The theme of religion and faith appears in As I Lay Dying in various contexts – from plot points and the thing characters do and say, to the way Biblical imagery and motifs are invoked in order to compare events in the novel to religious events. Given that the novel calls into question the traditional ideals of heroism and familial duty, these comparisons often make ironic the religious theme in question. For instance, Darl defends his attempt to burn down Gillepsie’s barn (and Addie’s coffin) as a religiously motivated decision to cremate Addie’s body according to the will of God, yet he really just wants to put the journey to a stop. When thinking about Cora Tull, Addie directly reflects on her neighbor’s blind faith in God, dismissing the naivety of Cora’s religious practices: “I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless…sin and love and fear are just sounds that people who never sinned nor loved nor feared have for what they never had and cannot have until they forget the words.”
Cash is perhaps the novel’s most Christ-like figure: a carpenter, Cash also embodies the virtues of kindness and charity, and positions himself as a martyr in the context of the family. Yet his stoicism reaches a ridiculous degree when he never once complains about the fact that his broken leg is treated with a cast made of sand and cement. The absurdity of Cash’s stoicism calls into question why he chooses to embody Christian virtues so whole-heartedly, given that his selflessness does not lead to a sacrifice that is dedicated to a substantive end. While Christ gets resurrected, Cash is not redeemed in any way. His dedication to bringing Addie to Jefferson concludes with the revelation that the family delivered their wife and mother to Jefferson so that they could replace her, not so they could dutifully carry out her wish. In this way, Cash’s sacrifice can be seen as a sacrifice to an untrue idea, a promise that is betrayed. The religious motifs throughout As I Lay Dying primarily emphasize the disparity between a character’s action that is apparently motivated by faith and the more cynical truth, or misunderstanding, underlying the action in question.
Religion and Faith ThemeTracker
Religion and Faith Quotes in As I Lay Dying
“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.”
“Why, for the last three weeks I have been coming over every time I could…Not that I deserve credit for it: I will expect the same for myself. But thank God it will be the faces of my loved kin, for my blood and flesh, for in my husband and children I have been more blessed than most, trials though they have been at times.”
“It was already as though it were done. My soul felt freer, quieter than it had in years….To either side I saw His hand; in my heart I could hear His voice:
‘Courage. I am with thee.’”