About the Book

Book Protagonist: Anse Bundren
Publication Date: 1930
Genre: Drama, Literary Fiction


As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

'As I Lay Dying' by William Faulkner is a classic of southern gothic literature and of the modernist movement more generally. It’s a legendary story that follows the Bundren family and those they meet along the way as they attempt to bring their mother’s body to Jefferson. 

As I Lay Dying‘ was published in 1930 and is famously experimental. The novel uses 15 different narrators, something that can make it confusing to read for new readers who have never experienced it before. The book focuses on one family, their personal struggles, their relationships with the matriarch of the family (Addie Bundren), and their issues with one another. There is no single protagonist or antagonist in the novel, adding to the book’s experimental feel. 

Spoiler-Free Summary of As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying‘ is a classic American novel that’s set in Mississippi, specifically Yoknapatawpha County, close to where the author grew up. It follows the Bundren family as they bring their mother’s corpse to Jefferson, the town she wished to be buried. Along the way, the 15 different narrators describe events, what led them there, and what personal issues they’re dealing with. 

The novel deals with themes of family, mortality, birth, and death, as well as duty in the face of hardship. The family members all battle their personal, internal demons and issues with their parents and siblings and consider their futures as they fulfill their duty to Addie. 

Complete Plot Summary of As I Lay Dying

Warning – This article contains important details and spoilers

The novel begins with Addie Bundren, the family’s matriarch, living her final days. She’s sick and knows that she’s going to die soon. When the novel opens, she’s watching one of her sons, Cash, building her coffin. She has two other sons and a daughter, Dewey Dell, with her husband Anse. 

She dies right as a rainstorm sweeps into the area and destroys the important bridges the family needed to use to transport her body. Her youngest son, Vardaman, struggles to accept her death and worries about her being nailed inside her coffin. He drills holes in the lid for her. 

Dewey, readers learn, is pregnant at 17 years old with the child of Lafe, a local farmer’s son. She’s worried about the future and paranoid about her family’s reaction to her pregnancy, so she barely gives any thought to her mother’s death or spends much time mourning. 

After a funeral service, the family learns that Addie wanted to be buried in Jefferson, a town where her extended family was laid to rest. Her husband, Anse, is compelled to fulfill her dying wish (despite the fact that he’s a historically lazy and hypocritical person). 

Cash helps lift the coffin into a wagon, despite having a broken leg, and they begin their journey to Jefferson. They are forced to ford rivers that they’d normally have crossed via a bridge (all of which were washed out during the rainstorm). 

Cash hurts his leg again after a stray log knocks the coffin out of the wagon. Vernon Tull helps the family rescue the coffin and the wagon, getting both out of the river. Readers also learn about Addie’s life, ad though Addie is speaking from the afterlife, and an affair she had with a local minister (who is the father of Jewel). No one knows that this affair happened except for the two involved, and the minister decides to keep it that way after Addie dies. 

The family makes it to Mottson, and everyone in the town notices the terrible smell coming from the coffin. Dewey goes into a drugstore to try to find something to give herself an abortion but fails. The druggist tells her to get married instead. The family spends the night with the Gillespies, and Darl tries to burn the coffin in order to end their journey. He only ends up burning down the barn. 

The next day, they arrive in Jefferson. There, they finally bury Addie’s body. The Bundrens avoid a lawsuit for Darl’s destruction of the Gillespie barn by saying that he’s insane and having him committed to a mental institution. 

Dewey again tries to get drugs from a pharmacy, but the young man working at the counter tricks her into having sex with him; she soon learns that the drugs she was given will not help her situation. The next morning, the family is introduced to Anse’s new wife, a woman he met the day before while borrowing shovels to bury Addie. Readers also learn that Anse used Dewey’s money (which she got from Lafe) to buy new teeth. 


What is the conflict of As I Lay Dying?

The main conflict the Bundrens face in ‘As I Lay Dying is humankind vs. nature. The family is forced to contend with a variety of natural obstacles, like flooded-out bridges, on their journey to Jefferson. Another major conflict is duty vs. logic. The family knows that it’s highly illogical to take their mother’s body to Jefferson, but they want to honor her last wish. 

What is the theme of As I Lay Dying?

The primary themes of ‘As I Lay Dying are mortality, the purpose of life, family, and duty. The author explores these themes through the 15 different narrators he used to describe the journey to Jefferson. 

When does the book As I Lay Dying take place? 

As I Lay Dying takes place in 1928 in Mississippi, specifically in Yoknapatawpha County. It follows a family, the Bundrens, and their attempt to bring their mother’s body to the town of Jefferson. 

What kind of novel is As I Lay Dying?

‘As I Lay Dying’ is a novel written by William Faulkner, first published in 1930. It is considered a modernist classic and is known for its distinctive style and structure.

What is the plot of ‘As I Lay Dying?’

The plot of ‘As I Lay Dying’ centers around the death and burial of Addie Bundren, as well as the journey her family takes to bury her. The novel is told from multiple perspectives, with each character’s account shedding light on their own motivations and relationships with Addie.

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
Share to...