As I Lay Dying


William Faulkner

Teachers and parents! Our Teacher Edition on As I Lay Dying makes teaching easy.
Themes and Colors
Self-Interest Versus Heroic Duty Theme Icon
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Theme Icon
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Language versus Action Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in As I Lay Dying, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family, Birth, and Death Theme Icon

Just as As I Lay Dying calls into question traditional ideas about the meaning of heroism, the novel also complicates the idea of family. In the beginning of the novel, it appears perhaps that the Bundren famly is a united front, together facing the tragic death of their beloved wife and mother. However, as the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that what is driving the Bundren journey to deliver Addie to Jefferson is not pure dedication to the wishes of Addie, but to a sense of familial obligation. Furthermore, this sense of familial obligation is inextricably tied up with rivalries among siblings, competing self-interests, and out-and-out deceptive dynamics between family members. The novel’s interest in destabilizing the romantic notion of family is most palpable in the Addie section, in which the Bundrens’ “beloved mother” explains both her own feelings of resentment toward her family and her infidelity. Addie reveals that her favorite son is the product of an affair, and it is for this reason that he is her favorite – he is only part-Bundren.

The novel does not stop with complicating the idea of family in general, but also works to complicate even the origin of family – birth –which is traditionally depicted as a moment of pure joy and creation. Addie admits that the birth of her first son, Cash, felt like an intrusion of her solitude, and each of her other children seemed the product of some sin (an affair) or obligation (making up for said affair). Addie’s lack of excitement about childbirth is then echoed by Dewey Dell, who focuses on the fact that while birth may be the product of the same action shared between men and women, only women are stuck with the obligation. In this way, the novel connects the idea of birth to the idea of death – the birth of a baby is the death of a woman's independent life.

Finally, the last sentence of the novel, when Anse invites his children to “Meet Mrs. Bundren,” functions as a strange post-script to the novel. At the end of the novel, Anse reveals that the trip to Jefferson was not about fulfilling Addie’s desire, but perhaps about his own desire to replace her. This shocking final scene suggests that family is just a bunch of roles – and that the roles are more important than the actual people who fill them.

Related Themes from Other Texts
Compare and contrast themes from other texts to this theme…
Get the entire As I Lay Dying LitChart as a printable PDF.
As I Lay Dying PDF

Family, Birth, and Death Quotes in As I Lay Dying

Below you will find the important quotes in As I Lay Dying related to the theme of Family, Birth, and Death.
1. Darl Quotes

“Jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking straight ahead, steps in a single stride through the window. Still staring straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down, and steps in a single stride through the opposite window and into the path again just as I come around the corner.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
4. Jewel Quotes

“It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill at their faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill, faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet.”

Related Characters: Jewel (speaker), Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
7. Dewey Dell Quotes

“And so it was because I could not help it. It was then, and then I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words…And that’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows.”

Related Characters: Dewey Dell Bundren (speaker), Darl Bundren
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:
10. Darl Quotes

“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
12. Darl Quotes

“Jewel’s hat droops limp about his neck…Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:
17. Darl Quotes

“In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you….I don’t know what I am. I don’t know if I am or am not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:
21. Darl Quotes

“It’s not your horse that’s dead, Jewel…Jewel’s mother is a horse.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
22. Cash Quotes

“It won’t balance. If they want it to tote and ride on a balance, they will have …”

Related Characters: Cash Bundren (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:
26. Anse Quotes

“I told him not to bring that horse out of respect for his dead ma, because it wouldn’t look right, him prancing along on a durn circus animal and her wanting us all to be in the wagon….”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 105
Explanation and Analysis:
28. Anse Quotes

“But now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will.”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker)
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:
30. Dewey Dell Quotes

“I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I had time to wish I had.”

Related Characters: Dewey Dell Bundren (speaker), Addie Bundren
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:
34. Darl Quotes

“Jewel shouts at the horse…He is just above the top of the ford and the horse has a purchase of some sort for it surges forward, shining wetly half out of water…Cash is half turned, the reins running taut from his hand and disappearing into the water, the other hand reached back upon Addie, holding her jammed over against the high side of the wagon.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Cash Bundren, Addie Bundren
Related Symbols: Jewel's Horse
Page Number: 148-149
Explanation and Analysis:
40. Addie Quotes

“So I took Anse. And when I knew that I had Cash, I knew that living was terrible and that this was the answer to it. That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.”

Related Characters: Addie Bundren (speaker), Cash Bundren, Anse Bundren
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
49. Vardaman Quotes

“And I saw something Dewey Dell told me not to tell nobody. It is not about pa and it is not about Cash and it is not about Jewel and it is not about Dewey Dell and it is not about me.”

Related Characters: Vardaman Bundren (speaker), Darl Bundren, Dewey Dell Bundren
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:
50. Darl Quotes

“Then it topples forward, gaining momentum, revealing Jewel and the sparks raining on him too in engendering gusts, so that he appears to be closed in a thin nimbus of fire.”

Related Characters: Darl Bundren (speaker), Jewel
Related Symbols: The Coffin
Page Number: 222
Explanation and Analysis:
59. Cash Quotes

“It’s Cash and Jewel and Vardaman and Dewey Dell…Meet Mrs. Bundren.”

Related Characters: Anse Bundren (speaker), Jewel, Cash Bundren, Dewey Dell Bundren, Vardaman Bundren
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis: