Summary of As I Agonize

In the tradition of 20th-century universal literature, a novel born from the pen of the famous American writer William Faulkner is known as As I Lay Dying. It was first published in 1930, thanks to the work of the New York publishing house Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith.

Transcendence of the work

This work is considered one of Faulkner’s shortest novels, because according to some critics it is so frenetic, well-structured and precise that As I Agonize can be read in one go, and yet it can leave its reader almost breathless, as it flows like a tragic river and chorus towards the tragedy of the Bundrens family, who walk tenaciously towards their own destruction, believing instead that with that rugged journey they will achieve their secret goals.

Likewise, beyond bringing back to the stage of 20th century literature the most genuine tragic epics of Western literature, As I Agonize is also one of the most masterly choral novels written during this century.

In this sense, according to specialists in the work of this American writer, who had already tried this technique in his previous novel Noise and Rage (1929), Faulkner manages to articulate 59 different narrators in the pages of As I Agonize, also making each of the members of the Bundrens family narrate from their own point of view the journey they make, in order to carry the corpse of their mother to be buried with their ancestors, as was their last wish.

In this order of ideas, As I Agonize also innovates by presenting the figure of the mother, since instead of appearing as the receptacle of love and the bond that unites the family, Faulkner actually presents her as a woman who does not appreciate her children, who deceives her husband, who is hated by her father, and in addition to being the seed of discord for her family, will insist on her deathbed to condemn them on a journey that will condemn them to destruction.

This new figure of the mother can be interpreted as a symbol of the tearing that man has suffered in his human condition, realizing that the world is not an idyllic place, but on the contrary a path of obstacles that will end with him, while he walks hopefully or stubbornly towards his own destiny, without suspecting that he also lurks in his end.

In presenting the mother in this way, he also presents himself as an abandoned and hopeless man in a world where he has only his loneliness and helplessness, for he no longer even has the family as a nucleus of protection, for it perishes before the particular desires of its members, who as humans are full of vices. Thus, as I agonize, it is a choral chant towards the destruction of the family, the tearing of the mother and the loneliness of the human soul in a hostile world.

Summary While I’m dying

In terms of its specific content, most researchers agree that in this novel the anecdotal is the least, since the events that occur can be interpreted as a Faulkner resource to introduce universal symbols and archetypes, which help to configure a tragic epic lived by the human soul, towards the path of its destruction, and fall into the irremediable abyss of madness.

However, as for the specific events that weave the plot of this novel, it can be said that the story begins when Addie Bundrenn, humble woman and wife of farmer Anse Burndrenn is on his deathbed, in a slow but forceful agony.

Meanwhile she, her husband and five children wait for death to come, this woman and mother expresses her last wish: to be buried with her ancestors in Jefferson Cemetery, located more than sixty kilometers from her place of residence, located in Mississippi, in the imaginary county of Yoknapetawpha Country.

Thus, after the death of the mother, her five children and her husband decide to embark on the journey, after placing the remains of this woman in a coffin, made by Chash, in the eldest of his children, and who throughout the funeral epic will feel pride in the clock-shaped coffin he has made for his mother, who has even made some holes for her to breathe.

Although the love of these children for their mother, and vice versa, isn´t entirely idyllic, because in reality it almost doesn´t exist, and in some cases such as Darl’s, in reality it is the opposite, because the hatred towards her is established, in reality each of the members of this family decides to make this journey due to hidden and personal reasons.

This is how the novel demonstrates, through the inner dialogue of each member, which constitute the polyphony of Faulkner’s novel, as in the background, for example, Cash only wants to be proud and that people admire his coffin, the only sister Dewey Dell seeks that the trip produces an abortion, which erases the trace of their hidden loves; Jewel, who is the fruit of his mother’s extramarital love with a reverend, tries to prove to all his brothers that he is really an autonomous being; the youngest of the Vardaman brothers is looking to get a toy train, and the father, Anse, believes that this trip can help him get a woman to replace his deceased wife.

Apparently the only son who has nothing to look for on this trip is Darl, who hates his mother, and at the same time knows the particular motivation of each of his relatives to do so. Even with that ability to see the future that seems to assault him in prophetic outbursts, at some point in the journey he understands that he will never return from it again, since he has plunged into the abyss of madness, where he will be lost forever.

In this way, the Bundrenn family advances by a lake road, with the corpse of the mother to slope, facing all the setbacks that the nature can place in front, like for example fires or floods, where some of his children will have to risk his life to save the mortal remains of the mother. Equally evident is the life of this white family, but terribly poor, to the point of living almost like black slaves.

However, beyond the epopoeic feat they have decided to assume, and the courage with which they face it, in reality this family only advances towards its own destruction. In fact, the only one who ends up surviving is the father, who is also seen as a symbol of discord and danger to family unity. Despite the tragic omens about this family and the fate and misery of their children, Anse Bundrenn finally manages to achieve things that give him happiness, such as a new set of teeth, a gramophone, and even a new woman.

Image: portrait of William Faulkner, author of As I Agonize / Source:

Summary of As I Agonize
Source: Education  
October 31, 2019

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