Faulkner & Flannery Notes – Week 4
Spring 2014 Books & Film Class
Topic – Faulkner & Flannery: Exploring the Southern Gothic
Held Wednesdays through February 26 at UL Lafayette
Instructor: Dr. Mary Ann Wilson
Notes will be updated each Friday through February 28; comment to join in the discussion.
On Wednesday, we delved into Faulkner’s second novel As I Lay Dying. His most well known and the one that’s taught in high school English, this novel has all the elements of the Southern Gothic. “You can’t get more Southern Gothic than carting your mother’s rotting corpse across the state for burial,” says Dr. Wilson.
As I Lay Dying is also one of the few books by Faulkner that has much humor in it, but not everyone in class agreed with that. Some viewed the novel as quite dark, but I can admit I chuckled a few times, especially in some scenes with Anse Bundren. It also helps to consider the time period this book is set in — the Depression-era South — and that the Bundren family is poor white trash, only a step up from the African Americans, who are mostly absent in this book.
Most of them have their own motives for wanting to go to Jefferson to bury their mother, despite her grip on them even in the afterlife. Anse wants new teeth (you have to admit that’s funny), Cash brings his tools so he can stop at Tull’s and fix his barn roof on the way back, Jewel gets to take his horse on a road trip, and Dewey Dell has a baby inside of her that she needs to get rid of in town. Only Darl has no ulterior motive, but it’s he who ends up in the nuthouse in Jackson in the end.
Dr. Wilson said Addie Bundren has been described as “a vengeful spirit who wreaks havoc on her family.” She dies in the first half of the book, but her influence is carried through to the end of the novel when Anse replaces her with the new Mrs. Bundren.
I could just remember how my father used to say that the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time. – Addie Bundren
With 15 narrators, 59 monologues and an experimentation in language, As I Lay Dying is a challenge to read to say the least. I found it was easier to read in long sittings, so that you can get immersed in the language and just let it flow. It was more difficult to follow the narrative when starting and stopping. Dr. Wilson also recommends “lightening up” while reading, which is great advice. Taking the story too seriously and trying to figure out every single thing that’s going on will drive you crazy.
Dr. Wilson shared some insights/criticisms into the novel over the years, including a biblical one with Darl and Jewel as representing Cain and Abel, the mythological angle with the Bundrens’ journey compared to The Iliad and The Odyssey and also a link to The Scarlett Letter with both Hester Prynne’s daughter, Pearl, and Jewel being named after precious stones.
There’s no doubt that the book represents the “Southern Family Romance,” as politics and a fight for power tear this family apart. And since this is a Faulkner & Flannery class, it’s important to note the use of corpses, burials and coffins in both of their work. “Southerners love their coffins,” says Dr. Wilson.
We also watched a clip from James Franco’s recent version of As I Lay Dying on Wednesday. He directs the movie and also plays the character of Darl. The film didn’t get good reviews from critics, but I feel the need to defend it here. Franco has said he’s been a huge fan of Faulkner’s works since high school, and it shows in this movie adaptation. While his version of As I Lay Dying is not made for a mass audience and would be difficult for someone who hasn’t read the book to identify with, he stays true to the story, even incorporating some of the best monologues from the text.
Cash, played by Jim Parrack (who fans of “True Blood” will recognize as Hoyt) recites his entire “I made it on the bevel” coffin list, and Addie gets her say as well. I think the film also does a good job imparting the humor Faulkner intended in the events as they unfold. While not perfect, the film is a great companion to the book and a noble attempt to capture Faulkner on screen.