Faulkner’s interest in the disconnect between language and action is clear from the way the novel is told in and of itself: there is a disconnect between the action of the novel – the Bundren’s journey to Jefferson – and the way such action unfolds – through individual narrations of the characters involved in and around the journey. As I Lay Dying does not tell an objective tale, but is a series of subjective experiences, showing in the very way the novel is told that there is an inherent disconnect between language, how it can tell a story, and action, the story itself.
Almost every character in the novel possesses a different and unique perspective toward the question of language versus action. Most clear, however, is the dichotomy between Darl and Jewel, especially when seen in context of their relationship to Addie Bundren. Out of all the characters in the book, Darl has the greatest gift for using language, made clear by the fact that his chapters are the most poetic. Darl also happens to be the most rejected son of Addie Bundren. Jewel, by contrast, is Addie’s favorite son, and can be seen as a man of action rather than words. For instance, Jewel saves Addie’s coffin from the river and also saves Cash’s precious box of tools. When Darl sets fire to Gillepsie’s barn, Jewel saves Gillepsie’s animals and then saves Addie’s coffin. In Addie’s single chapter, narrated posthumously, she expresses her disgust and distrust for words, explaining why she favored Jewel, her only non-Bundren child and, unlike Darl, her child that prized action over language. Words are “just words,” in Addie’s conception.
Language versus Action ThemeTracker
Language versus Action Quotes in As I Lay Dying
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“It was not here. I was there, looking. I saw. I thought it was her, but it was not. It was not my mother….It was not here because it was laying right yonder in the dirt. And now it’s all chopped up. I chopped it up. It’s laying in the kitchen in the bleeding pan, waiting to be cooked and et.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint…It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it.”