Symbols in “As i Lay Dying” by William Faulkner

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Can something as simple as symbols and imagery create an outstanding novel? William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying is a story of a family on their forty mile journey to bury Addie, a mother and wife. Their journey is a tragic and long. In William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, Faulkner uses symbols and imagery to fully define the characters and themes. Throughout the novel, Cash, mentions his tools repeatedly and shows readers how important they are to him. He has returned to the trestles, stooped again in the lantern’s feeble glare as he gathers up his tools and wipes them on a cloth carefully and puts them into the box with its leather sling to go over the shoulder. Then he takes up box, lantern and raincoat and returns to the house (Faulkner 80).

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Cash’s tools serve as a symbol of his personality. Cash tends to want to fix things, or make things right. He uses his tools to make his mother’s coffin in her honor because he believes in love and family. Using his tools to build something, or taking his time to do something for someone is a big commitment to Cash. He sees his tools as something very special to him. Cash is a man of action; when they cross the river, Cash is set on saving his tools; Even his family members try to save the tools because they know how important they are to Cash. In this novel, Vardaman catches a fish for dinner and it serves him a major symbol to understand the meaning of death. It was not here. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother..It was not here because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now it’s all chopped up. I chopped it up. It’s laying in the kitchen in the bleeding pan, waiting to be cooked and et (Faulkner 66). A wave of obsessive thoughts arise to Vardaman’s mind when he catches the fish. He makes the connection between the fish and his mother. The fish, and his mother, are in a different state of existence now, other than him, and this makes Vardaman think his mother is the fish.

The thought of the dead fish helps Vardaman grieve over his mother’s death, as he is only able to understand mortality through the fish’s death. The connection between the fish and Addie comes up again during the river part, when Vardaman compares the fish in the river to his mother’s coffin. Jewel has a horse that is very important to him. He works every night to save up for this horse. It’s not your horse that’s dead, Jewel.Jewel’s mother is a horse (Faulkner 94, 196). Jewel’s relationship with his horse shows his decision to isolate himself from the rest of his family. Jewel is not a Bundren child through blood; however, he says his desire to leave the family is strong. In order to buy the horse, Jewel had to work every day, and lied to his family. Darl even says that Jewel’s mother is a horse. When Anse trades Jewel’s horse in for a new team of mules, Anse is stripping Jewel from the family and taking away his independence.

Eyes are described a great deal of times throughout the novel. First, Darl describes Jewel’s eyes, Anse describes his son Darl’s eyes, Cora talks about Addie’s eyes: Her eyes are like two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks. But the eternal and the everlasting salvation and grace is not upon her (Faulkner 8). Dewey Dell has an odd obsession with Darl’s eyes. “”the land runs out of Darl’s eyes; they swim to pinpoints. They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and them my dress is gone: I sit naked on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail”” (Faulkner 121). The symbols of eyes explains bigger plot ideas in the novel. Dewey Dell finds Darl’s eyes threatening because she finds him intimidating because he knows about her baby; He basically sees right through her. Addie’s coffin is a main symbol in this novel.

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 goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet (Faulkner 15). The coffin serves as a symbol of unbalanced and heavy weight on the whole family, figuratively and literally. As Addie rots in the coffin, the family gets more and more tired of carrying her body. The longer they travel the more they question why they are doing this for her. While they carry the coffin, they break apart as a family. When the coffin is heaved off balance by Addie’s body, the coffin becomes a reason for all of the family’s troubles. Burying the coffin is also important to the family’s capability to return to some sort of a normal state. These four major symbols are extremely important to tying the main idea together throughout the novel. William Faulkner adds these symbols to clue in readers that this family is superstitious. In William Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, Faulkner expresses characters and themes through symbols and imagery. How William Faulkner uses symbols in this novel brings the story together and gives readers a deeper connection to the characters.

Works Cited

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. First Vintage international edition. Vintage Books, 1990.

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Symbols in "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner. (2019, Aug 15). Retrieved February 3, 2023 , from

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