Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Banned" Together -- As I Lay Dying

Share your thoughts on this novel by William Faulkner.


Matthew said...

Hi, my name is Matthew Levandoski, and I am hear to inform you that Kentucky does not like William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. It has been banned on three separate occasion in three separate schools or school districts in that state. Graves County School district in Mayfield, Kentucky, Pulaski County High School in Somerset, Kentucky, and then at Central High School in Louisville, Kentucky. The grounds for these challenges were based upon the use of profanity in the book, the topical content involving sex, abortion, obscenity and the promotion of secular humanism. IN most cases the challenges were over turned and the book was returned to the classroom for teaching.

As it well should! This book is a work of art, and help whoever reads it with an open mind to have an understanding and some bloody empathy for the suffering and circumstances of others. Not everyone is the same, no does everyone believe the same thing or hold the same things in equal esteem. Jewel Bundren just happened to be an angry, angry man, and had never been taught to respect a God by not taking His name in vain. It didn't matter to him, and it likely just seemed like a good thing to say when he was mad. And he was mad all the time. And if he had been told that he shouldn't say "Goddamnit" when he was mad, then he probably did it more out of spite.

People like these characters actually exist. They say and do and think awful things sometimes, and to create a world where the possibility of that kind of behavior doesn't exist is in and of itself a bold faced lie.

This was a novel of great power, and gritty intent. By the end we know these people, even if we haven't bee subjected to endless adjectives to describe their characters. Their actions define them, just as they define you and I.And it tells a story that is one of suffering and futility and hate and depravity. And it is important because, as I said before, these people are out there, and they aren't involved in a James Patterson mystery.

I would recommend that this book be read in high schools because there needs to be more empathy in the world, and teenagers are among the least empathic of humans. What good is knowing how to read, write and do arithmetic if you have no idea about how to apply those skills to real life, and not be the understanding, accepting, loving people they ought to be. This book shows that not everyone has the same problems, and in most cases, not everyone even comes close to REAL suffering.

Sarah Bynum said...

This is a great book. It has its challenges when reading it, and after re-reading a couple of passages I understood what I think William Faulkner was trying to say. He did mention a few topics that are usually taboo and not mentioned, but they are issues that people still face today. It should not be banned, in any way.

A few times in the past it has been banned, mainly in Kentucky and mainly by religious organizations for issues of abortion, masturbation, and profanity. Yes, all of those topics are “touchy” and not usually talked about. Faulkner was just presenting the issues that a real family could have been going through. Frankly, banning it from a school does not make sense to me. I graduated from high school a few years ago, and I never went a day without hearing a curse word. Abortion and sex are very much known in society. There are TV shows just on teen pregnancies and the choices the girls make. Why not allow students read the book in high school? Is it not better to talk about these issues in an environment where the teachers can help them understand? I know if I had children, I would allow them to read the book.

The issues I had with Faulkner’s style of writing were with the voice change with every chapter and constantly having to remember the story was being told from a new perspective. Even though this was an issue at times, it added a whole new level to the story. I really liked getting to see the story from different characters points of view. There have been many times when reading other novels that I have wanted to know what a different character was thinking rather than the one narrating. This change of character also offered a deeper understanding into who the character actually was and not just another’s perception of them. As an author, Faulkner did a great job of developing each character. I am very impressed with that.

High schools should not see this book as a challenge or something that could cause an issue among students. This book discusses things that they are most likely already facing. No matter how many things they ban, the kids live in the same world as the rest of us, so they will experience all of the same issues at some point. Reading this book could allow for a teaching opportunity and let the students read a different style of writing done in a very good way.

John Ford said...

After reading As I Lay Dying, I have found one thing rather surprising. This thing involves the mental statuses of Darl and Vardamen. I can talk about how everyone is psychologically unstable in his or her character, but I chose Darl and Vardaman because of one surprising thing. The thing about Vardaman is that he found a fish one day, as big as he is, and he caught that fish and brought it back home to show his mother. When he went to see his mother, she died. After that he learns that the fish had been killed to be cooked. He then equates is mother to a fish for the remainder of the book. At first it doesn’t mean much, and he talks little of it. Then, others begin to note that he just wants to talk about the fact that his mother is a fish. In the chapters from Vardaman’s perspective show that his thoughts are becoming more and more consumed, again by the fact that his mother is a fish. These thoughts lead him to do some pretty insane things, like drilling holes in his mothers coffin and also into her face. Now, what surprises me about all this is that despite completely losing all grasp of everything and being thrust into an existential crisis by a fish, Vardaman isn’t the one that loses it in the end. It’s Darl. Darl, by far my favorite character, loses all sanity at the very end of the book, for like no reason. Now, why is that? I believe it is because this world was not meant for Darl. This was not the world Darl deserved, so it destroyed him. Even the most lost soul among the group, ends up with a higher standing than poor, poor Darl. Maybe it’s because he never knew what his mother really is. I mean, Vardaman’s mother is a fish, and Jewel’s is a horse, and they turned out fine. Maybe if Daryl’s mother had turned out to be a rabbit, he would be fine too. Aside from all that, I liked this book, even though it was hard to get into.

Matthew said...

Hi, I am commenting on my own post because I want to apologize to whoever reads it for the embarrassing amount of typos and exclusions contained within it. I fell short on my proof reading. So...

I am sorry.

Elizabeth Starr said...

I am responding here to Matthew Levandoski's comment about how reading As I Lay Dying can promote empathy: "I would recommend that this book be read in high schools because there needs to be more empathy in the world, and teenagers are among the least empathic of humans."

Matthew, I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention the connection between reading and empathy. The Guardian recently reported on several studies (see link below) that examined different ways in which reading literature actually created measurable increases in empathy in college-aged readers. I think many of us who love to read know this intuitively, but it is great to see the research confirmation: yes, reading books DOES makes us better people!

The point seems to be that reading fiction engages us in figuring out the social worlds of others. As one researcher says, "The subject matter of fiction is constantly about why she did this, or if that's the case what should he do now, and so on." We get a chance to experience--and attempt to understand--characters very different from us--and sometimes very like us--and expand our understanding of what makes people tick. That's a valuable life skill right there, and maybe worth a few "Goddamnits."

Check out the full story:

Sarah Bynum said...

This is in response to John Ford’s comment on Mach 21, 2013.
I really enjoyed your perspective on Vardaman and Darl’s psychological states, because that is something that I also wondered about while reading the book. I agree with Varadaman being a little psychotic by fixating on the correlation between his mother and the fish dying on the same day. I understand that. I do not understand Darl. You say, “Maybe it’s because he never knew what his mother really is. I mean, Vardaman’s mother is a fish, and Jewel’s mother is a horse, and they turned out fine.” I like this statement, a lot actually, but I do not think Darl’s issues came down to knowing who his mother “was”. To me, Darl was the most knowing, yet overlooked child in the whole Bundren family. Cash was the oldest so he always got attention, Jewel was different from the others and Addie’s favorite, Dewey Dell was the only girl, and Varadaman was the baby so he received attention as well, but what did that give Darl? Nothing. He went off to war and came back, and still, no recognition. I feel like Darl’s issues all came from the lack of love and attention that he never received as a child. I also do not think I would go as far as to say he was completely psychologically unstable. He definitely had his issues. One day in class we were talking about the portion of the story when Darl gets taken away. It was mentioned that he might have been taken so he would not be sent to jail for starting the fire. In my opinion, I also think it benefited Dewey Dell, since she was likely the one who told on him, when he was taken away, because he was the only one who knew about her “situation”. So, yes Darl and Vardaman have their issues, but I think Darl’s comes from a lack of affection his whole life.

Elizabeth Starr said...

I have a question for you all. With the Supreme Court listening to arguments about same-sex marriage as we speak, the issue of marriage is on my mind.

What do you all think of the image of marriage portrayed in As I Lay Dying? Specifically, what do you think of Anse & Addie's marriage--compared perhaps with the marriage of Anse and the new Mrs. Bundren at the end of he book--or maybe compared with Dewey Dell's "predicament" (and the advice she gets from at least one pharmacist to make her Dad and her brothers force somebody into a shotgun wedding)? Marriage seems to be based solely on economics or on avoiding public scandal--or is it?

Marriage in some ways defines the plot, since the book starts with Addie dying (ending that first marriage)and ends with Anse finding his new wife. In between, the journey is set in motion by Anse's promise to his wife to take her body to Jefferson for burial with "her people." Please comment on what you see this book saying about marriage.

Matthew said...

This is in response to the questions that Professor Starr asked about marriage.

I think the view of marriage in As I Lay Dying is almost entirely comprised of a utilitarian philosophy. In this case, a form of survival. Addie quite obviously held no love for Anse(or just about anyone for that matter)and married him reluctantly. So what are the reasons that she marries him? The list is short. She needed to eat. And so she performed her duties as a wife in return for this survival, and then she laid down and died. Anse, whatever his shortcomings(and he had many), at least loved Addie, even if it wasn't a "star crossed lover" type of situation. But, again, he moved on pretty quick once she was in the ground. It was obviously unthinkable to him to live without a wife, after he had lived with one(and all the manner of jobs she performed) for so long. So he viewed it with considerable economic/survivalistic prowess as well.

In regards to Dewey Dell's problem of an unwanted pregnancy, and the shame she feels for having gotten herself into that situation, would that go away with a recitation of forced vows? No. In fact, I can't think of a much worse reason to marry someone. Lust is not love. Attraction is not companionship. Her life would have had a newly added layer of problems, not least of which would have been a resentful husband. And what of the child? Would it live a good life span having been born into a resentful, loveless home? The Bundren children's misery should answer that question.

Over all, I feel that the Faulkner had very little good to say about marriage. Or, at least, he tried to imagine a world that had little good to say about it. If this was his intent, he succeeded admirably.

Marriage, like everything else in this world, is absolutely worthless without love.