Consistently throughout Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, death is a prevalent and primary concern. Certainly, the death and burial of the matriarch, Addie Bundren, is what centres the novel, but there are many other cases of death throughout the modernist text. Dewey Dell, the only daughter of the Bundren family, longs for the death of her pregnancy, and also suffers from the death of her self-worth through sexual violence. Vardaman, the youngest of the Bundrens, experiences the death of his youth following his mother’s demise, and Darl’s sanity deteriorates along the family’s journey.
While the children mourn the loss of their mother, Anse, the Bundren patriarch, does not appear to have felt the loss of his wife in a similar way. Instead, Anse works toward advancement in his personal life through acquiring new teeth and a new Mrs. Bundren. The motley crew that is the Bundren family goes through tribulations that no family should have to endure, and throughout these trials, death is at the epicentre. Although this death manifests in many ways throughout the text, the Bundren family appears to have grown stronger and more unified throughout their odyssey to Jefferson.
Elizabeth M. Kerr writes, “Addie alive was not a redemptive figure. Dead, she was a peril and an offense” (8). Faulkner’s audience is not introduced to Addie’s private stream-of-consciousness prior to her death but, in her life, she does not gain much sympathy from the reader. Although it is not completely clear, it appears that Addie’s final word is “Cash!” While this could be construed as an act of love for her eldest child, it surfaces negatively; an admonishment toward the child that is carefully constructing a coffin for her. Deeper sympathy for Cash arises when reading his thoughts regarding building the coffin on the bevel (Faulkner, 82-83). It is obvious that Cash cares deeply for Addie and wishes her to be comfortable even in death.
Dewey Dell, one of the two children that Addie gave to Anse (Faulkner, 176), does not appear to suffer from any physical or mental mishap, but her sense of hopefulness is dead. On the family’s journey, she hides her pregnancy but longs to rid her body of it. She is an atypical teenager, forced to become the matriarch of the Bundren family, and a “damsel in distress” (Kerr, 8). However, she is not rescued by the conclusion of Faulkner’s work, continuing the theme of parodying a “happy ending.” It is unclear whether the medicine that MacGowan gave Dewey Dell was to give her an abortion but it is crystal clear that he took advantage of the young girl. By the end of As I Lay Dying, Dewey Dell appears to have accepted her sexual body and resigned her position of child. She has accepted the harsh realities of being an adult, particularly a female adult in the Bundren family. However, while Dewey Dell is enjoying bananas with Vardaman (Faulkner, 260), she appears to have reclaimed some childlike qualities. The task of becoming the...