As I Lay Dying is not only about mortality insofar as it concerns Addie Bundren’s death. More deeply, the novel explores the theme of mortality by showing each of Addie’s family members, loved ones, and other acquaintances offer unique responses to her death, attempting to make sense of the nature of existence. In doing so, these characters realize deeper and more universal things about existence and the transience of human experience. Reflecting on his mother’s death, the cynical Darl remarks, “It takes two people to make you, one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.” The guilt-ridden Dewey Dell more sentimentally reflects on the fact that she was distracted by personal issues during the time in which her mother died: “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.” Vardaman’s initial reaction to his mother’s death is to drill holes in her coffin so she can breathe. As a six-year-old, not yet fully aware of what death means, Vardaman is initially in denial: he thinks that because Addie’s physical body still exists, she must still exist and therefore need air in order to keep existing.
These questions – relating to the meaning of life and death – appear most important to Darl and Vardaman. Both characters are less concerned with the pragmatic aspects of life and are focused more on these philosophical questions. This is the case for Vardaman because he is only six. By contrast, Darl is the novel’s most cerebral character—in some ways he is the most sane member of the family, seeing their quest for the idiotic and destructive undertaking that it is. At the same time, he seems unstable, and may or may not be insane.
Mortality and the Nature of Existence ThemeTracker
Mortality and the Nature of Existence Quotes in As I Lay Dying
“It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end.”
“Jewel’s hat droops limp about his neck…Jewel, I say, she is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead.”
“I will be where the fish was, and it all cut up into not-fish now.”
“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.”
“My mother is a fish.”
“It’s not your horse that’s dead, Jewel…Jewel’s mother is a horse.”
“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.”
“The barn was still red, but it wasn’t a barn now.”