological terms, “ego-depletion:” Darl, Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Addie Bundren.
Additionally, the situation by the river enhances the existential crisis in other characters such as
Cash, Anse, and Tull. In Darl’s case, his stream of consciousness is a detached description of his
surroundings— that amplifies the beauty of what is in focus. He is deeply connected to the
ambiguity of nature, life, and human morality. This is a good example of Darl’s creative
In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for
sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are
filled with sleep, you never were. I dont know what I am. I dont know if I am or not.
Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not.
(Faulkner 80)
The passage goes on with Darl literally pondering the phenomenology of consciousness,
indicating how things exist or are acknowledged only in relation to one another. In closing, he
comments on the fact that when he is in this state of self-impermanence he tends to think of
home (Faulkner 81). It is the bonds of family which create his self-consistency. His social
interest extends insofar as he holds and esteems his family members. Interestingly, according to
Adler, there is no classification of a personality type for a person with a high degree of social
interest versus a low degree of activity (169). It would be naïve to attribute a benign level of
activity to Darl, claiming that all he wants is to be full of the land. He is equally dangerous, given
that he has such profound insight into other people, and is capable of dramatic action,
demonstrated when he sets a barn on fire (Faulkner 218, 223).
In conclusion, Darl might have a lot to offer his community in the artistic realm of
thought. He is also vigilant of the moral integrity of the people around him. His abilities, though,
are not recognized by others. He makes them uncomfortable and antagonistic towards his own
person. Moreover, he is not shown to express his aesthetic sensitivity in a constructive way, lest
for fanciful introspections. His activity is consumed with an unhealthy obsession for his brother,
sister, and father. He is merely capable of antisocial comedy and commits an unconscionable act
of arson. Notably, Darl’s portrayal of existential thought is a great accomplishment, and when he
“loses” his mind, Faulkner achieves novel psychological speculations.
Darl’s quest towards superiority is a mystery. An analysis of his parents may elucidate
the crux of the matter, starting with his father. One may suspect that analogous to Cash gaining
mastery in the architecture of nature and Jewel developing his somatic strength by taming his
horse, that Darl could be capable of gaining mastery over other people. Maybe Darl’s fixation on
Jewel is like that of Jewel’s obsession for his horse. Faulkner makes an interesting suggestion
through the voice of Anse:
Talking me out of him, durn them. It aint that I am afraid of work; I always is fed me and
mine and kept a roof above us: it’s that they would short-hand me just because he tends
to his own business, just because he’s got his eyes full of the land all the time. I says to
them, he was alright at first, with his eyes full of the land, because the land laid up-and
down ways then; it wasn’t till that ere road come and switched the land around longways
and his eyes still full of the land, that they begun to threaten me out of him, trying to
short-hand me with the law. (Faulkner 37)
Principally, Anse has an aversion to work, and he is aware that his community holds him in poor
esteem. In this chapter he is blaming the architecture of the landscape for his problems. It is a
good argument to point out that the capitalist expansion into the rural setting might have
disrupted the idyllic life of farmers, but there is evidence of it being a life of strife before such a
development. The other idea that stands out in the passage is that Anse must have been trying to
exert his influence on Darl to an excessive extent. Also, that he was exquisitely aware of his
son’s existential ambitions. Either Anse was overworking Darl from a very early age, or he was
pushing Darl to behave like himself. The harsh realities of a farmer’s life led Anse to develop a
lifestyle that is positively averse to labor. Here Faulkner writes of Darl’s first signs of disdain for
his father:
There is no sweat stain on his shirt. I have never seen a sweat stain on his shirt. He was
sick once from working in the sun when he was twenty-two years old, and he tells people
that if he ever sweats, he will die. I suppose he believes it. (17)
Anse has developed what Adler dubs the precursor to a self-ideal: convenient fictions. Anse is
what Adler calls the getting or leaning type: a person whom “expects everything from others and
leans on others” (168). For someone who is vaguely aware of the influence of deceit, the use of
fictions becomes so common that they must convince themselves continually of the merits of the
same, buying hesitantly into their own fabrications. And it is more insidious than that. The
person realizes that others wrestle with navigating what Paul Smart calls “interpretational
possibilities” (259), and they take advantage of the fact. Anse produces ambiguity in a given
situation and operates within uncertainty. To mask this tendency, he claims to praise the
opposite; “I mislike undecision as much as ere a man” (Faulkner 17). It becomes evident that
Anse is used to bullying others by forcing his interpretations of the truth, making small nefarious
adjustments in the lapses of people’s critical evaluations. These are some of Tull’s thoughts: “I
tell him again I will help him out if he gets into a tight, with her sick and all. Like most folks
around here, I done holp him so much already I cant quit now” (33). But perhaps too much credit
is given to Anse. It is probable that his self-ideal is that of acting the confused man who happens
to hope he will get his way in the end: “Anse dont look at us. He looks around, blinking, in that
surprised way, like he had wore hisself down being surprised and was even surprised at that”
(32). However, knowing the complete story, it is more accurate to attribute premeditation to most
of Anse’s words and acts, in spite of the accidental factor. He pretends to be confused,
“‘Well…….’ pa says” (Faulkner 19), but he also enters into soliloquies that make the reader
question the artifice in the performance of the given speech-- as with the following:
“You all dont know,” pa says. “The somebody you was young with and you growed old
in her and she growed old in you, seeing the old coming on and it was the one somebody
you could hear say it dont matter and know it was the truth outen the hard world and all a
man’s grief and trials. You all dont know.” (Faulkner 235)
By asserting that you all dont know, he is implying that he does know. At this moment Cash’s leg
is bordering on gangrenous, and his pain is commensurate; the family considers taking him to the
doctor, because the matter has been pushed to the limit, but Anse musters the rhetorical trap
noted above. At this point the reader tacitly sympathizes, with the speech ringing true, and the
body decomposing in the casket for the better part of ten days. But one learns that Anse simply
wanted to get to town and bury the body as soon as possible so that he could meet his new wife
and take Addie’s teeth for himself (because his have wasted away). Because Anse exploits the
family’s distress to elevate his own sorrow and his ends, it would be useful to explore the means
by which people frame adversity.
Anse cleverly employs a coping mechanism called catastrophizing. In Coping; The
Psychology of What Works, C. R. Snyder compiled a pedagogical review of the advances of
clinical and social psychology in understanding coping (with research that was relevant at the
turn of the century). In this collection, the study titled “Coping with Catastrophes and
Catastrophizing,” written by Christopher Peterson and Christina H. moon, helps define
“catastrophe” and the various ways in which people relate to it. The paper offers the following
position, “People do not choose their risk factors, and life is not a Greek tragedy. The power of a
psychological perspective is that it shifts our focus from moral certainties to statistical
generalizations, thereby providing targets for intervention” (Moon and Peterson 253).
Accordingly, catastrophe is defined with the following qualification: “Any bad occurrence— one
arousing negative affect such as fear, anxiety, guilt, or shame— can be a catastrophe for people
if they think about it in terms that produce these feelings” (Moon and Peterson 254). Moreover,
“catastrophizers overstate the severity of a bad event and understate their ability to cope with
what it presents” (Moon and Peterson 257). In this sense Anse’s lifestyle is one of down-playing
his own level of self-efficacy, exaggerating the extent to which adversity has affected him, hence
exerting influence over others through pity and passive-aggression. He catastrophizes to get
others to do his bidding.
Anse’s feelings of inferiority are in part inspired by the death of his wife, but his highest
goal is to get a new wife and new teeth, that is his path towards superiority. The reader finds that
the banality of his goal is what makes As I Lay Dying such a tragic story. Some theorists attribute
the act of catastrophizing to holding irrational beliefs; such people “exaggerate the importance of
singular occurrences, […] confuse wants and needs, and look at things in dichotomous fashion”
(Moon and Peterson 258). To Anse, his life is a tragedy, and he interprets his aims as fulfilling
the will of God. But it is a poor conception of God that would justify this lifestyle. It is too
convenient; “Because the Lord’s got more to do than that” (Faulkner 73). Yet, it is apparent in
American society, that material gains, however vain, are considered socially functional goals,
and strategic callousness seems to reflect the lowest common denominator of social interest.
Here, Anse looks down at the family as they attend Cash, who has walked out of the river halfdead:
“If ever was such a misfortunate man,” pas says. He looms tall above us as we squat; he
looks like a figure carved clumsily from tough wood by a drunken caricaturist. “It’s a
trial,” he says. “But I don’t begrudge her it. No man can say I begrudge her it.” (Faulkner
Though it is Cash on the brink of doom, Anse pities himself. Added to this, granted that his
teleology changes on a whim, that he is reticent to fulfill any arduous mission, and that he was
the one to instigate this unfortunate set of events, it is not clear whom Anse refers to when he
says, “But I don’t begrudge her it” (Faulkner 163). Is it his late wife, Addie, whom he promised
to bury in the far town of Jefferson— or is it the new Mrs. Bundren, whom he is meeting in
Jefferson and is acquainted with from before Addie’s passing (Faulkner 236)? In all likelihood
Anse knows that he is keeping both kinds of promises, even if the dead body is just a pretense to
get from point A to point B.
Anse’s ill-conceived aims find religious solace in a theological schema in which all is
redeemed in the afterlife. Anse says, “It’s because there is a reward for us above, where they cant
take their autos and such. Every man will be equal there and it will be taken from them that have
and give to them that have not by the Lord” (Faulkner 110). Anse sees himself as one who has
not. It is a profound level of dissatisfaction with life, a form of catastrophizing that transforms
into something of an inferiority complex. Adler writes of the person exhibiting such a complex,
that “he feels unable to continue on the useful side of life, by the limits he has put to his strivings
and activities. […] [His] goal is still ‘to be superior to difficulties,’ but instead of overcoming
obstacles he will try to hypnotize himself, or auto-intoxicate himself, into feeling superior”
(257). This is taken to such a grave extent that other characters think to themselves, “And when
folks talks him low, I think to myself he aint that less of a man or he couldn’t a bore himself this
long” (Faulkner 73). This idea of the difficulty in keeping up with one’s own self is very
important to the novel. It is indispensable to note that in the setting of the novel, the highest
ideals of the community are linked to God. The useful side of life, in Yoknapatawpha County, is
judged by Christian morals. Adler writes, “In God’s nature, religious mankind perceives the way
to height. In His call it hears again the innate voice of life which must have its direction towards
the goal of perfection, towards overcoming the feeling of lowliness and transitoriness of the
existence here below” (Adler 107). There are characters such as Anse, who succumb to the
“feeling of lowliness and transitoriness,” rather than overcoming, interpreting scripture in a way
that is self-serving. Additionally, there are characters, such as Darl, who do not relate to the
world through the lens of religion. Addie Bundren may be another such atheistic character,
though it is more accurate to say that she sublimates the religious ideal. Through a sinful
rebellion against the commonly useful view of the world, she is a successful nihilist. She even
places judgements on the social fabric of language itself.
The title of As I Lay Dying, Faulkner would claim, was taken from a quote in Homer’s
Odyssey, “As I lay dying the woman with the dog’s eyes would not close my eyes for me as I
descended into Hades” (Faulkner 266). Addie Bundren is the body that travels in a casket from
New Hope to Jefferson, which is the other obvious connotation: that the story is an omnipresent
and impartial telling of the events that take place immediately after her death. But the novel’s
existential themes, linked closely to a celebratory use of language, allude to a spiritual
perspective, in which a person’s symbolic I does the dying. Addie Bundren, like Darl, is aware of
the ambivalence and teleology of being. From the manner in which she died, and the glimpses of
her thoughts when living, the reader assumes that she was an unhappy person. She was vaguely
aware of the creative potential in forming an identity, but she was at odds with her fate, and she
felt like her lot in life was an inescapable condemnation.
Anse’s great justification for the journey to Jefferson is that Addie had made it her dying
wish to be buried in her hometown. The truth is that she made this her dying wish to him as a
protest, in indignation for her lot in life, to have her revenge on Anse (Faulkner 172-3). This
request, extraneous and inconvenient, was a strange way for Addie to exert her superiority within
a limited range of possibilities.
When she became pregnant with her second child, Darl, she became outraged, “Then I
believed that I would kill Anse. It was as though he had tricked me, hidden within a word like
within a paper screen and struck me in the back through it” (Faulkner 172). It was these feelings
of inferiority that precipitated her odd behavior. She enters a wholly rebellious lifestyle, acting
subversively, nurturing private goals, and attacking with her intellect the foundation of language
itself. Adler writes, “language is quite unnecessary for a creature living by itself. Language
reckons with the social life of man, is its product and, at the same time, its cement” (130). Thus,
Addie expresses her disdain:
But then I realized that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love, and that the
same word that had tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that he would never
know I was taking revenge. […] Sometimes I would lie by him in the dark hearing the
land that was now of my blood and flesh, and I would think: Anse. Why Anse. Why are
you Anse. I would think about his name until after a while I could see the word as a
shape, a vessel, and I would watch him liquify and flow into it like cold molasses flowing
out of the darkness into the vessel, until the jar stood full and motionless: a significant
shape profoundly without life like an empty door frame; and then I would find that I had
forgotten the name of the jar. […] An when I would think Cash and Darl that way until
their names would die and solidify into a shape and then fade away, I would say, All
right. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what they call them. (Faulkner 173).
Addie lived with an awareness of the social constructs that had led up to her life. She
deconstructs the elements of her life, trying to understand Anse, for instance, in light of all that
he symbolizes. Here, she talks about her experience of the world and of her sensitivity to the
materiality of being. She thinks of the different parts that make up a person. She thinks about
their names as mustering something metaphysical in them. She thinks of other people as
extensions of the same organism. When Addie says, “the land that was now of my blood and
flesh,” she is touching on what it means to be beholden to the land once something intractable
has occurred in one’s biography. The feeling of inferiority arises from living perpetually in a
state of obligatory being. This feeling is then met with an impossible self-ideal, which is to
escape the social paradigm through private reasoning. It is through private reasoning that an
individual moves beyond the common-ideal and makes unwise transgressions. According to
Adler, Addie fits the bill of the neurotic because “there is no human being who is capable of
seriously denying for himself social interest” (139), and “one must feel at home on this earth
with all its advantages and disadvantages” (136). Because she does not “feel at home on this
earth,” and she is compelled by an unconscious desire for connection, which she largely but not
entirely fails to obtain, she is wont to justify even the cruelest acts in her life. For instance, her
autobiography starts with a telling of her time as a teacher, a socially embedded profession, and
she is already malcontented. Interestingly, Addie uses outrage at transgressions against the
communal values as a pretense, whereas her general disquiet is actually sourced from a sense of
estrangement-- sadness in the face of a lack of empathy in others. Without further ado this is how
Addie relates to others:
In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his little dirty
snuffling nose, instead of going home I would go down the hill to the spring where I
could be quiet and hate them. […] I could just remember how my father used to say that
the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time. And when I would have to
look at them day after day, each with his and her secret and selfish thought, and blood
strange to each other blood and strange to mine, and think that this seemed to be the only
way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me. I
would look forward to the times when they faulted, so I could whip them. When the
switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh; would think with each blow of the switch: Now
you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have
marked your blood with my own for ever and ever. (Faulkner 170)
For all her dissatisfaction with community life, family life, and nature, Addie’s monologue is
surprisingly candid. The rationale for her sadism is made plain by her own thoughts. Notably,
this is an instance in which she is exercising a sense of superiority over her pupils, who have
made her feel inferior through their “secret selfish thought.” It is difficult to justify a sense of
social interest since her goal in the act is really self-centered. Faulkner, if incidentally, is
commenting on the violent social process of education in this milieu. The teleology of any
institution is to formalize productive members of society, yet individuals are predisposed to be at
odds with assimilating the common view-- their innate potentiality is so vast that people in
authoritative roles are susceptible to exploiting their power. Perhaps these people are frustrated
by their thwarted potentialities, and their creative energy is unleashed in deleterious form. It is
worthy to mention that from a geo-political perspective, the roots of Totalitarianism,
Communism, and Fascism, are all constructed on the basis of managing the creative
potentialities of a society; respectively, through the full-scale governmental organization of
being, the elevation of the social good as the primary end, and the capricious use of resources to
solve problems in whatever mode is most convenient to the rulers. Addie is existentially
dissatisfied with her role, and an exploration of her deconstructive tendencies, nihilism, and
arbitrary moral deliberations reflect the essence of As I Lay Dying. It is possible that the virtue of
“to not be beholden” reflects the American notion of championing liberty, and it may help
connect and evaluate the social interest of the characters in Faulkner’s novel. There is a nuanced
teleological function in the non-committal absurdity that comes with allowing people to elect
seemingly arbitrary goals in the name of freedom. In it lies the virtue of democracy. Adler alarms
for the moderation of this self-boundedness, which moves on the pretense of social interest.
Addie Bundren feels like she has fallen victim to the rules of life, but she also stretches as much
as possible within her social ecology.
In retrospect, discovering the pettiness, unbearableness, and brutality that emerged from
her lifestyle as a schoolteacher, Addie recognizes an openness and vulnerability to change that
started her life with Anse (Faulkner 170). Consequently, Anse fills her life with more dread. And
a pattern becomes more evident in regard to why Addie Bundren’s children seem to cope so
unskillfully with life’s challenges. To a considerable extent, the characters of As I Lay Dying,
succumb to feelings of helplessness and default to self-centered fictions to cope with life’s
As Addie Bundren looks at her life, she reveals hidden truths. She explains the feelings
and reasonings which led up to her sins and secret protests. In fact, in the conception of Jewel,
his name a meaningful artifact, her vehicle was the liberating self-ideal of sin itself. Addie
exploits the connection between the lofty ideals of Christianity and how language is used to track
the beauty and truth of that over-arching striving of the collective. By transfiguring the common
law, Addie constructs a romantic self-ideal. Faulkner writes:
And so when Cora Tull would tell me I was not a true mother, 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 an
cannot have until they forget the words. […] hearing the dark land talking of God’s love
His beauty and His sin; hearing the dark voiceless-ness in which the words are the deeds,
and the other words that are not deeds, that are just the gaps in people’s lacks […]. I
believed that I had found it. I believed that the reason was the duty to the alive, to the
terrible blood the red bitter flood boiling through the land. I would think of sin as I would
think of the clothes we both wore in the world’s face, of the circumspection necessary
because he was he and I was I […]. I would think of sin as garments which we would
remove in order to shape and coerce the terrible blood to the forlorn echo of the dead
word high in the air. (173-75)
This is a lifestyle that is aware of teleology, “that the reason was the duty to the alive” (Faulkner
173). In this context her inferiority comes from sheer human existentialism— “the terrible
blood” (Faulkner 173). Addie’s path towards superiority comes from a nihilistic manipulation of
knowledge, making a visceral transgression within a theological context, tracking a great amount
of truth, beauty, and meaning for herself. And in her remorse, she says the following, “I gave
Anse Dewey Dell to negative Jewel. Then I gave him Vardaman to replace the child I had robbed
him of. And now he has three children that are his and not mine. And then I could get ready to
die” (Faulkner 176). She does what Adler calls “interiorization of external demands” (458). And
this complex cognitive schema is not an accident. Faulkner uses it to develop the story. Cora Tull
chastises Addie, because she understands her moral loopholes: “And life is short enough […] to
win eternal grace in. And God is a jealous God. It is His to judge and to mete; not yours”
(Faulkner 168). Addie, though Cora sees it as “her vanity and her pride, that had closed her heart
to God” (Faulkner 168), successfully “made foreign demands her own […], [where] the
imperatives of compulsion have been replaced by the imperatives of freedom” (Adler 147). This
is a delicate and sublimating method of gaining psychological superiority over the environment,
similar to Anse’s self-intoxication. The best evidence to determine the true measure of social
interest, or maturity in, this sublimation, is the effect that this mother had on her children, though
nobody could call her a bad mother.
Dewey Dell
In many ways, As I Lay Dying, is about the disillusionment of motherhood. How much
self-sovereignty does an expecting mother have? It is reasonable to suggest that this depends on
the environment, on the resources available to that person, on the culture of a community, and
the individual’s problem-solving skills, philosophy, and creativity. With the previous experience
of a general physician, speaking of the source of feelings of inferiority, Adler writes:
Inferiority is a relative concept, relative to the environmental demands, to the total
situation. […] The various aspects of such interaction refer to: the organism and the
physical environment, the organism and the social environment, the separate organs with
one another, and body and mind. […] If in the organ-environment interaction, the balance
threatens to turn against the organism, it responds through attempts at compensation. […]
The concept of psychological compensation is similar to that of homeostasis… (Adler 223)
It is a systemic reaction that Dewey Dell experiences in the knowledge of her pregnancy.
Perhaps, having internalized her mother’s dissatisfaction with family life, what is obvious is that
Dewey Dell is afraid of childbearing. Pregnancy is a biological state that males do not have to
worry about. When a man impregnates a woman, it is not his body that will be at a physical
disadvantage in the environment. Dewey Dell comments on this existential imbalance:
It’s like everything in the world for me is inside a tub of guts, so that you wonder how
there can be any room in it for anything else very important. He is a big tub of guts and I
am a little tub of guts and if there is not any room for anything else important in a big tub
of guts, how can it be room in a little tub of guts. (Faulkner 58)
Adler proposed that a person is capable of changing their life by setting forth goals that are
conducive to the advancement of the collective. But how far can a person change their fate and
contribute to society if their body, and the expectations placed on that body, limit that person’s
liquidity and their creative potentialities? Sometimes a community is not set-up to protect its
most vulnerable members.
In the setting of As I Lay Dying there are socially acceptable roles that a woman must
fulfill were she to become pregnant. The myriad of restrictions placed on the female individual
are so serious that Dewey Dell develops a profound feeling of inferiority, more or less an
inferiority complex. On the journey to Jefferson, Dewey Dell’s stream-of-consciousness, in
comparison to the other characters, is most based on the temporal gradient between appraisals of
reality and self-efficacy. Dewey Dell, at seventeen, is wrestling with too many accumulated
catastrophes. She is predisposed to maximize her dread and minimize her ability to deal with it.
Such changes threaten her lifestyle and identity, so much so that she is unable to articulate
herself properly, protect herself from others, and regulate her emotions constructively. Dewey
Dell anticipates the journey’s events with dramatic fervor because the momentous threat of
motherhood completely disrupts her sense of self and in the journey, she hopes to rid herself
from the burden. Dewey Dell bargains with her secret goal, not entirely convinced of it, afraid of
her own desire to surmount her feelings of inferiority, appalled at her anger, her violent dreams,
and the knowledge that she can influence others. Dewey Dell, at her young age is experiencing
an amalgam of catastrophic events and she is painfully aware of her role in them:
Now it begins to say it. New Hope three miles. New Hope three miles. That’s what they
mean by the womb of time: the agony and the despair of spreading bones, the hard girdle
in which lie the outraged entrails of events […] Suppose I tell him to turn. He will do
what I say. Dont you know he will do what I say? […] I believe in God, God. God, I
believe in God. (Faulkner 121)
That last echo mimics the process of using language to establish moral boundaries for the self. In
this chapter it is most evident that Dewey Dell has a dual consciousness. When the text is
italicized a new layer of thoughts contrasts with her more immediate experience, of the road, of
her brothers, the weather, etc. The italicized words speak directly to the invisible field of
interpersonal conflict that is implicit throughout the story. The italicized words are intrusive
thoughts of beliefs, memories, dreams, and generally things that inform the way she truly feels.
Similar to Anse, Dewey Dell is driven by selfish impulses, but she employs various counterfictions to place her ability to solve most of life’s problems beyond her grasp, shirking
responsibility in the process. In this sense she is a catastrophizer. According to researchers
Lazarus and Folkman, coping starts with how people appraise a challenging situation and what
they might do about it (Moon and Peterson 257); “In primary appraisal, the person asks, ‘What
is at stake?’ And in secondary appraisal, the person asks, ‘What can I do about it?’ If the
answers are, respectively, ‘lots’ and ‘little,’ then the person may be catastrophizing the situation
and will be unlikely to be able to cope successfully with it.” This snippet from one of Dewey
Dell’s monologues corroborates the cognitive style of catastrophizing:
I said You don’t know what worry is. I dont know what it is. I dont know whether I am
worrying or not. Whether I can or not. I dont know whether I can cry or not. I dont know
whether I have tried to or not. I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.
The last line most poignantly illustrates Dewey Dell’s position amidst the tempest of adversity. It
would be valuable to contrast this unrequited sense of perplexity and creativity to Darl’s socially
abundant method of coping with grief, in which he imagines (because in that moment he is away
from home), the actions and thoughts of his family and neighbors at the moment of his mother’s
death (Faulkner 47-52). Darl’s perspicacity and humor manage to irritate Dewey Dell, Jewel, and
Anse. But this is a digression. The point is to show that Dewey Dell’s feelings of inferiority arise
from a much more chaotic stream of self-regard. Moreover, compared to Darl, she is pregnant.
Recounting the following events should expand on Dewey Dell’s isolated lifestyle. When Dewey
Dell is first in the knowledge of her pregnancy, she thinks back on the necessary act of having
had intimate relations with her lover, Lafe; in describing the circumstances that led up to that
lapse in judgement, she thinks to herself, “And so it was because I could not help it” (Faulkner
27). Immediately, this is a sign of catastrophizing. In review of trauma, she reasons to have left
her fate to chance. She determines, illogically, that if her sack of cotton were filled by the time
the lovers reached the end of the row, she would have to give in to her desire. The fact that she
became pregnant speaks to a much larger gamma causes which indicate a much more consistent
vulnerability in her character. But such is her subjective stance. As stated previously,
catastrophizers develop irrational beliefs, “exaggerating the importance of singular occurrences,
confusing wants and needs, [etc.] (Moon and Peterson 258). Moreover, in reviewing the events
in such a way, denying herself responsibility for the act, she places herself at a disadvantage.
These feelings are precursors to being pushed into a state of victimhood. Had she not filled her
cotton sack, would her suitor abandon all future advances? Dewey Dell shows what Adler calls
the avoidant personality type, “inclined to feel successful by avoiding the solution of problems”
(168). It’s possible, that if Addie and Dewey Dell, were supported in their indignation,
empowered by their community hold accountable their sexual partners, that they would benefit
from a fairer set of circumstances. Here, Faulkner puts Darl accosting his sister to face up to her
She just keeps on saying Are you going to tell pa? Are you going to kill him? “You
cannot believe it is true because you cannot believe that Dewey Dell, Dewey Dell
Bundren, could have such bad luck: is that it?” (Faulkner 40)
Delaying and postponing the critical point of her condition, she uses her father’s potential shock
as a pretense for not making the pregnancy a public problem. The reader considers that this is a
futile decision due to Anse’s leaning/catastrophizing lifestyle. Darl sympathizes with Dewey
Dell, but he is also passive aggressive, and he is pressing her to act. That Darl maintains the
secrecy demonstrates the tenuousness of the solutions, or it speaks to his shortcomings as an
impractical figure, self-involved, and inconsiderate. One might note, present in the passage
above, the manner in which the family uses names to make themselves known to others. Like the
will to not be beholden, this appears to be an inheritance from Addie. As noted, Addie Bundren
disassociates the names from the people, and she considers people an extension of herself. It is
perfectly possible that this cognitive style was passed on. Hence, one speculates that when the
family members do use names, they are personalizing the you, formalizing, vitrifying, the person
to whom they are speaking to. Moments before her death, Addie yells, “You, Cash!” (Faulkner
48). She echoes it violently. It is an ambiguous sort of affection, and a power play. Darl uses the
same technique to tease Jewel, saying “Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel” (Faulkner 52). And
Dewey Dell yells “ma!” (Faulkner 48), and “Lafe. Lafe. Lafe” (Faulkner 62), and “Vardaman.
You, Vardaman” (Faulkner 62). It is in this capacity that love is not shared kindly in the family.
And it is to this degree that Dewey Dell does not want to be a mother, a “ma.” Faulkner sets
forth that the only person, aside from her lover, who is privy of her secret problem, is Darl, and
he understands that it is a problem and wants her to solve it. But in doing so he is closing her
potentialities—and she is the avoidant type.
Their relationship is odd, because the reader is confused about Darl’s intentions; there are
moments in which he is fixated on Dewey Dell’s body, producing incestual connotations. But
maybe this occurs in a manner that results from an extremely sensitive understanding of the
female predicament on Darl’s behalf (Faulkner 104). Which interpretation is more reparative?
By each account, Dewey Dell puts herself in a psychological position where she finds it
impossible to cooperate with Darl, her family, and others. In fact, this nearness to Darl makes
him her nemesis. Darl finds out about Dewey Dell and Laife, and out of jealous protectiveness,
he segregates them (Faulkner 59). In this extension, Darl has interposed himself between Dewey
Dell and her highest hope, which is to take Laife’s money and procure an abortion. It might be
that he condemns her decision to keep it a secret, it might be that he doesn’t want her to get an
abortion and should tell their father instead, it might be that he is punishing her, knowing that the
task is too great, and that it will break her. What is most obvious is that there is an intimacy in
Darl’s knowing, which makes her uncomfortable, most clear in the nightmare where she kills
him (Faulkner 121). Darl exacerbates her loneliness and confuses her own methods of gain
independence, merely by being aware, and by trying to protect her. In any case, he has made
himself vulnerable to her, and she channels her global anger towards him. Moving from a deep
sense of inferiority, she attacks the one person who gave her an inch of support and empathy,
“scratching and clawing at him like a wild cat” (Faulkner 237). But without going further, it is
important to recognize that for the family, Dewey Dell’s pregnancy is a token of bad luck.
Therefore, her level of social interest could be attributed to the modicum sense of wanting to
weather the shock on her own, however detrimental this may be to her in the end. As Adler
poses, the inadequate types, such as the avoiding type, “are not apt, and are not prepared, to solve
the problems of life. [Moreover] these problems are always social problems, and individuals of
these three types lack the ability to cooperate and to contribute” (Adler 168). The paradox is that
the net effect of social expectations and organ-inferiorities is increased pressure on the individual
who is immediately and most profoundly affected. If the problem is liable to affect the entire
population of the family, why does it have to produce substantially higher feelings of inferiority
for singular individual. The hypocrisy stands as the loyalty which she must show to her brothers
and father, who failed to protect her or aid her in her own struggle. It is the lack of communal
feeling that would perpetuate helplessness. The nature of the problem makes it more difficult to
broach cooperation, added the fact of the recent passing of the mother. On one hand, if the issue
of the pregnancy becomes public, she is expected to marry, have the baby, and become a mother.
On the other hand, she feels like she needs to protect her independence—she needs to have an
abortion to save the family from the problem of a new person to take care of, and she does not
want to be beholden. Dewey Dell’s hypothetical self-ideal could be drawn from the following
It’s because I am alone. If I could just feel it, it would be different, because I would not
be alone. But if I were not alone, everybody would know it. And he could do so much for
me, and then I would not be alone. Then I could be all right alone. (Faulkner 59)
She both wants and does not want to be alone. The “it” may be the fetus. In relation to her
pregnancy, she doesn’t know the degree of her aloneness, or in another sense, her independence.
Moreover, her antisocial predisposition is easily tracked by the coarse family dysfunctions with
which she was raised. The doctor could help her, but she can’t escape her aloneness. In the end
she is too afraid to approach Peabody, who is the family’s trusted doctor-- blaming him and
hating him for his unsuspecting ignorance. When they finally arrive at the first pharmacy outside
of their hometown, Dewey Dell’s antisocial and hesitant lifestyle is most evident: “’What does
she want?’” (Faulkner 199), wonders the pharmacist; “’I dont know. I cant get anything out of
her’” is his assistant’s reply. And this is what the pharmacist gathers when she is about to open
up about her request, “It was like she had taken some kind of a lid off her face, her eyes. It was
her eyes: kind of dumb and hopeful and sullenly willing to be disappointed all at the same time”
(Faulker 200). Dewey Dell says, “’It’s the female trouble’” (Faulkner 200), which is taken to
mean a problem with her menstrual cycle; when she is asked where her mother is to advise her,
Dewey Dell says “’She’s out yonder in the wagon,’” not mentioning that Addie Bundren is a
corpse. In fact, these are her feelings about her mother’s passing:
I head that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I had time to wish I
had. It is because in the wild and outraged earth too soon too soon too soon. It’s not that I
wouldn’t and will not it’s that it is too soon too soon too soon. (Faulkner 120)
She is expected to fulfill the roles of woman of the house with the passing of her mother. She is
grieving the death of her mother. She is pregnant and trying to keep it a secret. And she is trying
to get an abortion which is frowned upon in her society. Dewey Dell, like most people, believes
that these social constructs pose a mortal danger. In her case, the truly do.
Of Vardaman, the little boy, it should suffice to say that he is just starting to form a sense
of self. At first, before his mother has passed, he is placidly invested in striving to meet
traditional ideals. Adler calls these “wanting to be a real man” (250), and he has a forceful,
childishly belligerent nature, as if trying to imitate Jewel in miniscule (Faulkner 136). Vardaman
is introduced thus:
That boy comes up the hill. He is carrying a fish nigh long as he is. He slings it to the
ground and grunts “Hah” and spits over his shoulder like a man. Durn nigh long as he is.
(Faulkner 30)
According to Adler “In the innumerable repetitions of children, we are not dealing with the
manifestation of a senseless drive for repetition, but with the tendency to completion and
perfection… the nearer we are to perfection, the stronger is the need to perform” (105). When
Vardaman is told by Anse, “You clean that fish”’ (Faulkner 31), Vardaman replies “Why cant
Dewey Dell clean it?” indignant. At this point Vardaman is fully capable of completing these
social performances that get him attention-- in the quest to fulfill an unconscious ideal. But he
meets with catastrophe. Adler proposes that “the development of the innate potentiality for
cooperation occurs first in the relationship of the child and mother” (135). When Addie is lost,
Vardaman suffers a kind of amputation. Similar to Jewel, much confidence is provided to the
child to channel their creative energy in the world, “guided by the environment, educational
measures, [and] the experience of his body” (Adler 135), but at a foundational level, the mother
passes away and can no longer directed those myriad potentialities. His social ecology
immediately descends into chaos and complexity; without a mother there is too much ambiguity.
Vardaman enters a stage of ceaseless free association, struggling to gain sovereignty over his
own body:
Then I begin to run. […] Then I begin to cry. I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It
is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. […] And now
she is getting so far ahead I cannot catch her. […] If I jump I can go through it like the
pink lady in the circus, into the warm smelling, without having to wait. […] Then I begin
to breath again, in the warm smelling. I enter the stall, trying to touch him, and then I can
cry then I vomit the crying. As soon as he gets through kicking I can and then I can cry,
the crying can. […] I am not crying now. I am not anything. […] It is as though the dark
were resolving him out of his integrity, into unrelated scattering components—snuffings
and stampings; smells of cooling flesh and ammoniac hair; an illusion of a coordinated
whole of splotched hide and strong bones within which, detached and secret and familiar,
an is different from my is. I see him dissolve—legs, a rolling eye, a gaudy splotching like
cold flames—and float upon the dark in fading solution; all one yet neither; all either yet
none. (Faulkner 54)
He cries. The moment Addie dies makes a lightbulb turn on, and Vardaman, at such a young age,
becomes aware of all the sensory data that is coming in. There is a texture of sensations and
thoughts, the impressions limiting what the body can express, and the erratic rushing forth, the
conscious locus feeling, awakened, creating. Speaking of forms of compensation, Adler
expresses the following reasons: “The unsatisfied demands increase until the deficit is made up
through growth of the inferior organ, of the paired organ, of some other organ which can serve as
a substitute, completely or apart” (24). Here, one tentatively suggests that the organs are solely
psychological structures, the mother has been severed from the child. Adler writes that in the
case of physiological compensations people develop nervous superstructures because of their
increased sense of inferiority; these manifest as blinking, ticks, stammering, thumb sucking,
eating disorders, or even vomiting during emotion (25). It is clear that these are biological
anomalies, largely lacking in social utility. In an analogous way, since “from all the impressions
which the child experiences he forms, as in an inspiration, his style of life” (Adler 164),
Vardaman proclaims, “my mother is a fish” (Faulkner 84). But truly, it isn’t clear what this
character gathers from this thought. Perhaps it is a way for him to remember the day her mother
died. Maybe Faulkner is making a more ambiguous metaphysical claim, with Vardaman tracing
a deeper truth about reality beyond death, “I saw when it did no be her. I saw” (66). It is more
likely that he is in a confused state, and Faulkner’s style lays bear the illogical fleetingness of a
child’s mind.
Theoretical Implications
The first order is to explore an empirical relationship between adversity and family
dysfunction. The famous ACE study, by Vincent Felitti, et al., demonstrates that there is a link
between risky behavior, physical disease, and the presence of coping mechanisms that fair badly
for a person’s health. Moreover, the study is a representation of the standards of Preventative
Medicine in the United States today. This draws a connection to the modern teleology of
healthcare, as the study presents a specific context that establishes measures that differentiate
normal from abnormal, adjusted versus maladjusted, and so on in similar fashion with respect to
wellbeing. Adler admits to the limits of holding people accountable to social ideals: “it is clear
that our present social and economic order, with its extreme competitiveness and its enormous
differences of levels, contributes materially to an increase in [intrapsychic] tension” (148). The
ACE study confronts the prevalence of adversity and health risk in response to the self-evident
societal failures stemming from these systemic paradigms. This scientific perspective supports
Faulkner’s literary speculations, offering empirical explanations for why the members of the
Bundren family were so disaster-prone.
The purpose of the ACE study was to investigate the relationship of high-risk behavior
and disease in adulthood and childhood exposure to adversity. A sample of close to 9,000
individuals was screened for the interrelation of two sets of data: (a) (number of categories of)
exposure to adverse childhood experiences, and (b) complete medical health profiles. Statistical
analysis demonstrated notable findings that suggest strong causal links (contingent on further
research). The prominent result was a that there is a statistically relevant connection between the
number of adverse childhood experiences (or ACEs) and health risk (Felitti et al. 250).
The study’s biggest strength is that the data was collected along conservative parameters,
meaning, that the researchers sought to describe the relationship between ACEs and health risk
by determining a simple and straightforward methodology, and the results are quite striking. The
study has corroborated the idea that “the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the United
States are related to health behaviors and lifestyle factors; [moreover] these factors have been
called the ‘actual’ causes of death” (Felitti et al. 246). The review of the literature, the methods
used, the presentation of the results, and the discussion render an elegant, original, and
comprehensive study. It was the first study to attempt describing this relationship and now it has
been cited around 9,000 times, it was reprinted in 2019, and all six authors are practicing
physicians in preventive medicine.
There are a few interesting connections to the events in Faulkner’s novel. For example, in
the ACE study, the categories of childhood exposure to adversity include: psychological abuse
(“Did a parent or other adult in the household—Often or very often swear at, insult, or put you
down?”), physical abuse (“Did a parent or other adult in the household—Often or very often hit
you so hard that you had marks or were injured?”), sexual abuse (“Did an adult or person at
least 5 years older ever—touch or fondle you in a sexual way?”), exposure to mental illness
(“Was a household member depressed or mentally ill?”), and exposure to criminal behavior in
household (“Did a household member go to prison?”) (Felitti et al. 248). All of these may apply
to the Bundren family. In the case of Anse, he is predisposed to putting others down. With
Addie, it is possible that she disciplined her own children the same way she disciplined the
children in her class when she was a schoolteacher (Faulkner 170). Also, Addie Bundren showed
many signs of depression: “Sometimes I thought that I could not bear it, lying in bed at night,
with the wild geese going north and their honking coming faint and high and wild out of the wild
darkness, and during the day it would seem as though I couldn’t wait for the last one to go so I
could go down to the spring” (Faulkner 170). As well as Anse: “But I just cant seem to get no
heart into it” (Faulkner 38), “Ill get it today […] Seems like I cant get my mind on nothing”
(Faulkner 33), and “Sometimes I wonder why we keep at it” (Faulkner 110). “Depressed mood”
was selected because it is among the “10 major risk factors that contribute to the leading causes
of morbidity and mortality in the United States” (Felitti et al. 248). One should also consider that
Vardaman witnessed the arrest of one of his brothers, Darl (Faulkner 249-52). Vardaman
understands the situation, he knows that this person is his brother, and he also intuits that Darl
was taken away because her went crazy (Faulkner 250). On top of that, when Vardaman is
ruminating on this, Dewey Dell is being led to a cellar, where a man, posing as a doctor, will
take advantage of her (Faulkner 251). The implication is that she was sexually abused, as the
treacherous man’s thoughts are reviewed on their own chapter, “MacGOWAN” (Faulkner 241).
And because Dewey Dell is seventeen years old, it is reasonable to count her as a child according
to the ACE study’s parameters; the questionnaire design was predicated on the following
introduction: “While you were growing up during your first 18 years of life…” (Felitti et al.
247). The implied sexual abuse, added the activity which led up to her pregnancy, are both
indicators of prospective health risk (behavior or disease).
The study also makes a teleological discovery, which supports the detriment of
catastrophizing, which was a recursive cognitive style throughout Faulkner’s work. The selfrated health questionnaires in the ACE study included the following: “’Do you consider your
physical health to be excellent, very good, good, fair, or poor?’ because it is strongly predictive
of mortality” (Felitti et al. 249). A person’s self-regard, their sense of inferiority, and their
awareness of physical inferiorities has an effect on their health. In a literary sense, there is an
objective measure for self-fulfilling prophecies, or inadequate self-ideals.
Many loose associations can be made with connections to the catastrophes in the novel
and the catastrophes that are considered “Adverse Childhood Exposures.” For example, for the
medical histories of the participants in the survey, they included history of “any skeletal fractures
(as proxy for risk of unintentional injuries)” (Felitti et al.). The fact that Faulkner shows that
Cash was prone to skeletal fractures, and the way the characters minimize this occurrence,
demonstrates the contrast between the statistical propensity to medical catastrophe that a person
may have due to how their lifestyle developed in the face of adversity and their conscious selfideal. Cash’s teleology was to be a careful fellow, but how much did this mitigate unconscious
factors that increased risk-prone behavior? One of the most powerful findings in the ACE study
is that “for persons reporting any single category of exposure [to adversity], the probability of
exposure to any additional category ranged from 65%-93% (median: 80%); similarly, the
probability of ≥2 additional exposures ranged from 40%-74% (median: 54.5%)” (Felitti et al.
249). This indicates that Faulkner was very sensitive to a realistic prevalence of health risks due
to exposure to adversity, the main catastrophe being the death of a family member. Whether a
health risk factor was present, or whether adversity was present, in the plot of the story, the ACE
study tells us that there is a compounding effect—an increased likelihood, of about 80%, that
another risk factor is at play. For Dewey Dell, for instance, there are already three potential
ACEs: living with a parent suffering from mental illness, experiencing sexual/psychological
abuse, and criminal activity in the family. Added the fact that the perceived values of her
community precipitated her to feel isolated and engage in risky behavior.
There are two major open-ended conclusions that should be drawn related to this literary
analysis. One is the limits of the study’s scope. The researchers pose that further research should
be conducted, because the link between adverse childhood experiences and health risk behaviors
and adult disease is not exactly understood (Felitti et al. 252). They suggest that the tentative
mechanism of risky behavior, “such as smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, overeating, or sexual
behaviors” is that they have “immediate pharmacological or psychological benefit as coping
devices in the face of stress of abuse, domestic violence, or other forms of family and household
dysfunction” (Felitti et al. 253). In this light, it may be discerned that the family does have a
collective self-ideal that will take them from various feelings of inferiority to feelings of
superiority. Under the pretense of Addie Bundren’s dying wish, the family endeavors on a
journey that brings them even more adversity; the various members compensate for feelings of
grief, duty, and religion, etc.-- but they are rather stoic: Jewel surrenders his horse, Cash wont
complain about his leg, and Dewey Dell is coerced into a sexual act; Darl looses his mind
because he struggled to empathize and unburden the family that betrays him; and Anse is the
only one with a truly vain desire to get new teeth, buy himself a new radio, and meet his new
wife. Faulkner alludes to the tragic ending, which is to reveal the banality of the father, when
Tull says, “I think that if nothing but being married will help a man, he’s durn nigh hopeless”
(71). One must look at the nobility in the root of Anse’s feelings of inferiority; “Pa’s feet are
badly splayed, his toes cramped and bent and warped, with no toenail at all on his little toes,
from working so hard in the wet in homemade shoes when he was a boy” (Faulkner 11). Anse is
the only one to show a vice that directly had a detrimental effect on his health: “Pa is tilting snuff
from the lid of his snuff-box into his lower lip, holding the lip outdrawn between thumb and
finger” (Faulkner 10)—which caused him his teeth. And one can gather this line of causality
because Anse is old enough to show the weathering of his lifestyle. Just as Cash’s skeletal
fractures are unforeseeable, yet statistically alarming, each character shows the innate potential
to develop nefarious lifestyle traits. In all likelihood, calculating the adversity and behavior of
the family before and after the journey to Jefferson, Vardaman is an Anse in potential.
The second open-ended subject that arises from a medical evaluation of As I Lay Dying,
is that the major weakness in the ACE study is due to the prevalence of a spectrum of histrionic
disorders. This is what it entails: (a) “the data about adverse childhood experiences are based on
self-report and retrospective;” (b) “persons with health risk behaviors or diseases may have been
either or more, or less, likely to report adverse childhood experiences;” and (c) “disease
conditions could be either over- or under-reported by patients” (Felitti et al. 251). This is because
the human mind is the mediator between these associations. Adler anticipated this to some
extent, reflecting the significant consideration that, “adverse childhood experiences may affect
attitudes and behaviors toward health and health care, sensitivity to internal sensations, or
physiologic functioning in brain centers and neuro-transmitter systems” (Felitti et al. 251). The
human psyche is veritably difficult to study. And these considerations reveal that Individual
Psychology was quite appropriate for evaluating biopsychosocial ecology of As I Lay Dying. By
analyzing the characters with Adler’s holistic view of the individual person, attempting to
discern systemic trends for lifestyle and self-consistency, a more flexible, inclusive, and
rewarding process occurs.
The broadest perspective that is opened up by the ACE study, that relates to the Adlerian
analysis of As I Lay Dying, is that risk factors and childhood exposures are not arbitrarily chosen.
With the parameters of the study as an example (Felitti et al. 248), it is clear that children would
not choose adverse conditions on their own. With Adler’s system, an analysis starts with an
examination of the unique psychological phenomenon of the individual to decipher their
particular lifestyle based on how self-ideals achieve adequate social interest. The literary analysis
and the ACE study support the idea that external circumstances have a major role in determining
the health of the individual. However, Adler discerned that in relation to human endeavors, these
problems, if one considers objective circumstances that affect a person’s development, are
interpersonal personal, or social problems. The ACE study concluded that, “the primary
prevention of adverse childhood experiences has proven difficult and will ultimately require
societal changes that improve the quality of family and household environment[s] during
childhood” (Felitti et al. 255). The study further suggests methods of improvement, such as: “a
series of office visits, home visits, and a telephone advice line for parents [by which] specialists
develop close relationships between children and their families from birth to 3 years of age”
(Felitti et al. 255). But these solutions bring up a paradoxical teleological issue. Americans don’t
like to be beholden. Namely, plans to address sociological risk factors by the field of Preventive
Medicine establish a context by which to criticize normative standards of health and wellbeing.
According to James Sawry and Charles Telford, in Adjustment and Personality, “the way a
problem is perceived and defined largely determines what is done or not done about it, […] and
no field of investigation exists independently of the social network of which it is part” (3).
Hence, a teleological perspective is required. In reviewing the history of the institution of mental
health treatment, these same psychologists aptly determined that “there are universal value
judgements involved in treating the sick” (Sawrey and Telford 118). As I Lay Dying makes a
sharp contrast with how much medicine has increased its territory and medicalized aspects of
daily life that were previously viewed as socially or culturally determined (Frank viii). The ACE
study makes a great contribution by showing that there are direct health risks associated with
exposure to adversity, but how far should institutions organize the private lives of families? For
instance, what kinds of mandevillian intelligence would be inhibited by these interventions? But
so as not to catastrophize, here are the study’s closing remarks: “Clearly, further research and
training are needed to help medical and public health practitioners understand how social,
emotional, and medical problems are linked throughout the lifespan” (Felitti et al. 256). Faulkner
gives the reader a microscope into the people’s heritage in America. Social, emotional, and
medical evaluations are stacked on top of that.
Having analyzed Faulkner’s novel for its treatment of teleology in being, there is a
context that allows one to extrapolate and even apply the seemingly disparate findings. The
queue is to think about the teleology of emotion and works of art.
Sabine Roeser is a philosopher and professor of ethics at the Delft University of
Technology. In “Socially Extended Moral Deliberation about Risks,” she exercises her ideas
about moral knowledge, intuitions, emotions, art, and evaluative aspects of risk. Faulkner puts
the Bundren family through hell, forcing them to evaluate their place in the social order, and
examine whether their ideals are worth the trouble. Roeser builds her arguments by giving
poignant examples of actual ethical dilemmas that humans face today, which present moral
stalemates. The literary analogy is to consider that at the crux of interpersonal conflict, the
lowest common denominators of social interest, and the opportunistic drives of leaning types and
bullies, arbiter in times of critical risk assessment, i.e., at the foot of the river’s crossing
(Faulkner 141). This may be due to a lack of treating the emotional realm of human
interrelatedness, a want to make the unconscious social power struggles explicit. Roeser
describes how a critical view of emotion allows for moral reflection that is more authentic to all
the facets of life. She effectively challenges normative presumptions that emotions are not an
effective way to make ethical decisions and evaluate risk. Her purpose is to educate, providing
an overview of the ethical challenges brought on by many technological innovations of today,
delving into the social utility of art in informing emotional intelligence.
The way forward in contending with complex public issues relies on the openness
towards ideas that exist beyond a single individual’s psychology. As shown in the
biopsychosocial considerations drawn from the ACE study, “ethical aspects are inherently
intertwined with but cannot be reduced to the scientific aspects of risk” (Roeser 158). This is
why an exploration of socially extended knowledge, facilitated by Roeser’s framing of moral
deliberation of risk through emotion, and narrative works of fiction as extended artifacts, is so
useful. Taking the Covid-19 pandemic as an example, it is clear that advances in biotechnology,
so crucial to the development of a viable vaccine, make people uncomfortable. The bias is to
judge those who are too selfish to not get vaccinated, liable to put their fellow citizens in mortal
danger. And it is a fair judgement on those actors who polemicized a medical problem and
transformed it into a bipartisan dispute. The truth is that the majority of citizens do not hold
degrees in biology. Still, people suspect-- they intuit that “biotechnology involves uncertainty
and ignorance about possible future developments, their impacts, and their moral meaning”
(Roeser 158). There is evidence of technological innovations that were established in light of
necessity, such as the advent of genetically modified organisms, used to increase agricultural
output and meet the demands of a growing global population. Seedless watermelons are
convenient, yet what about the flavor, and what about the potential adverse health effects?
“Addressing these ethical issues requires societal decision-making, involving a wide range of
stakeholders to make sure that different perspectives are included and to overcome potential
biases and narrow perspectives” (Roeser 159). Roeser brings up a rich history of how emotions
have been studied, and the discipline has shown that emotions in risk-assessment have great
potential as forms of “practical rationality” and “potential source[s] of moral wisdom” (159).
These researchers assert that emotions provide focus and insight into the moral fabric of a
situation, such that “only somebody who cares about certain moral issues can be receptive to the
relevant aspects of situations” (Roeser 159). Emotions are complex intuitive devices, that work
as heuristics, and reveal truths that may appear only to the person with that special
phenomenological perspective. Faulkner suggests that there is a profound utility in complex
emotional scenarios; with Dewey Dell, for instance, when she dreams in a palette of loose
impressions, about her future psychological states, and the absurdity of the interpersonal
connections that will be at play in the ensuing journey (121). And Roeser expands on this,
demonstrating that emotions are a socially-extended form of intelligence: “It is not only through
firs-hand experience that we have [a] capacity [to understand] others’ emotions and the values at
stake. Emotions are also part of our imaginative capacities through which we sympathize and
empathize with others, and which enable us to take on their perspective and to share in and care
about their fate” (160). It is works of art which allow one to relate imaginatively with the same
intricate emotions as another. They also allow for a critical and dispassionate evaluation of the
moral perspective of emotional fields. Faulkner’s work, his style, shines forth because it
perfectly accomplishes the goals set by Roeser of stretching the imaginative capacities of people,
and creating deep understanding through the richness of emotion.
Having examined some objective and subjective theoretical avenues, it is suitable to
investigate the skillful critical applicability of a balanced approach that explores ethical problems
both scientifically and emotionally. Roeser drove at the use of works of art as external tools of
moral deliberation and knowledge acquisition. The same can be done by looking at research such
as the ACE study as isolated objects that have specific moral prerogatives. By exaggerating the
hypothetical and final end of a given line of research, the practice of teleological interpretation
allows one to introduce speculative design scenarios. The idea is to look into the form and
desired end of the human species in whole. And there are researchers do just that; they embrace
the plasticity of art and science to inform the context of investigation.
If one scrutinizes the purpose of any singular feeling of inferiority, which could muster
an infinite variability of compensatory behaviors in an individual, it is evident that humans,
whether at the conscious locus of the individual or at the collective level, prioritize one trait over
another. Adler mused on this and attributed it to social evolution which “operates directly by the
inheritance of acquired characters, of knowledge and learned activities, including value
judgments and ethical decisions, and is subject to conscious control” (106). This figures into the
fragile interpretation of any body of philosophical work and its ethical applications. Darwin’s
ideas, for instance, were enough to level man from his exceptional state in the natural world and
were exploited to justify an ethical imperative of survival of the fittest in the human sphere.
Nietzsche’s ideas were also construed by the Nazi party to justify genocide. For that reason,
whether it is the death of God, or the concept of evolution, humanity endeavors to donate
knowledge in a deliberate way. In the modern setting, in the land of social media, nuggets of
‘wisdom’ are passed on incessantly in myriad forms, in the form of memes. Memes, as Richard
Dawkins proposed, are humanity’s extended phenotype. In this sense, speculative design is a
form of expository meme theory.
Darl, in As I Lay Dying, does a wonderful job of obsessing over his brother Jewel. There
is a marked difference in their physical height. But Darl, in his psychological openness, shows an
ability to dissociate completely from his sense of self. In his final chapter he speaks of Darl in
the third person (Faulkner 253). As a foreshadowing, Darl embodies this double consciousness in
relation to Jewel (Faulkner 180-3). It is not clear whether Darl is perplexed, mulling over his
secret intuitive insight into Jewel’s real biological father, or that in a kind of jealous genetic
protest he is experimenting with how much he can understand his potential half-brother, who is a
full-head taller than him. Arne Hendriks is a speculative designer, and he is also reasonably
obsessed with the full teleological nature of physical height. In “The Incredible Shrinking Man”
Hendricks proposes downsizing the entire human species. There are various projects linked to
the landing site, that make all kinds of arguments about the benefits of downsizing people. The
project’s great strengths are its multifaceted design, and the memetic, imaginative,
persuasiveness of the collection. The project proves its point from a broad field of disciplines,
lending credence to the reality of moral relativity and human morphology. Because there is an
immanent ambiguity in the direction of human progress, and there is an inherent injustice and
obstacle in ameliorating systemic social contexts that alienate individuals, it is valuable to
highlight the true vastness of possible biopsychosocial goals. For example:
Buddhist auxology is the not-yet-existing study of all aspects of human physical growth
from the perspective of the desire to be as small as possible. It would be a multidisciplinary science involving health sciences/medicine, nutrition science, genetics,
anthropology, anthropometry, ergonomics, history, economic history, sociology, public
health, and psychology, among others. Buddhist economic theory considers it a sign of
elegance when needs are fulfilled with as little resources as possible. An increase in
human size is quite the opposite from elegant.
Although the larger human body requires more, it is not more human.
(Hendricks, “The Incredible Shrinking Man | Researching the Implications of
Downsizing the Human Species to Better Fit the Earth”)
Buddhist auxology may not be an established discipline yet, but it would immediately present
many advantageous perspectives. This is an intractable form of evidence against reductionism.
Championing open-mindedness and psychological idiosyncrasy were indispensable to analyze
Faulkner’s work using Adler’s system. There are few avenues that are more constructive than
trying open up the experiential possibilities and evaluate their merits with compassion.
Closing Remarks
The most obvious finding is that people form their identities privately-- but also
collectively. Moreover, the teleological process is empty of form, the self can in fact fit into
unimaginable molds. Given that it is humans who do the reading and the writing, it is an
inescapable precondition that the endeavor to analyze such a dense novel is ridden with
imperfections. One of these shortcomings is that, though the attempt is to make psychological
evaluations in a detached and equitable manner, value judgements were placed on the
personalities that were analyzed. Hopefully this proves that literary analysis necessitates
scientific rigor. And conversely, the research also provided reasons for determining that science
necessitates artistic sensibility, particularly in relation to moral and ethical deliberations.
Alfred Adler’s system is also imperfect. The idea that everything must have a purpose,
that the human species is doomed to incessant striving, is imperfect. Moreover, Adler’s system is
outdated, and it must be treated loosely as a philosophical primer, lacking in the rigor of
contemporary psychology. However, as has been noted, Adler embraced the human tendency to
mask ulterior motives. Psychologists are not exempt from hidden metaphysical agendas. And
Adler also determined that all people are guided by fictions; that “the difference between [the
normal and the neurotic] was one of degree, the normal showing a less accentuated, less
dogmatized, goal of superiority and less urgency in reaching it […]. The greater motivation of
the neurotic came from his greater inferiority feeling” (102). From this broad leveling ambiguity,
attempting to set a direction for the human psyche, one must challenge Adler’s assertion that “a
goal on the useful side of life needs no excuses” (140). Faulkner puts forth the example of Cash,
who claimed to know his fall to the inch; the second time Cash breaks that same leg he comes
out of the river, guiding Jewel’s horse out of the water (155). This is the horse that Jewel
confidently marched body and soul into the water; once his brother rescued it, Jewel felt
indebted, so that he strove to dive back into the river to rescue Cash’s carpenter tools (Faulkner
149). It is this indomitable horse that is the human psyche. When we strive boldly ahead, we are
taking it into the murky water. And when we make mistakes, we attempt to resolve them on mere
Is it possible, that through conscious stubbornness the individual and the human species
can change their fate? Is it not false to assume that a fiction is self-evidently good or bad, worth
striving for or against, knowing that fundamentally knowledge is incomplete? It appears
inconceivable that humans will act hesitantly in the face of the global cataclysms that lay ahead.
It is safe to assume that mankind can and will adapt to environmental challenges, including the
death of the Sun. But there is a myriad of moral proclivities that will suffer in the process. It is
inevitable because form is infinite. Animals, for instance, who appeared on this earth on their
own accidental volition, do not evolve the way humans now can. It is fine to strive for perfection,
but this is mere hypocrisy until those values reflect the great beauty of nature.
The wisdom of As I Lay Dying is locked in the words of the work itself. The reader
brings with them emotions, hedged skillfully or not, into the reading. The critic enters the bonds
of a family, picking allegiances, mourning the dead, crossing the river. And one thing is true
about the difficulty in providing a proper analysis, that “it is easier to trace the manifestations of
the guiding fiction than to name the fictive final purpose itself” (Adler 121). In a preemptive
strike, the critic should question the insidiousness of all dogma. To a considerable extent,
Faulkner warns against the banality of convention, of succumbing to the commercialization of
the world, the institutionalization of madness, and the limits of family roles. In the end Faulkner
welcomes the reader to challenge the merits of any goal, of being privy of making an unwise
crossing, but also against being overly cautious. And Faulkner also suggests that there is freedom
in the ambivalence of nature, that humans are not limited by any self-ideal. Today humans are
advancing at a ridiculous pace, making godlike technological innovations, changing the face of
the earth. This ceaseless religious striving is taken for granted. But at least in that journey there is
art, a humble pace, As I Lay Dying.
Works Cited
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Selections from His Writings. Edited by Heinz Ansbacher and Rowena Ansbacher, 1st
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International, 1990.
Felitti, Vincent J., et al. “Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many
of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine,
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