Monday, December 29, 2008

As I Lay Dying discussion: Sections 20 – 39

These sections cover from Addie’s funeral to the disastrous river crossing. The dark, morbid humor really shines in these sections. The actions or descriptions are sickly funny by themselves, such as the mosquito netting to cover the auger holes in Addie’s face or the mules’ stiff legs turning repeatedly over in the river. What makes the scenes even funnier is the complete acceptance of what happens by all the characters, regardless of how surreal the action.

Additional humor comes from the contradictory or ironic action of the Bundrens. The family acts in a way that is anything but practical regarding Addie’s burial. Nature and luck may conspire against the family, but they do not help their own cause by choosing the most difficult or an impossible path. Some of the children realize they have the power to veto Anse’s decision, but choose to let him keep his promise despite the perils. The amusing part comes when they act logically after doing something stupid. The search for Cash’s tools, a major source of the family’s income, after the ill-advised crossing of the flooded river highlights the surreal nature of the family’s decision-making process. The humor surfaces when the family behaves in a methodical, logical manner after everything to this point demonstrate nothing but absurdities.

This section shows more development of the characters. The background most provided revolves around Jewel and the way he obtained his horse. In addition, several characters (inside and outside the family) comment on the way that everyone mentions Darl’s strangeness. The relationship between Dewey Dell and Darl is explored some more, but there are more questions than answers. I stand by my previous assessment that Darl lives more in the mental/emotional side of things, philosophically reacting to Dewey Dell’s burgeoning sexuality as well as her body (her exposed leg or her body outlined in a wet dress). What becomes clear in this section is Dewey Dell’s mistrust of men, including Darl. The look she shoots at Vernon Tull, who has done nothing but tried to help the family, is indicative on how she views potential, not even actual, sexual advances. (Although almost every member of the Bundren family gave Vernon, who has only tried to help the family, a dirty look while at the flooded bridge—another example of the solidarity the family would show to outsiders)

Section 40 explicitly examines the inadequacy of language but there are examples here as well. Silent communication takes place throughout the novel but the level of it steps up in these sections. Looks convey a wealth of meaning. One unique example in these sections involves Cash’s inability to finish his thoughts, the sections ending mid-sentence. Since the others were ignoring his suggestions, it may simply be that he not only gave up trying to communicate his thoughts out loud but ceases thinking altogether. One other interesting technique in these sections involves a dual train of thought, the primary monologue in regular print while secondary, deeper (more truthful?) thoughts are in italics.

Since time has been a major focus of many works I’ve read lately, this monologue by Darl (section 34) comparing time to distance caught my interest:
The river itself is not a hundred yards across, and pa and Vernon and Vardaman and Dewey Dell are the only things in sight not of that single monotony of desolation leaning with that terrific quality a little from right to left, as though we had reached the place where the motion of the wasted world accelerates just before the final precipice. Yet they appear dwarfed. It is as though the space between us were time: an irrevocable quality. It is as though time, no longer running straight before us in a diminishing line, now runs parallel between us like a looping string, the distance being the doubling accretion of the thread and not the interval between.

No comments: