About the Book

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

Themes and Analysis

As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

'As I Lay Dying' is a classic American novel written by William Faulkner. It tells the story of the Bundren family and their journey to bury the matriarch, Addie Bundren. 

Throughout the novel, Faulkner expertly weaves together a tapestry of themes, symbols, and key moments that add depth to the story and provide readers with a thought-provoking narrative. The novel is studied in schools and universities around the world today and is cited as one of the most important and experimental novels of the modernist movement. 



The first major theme in William Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying‘ is death and the inevitability of mortality. Throughout the novel, characters grapple with the looming presence of death, the irreversibility of life, and the ambiguity of what comes next. The Bundren family’s journey to bury their deceased mother, Addie, serves as a vehicle for exploring the idea that death is a part of life and how life carries on regardless of its loss. 


The second major theme in ‘As I Lay Dying‘ is language and communication. Despite their inability to express their own thoughts and feelings, each character communicates their emotions in a variety of ways, sometimes through silence or through the use of symbols. These symbols are used to convey the complexity of their inner lives in a way that words cannot. 


The third major theme in As I Lay Dying‘ is faith. Throughout the novel, characters struggle with their belief systems and question the power of God. For some, faith helps them to cope with their loss, while others find that faith fails to provide solace in times of sorrow. The novel examines the complexity of faith and how it can be used both to guide and confuse us.

Key Moments

  1. Addie Bundren’s death – Addie, the matriarch of the Bundren family, passes away at the start of the novel, prompting the journey to her burial site.
  2. The crossing of the river – The Bundrens must cross a swollen river to reach Jefferson.
  3. Cash’s broken leg – After a roof collapses in a storm, Cash suffers a broken leg. This is both a physical and metaphorical symbol for the fractures in the Bundren family.
  4. Jewel’s rescue – Jewel, Addie’s favorite son, dives into the river to save the family wagon and its contents, emerging as a hero.
  5. Arrival in Jefferson – the family gets to Jefferson, where they’re going to bury Addie’s body.
  6. Darl’s arson – Darl sets fire to the barn containing his mother’s coffin and is later sent to an asylum.
  7. Dewey Dell’s abortion attempt – Dewey Dell attempts to procure an abortion while in Jefferson but fails.
  8. Addie’s burial – After more than a week of journeying, Addie is finally buried with dignity in her hometown of Jefferson.
  9. Anse’s marriage – Anse Bundren marries a woman named Dellachay shortly after Addie’s death, in what some consider to be an act of betrayal.

Tone and Style

William Faulkner uses a solemn tone in the story ‘As I Lay Dying,’ emphasizing the tragedy of the family’s situation and the sorrow of death. The characters often express their grief, pain, and confusion through their thoughts and actions, creating a pervasive sense of sadness throughout the novel. In addition, Faulkner’s use of intense imagery adds to the sense of despair that is felt by the characters.

Faulkner uses a stream-of-consciousness style in ‘As I Lay Dying,’ which gives readers an intimate look into the character’s innermost thoughts. By presenting their inner monologues in an uninterrupted flow, Faulkner gives readers direct access to each character’s psychological experience. This technique also gives readers insight into how these characters form their thoughts and perceive the world around them.


The Journey 

The novel focuses on the Bundrens’ journey to bury Addie, with the family struggling through physical and mental challenges in order to achieve their goal. It is symbolic of the difficult and enduring journey that life presents. The obstacles they face along the way serve as reminders of the obstacles everyone faces in their own lives.

The River

The river has various meanings throughout the novel. It serves as a marker of the Bundrens’ progress and can be interpreted as a sign of hope and faith, as when Jewel dives into it to retrieve the coffin. It is also symbolic of the unpredictable nature of life, as the river is often dangerous and difficult to navigate.


Money appears at different points throughout the novel, both literally and figuratively. It represents security and control; although the Bundrens never have enough money, they are still able to accomplish their goal by having some financial means at their disposal. Money also symbolizes greed and materialism, such as seen at the end of the novel when Anse uses Dewey’s money to buy himself new teeth.


What is the major theme in As I Lay Dying

The major theme in As I Lay Dying‘ is the difficult journey through grief, despair, and death. The family’s journey through grief is symbolized by a literal journey they take to bury their mother in Jefferson. 

Who are the most important characters in As I Lay Dying

The most important characters in ‘As I Lay Dying are Anse Bundren, Addie Bundren, and Darl Bundren. Also of importance are Cash and Dewey. Of the many narrators of the novel, Darl and Cash narrate the most sections. 

Why is the novel As I Lay Dying so important? 

As I Lay Dying‘ is an important novel because it explores how different individuals process grief in different ways and offers insight into how they find the strength to move on.

What is the significance of the title ‘As I Lay Dying?’

The title ‘As I Lay Dying‘ comes from a line in Homer’s Odyssey, Book XI. It starts with: “As I lay dying, the woman with the dog’s eyes…”

What is the style of ‘As I Lay Dying?’

The style of ‘As I Lay Dying‘ is characterized by its stream-of-consciousness narration and use of multiple narrators. Each character’s narrative voice is distinct, with its own syntax and vocabulary, which can make the novel challenging to read.

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.
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