As I Lay Dying: Summary, Plot, Characters, Literary Analysis & More

“As I Lay Dying” is a novel by William Faulkner, first published in 1930. This novel was one of Faulkner’s greatest critical and popular successes.

This novel tells the story of the Bundren family’s arduous journey to bury Addie, the family matriarch while exploring themes such as death, family bonds, and the human condition.

Faulkner’s distinctive narrative style and the Southern Gothic backdrop of Yoknapatawpha County make this a literary masterpiece that delves into the complexities of life and mortality.

"As I Lay Dying" is known for its unique narrative structure and is told from multiple perspectives, each chapter representing the internal thoughts of different characters.

The Plot

The novel revolves around the Bundren family, comprising several eccentric members. The plot unfolds following the death of the family’s matriarch, Addie Bundren.

Her dying wish was to be buried in her hometown of Jefferson, and her family embarked on a harrowing journey to fulfill her request.

As they traverse treacherous terrain, they face various challenges and confront their own internal conflicts.

The story explores the dynamics within the Bundren family, their strained relationships, and the deep emotional impact of their mother’s death as they endeavor to lay her to rest.


In “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, a captivating array of characters populates the narrative, each contributing to the tale’s complexity. At the heart of this Southern Gothic masterpiece are the Bundren family members, each with their unique struggles, desires, and complexities.

Addie Bundren

The deceased matriarch whose final wish for a distant burial sets the family on a challenging journey. Addie’s death profoundly impacts her family, triggering a journey filled with trials and revelations.

Anse Bundren

The unemotional and self-serving patriarch is determined to fulfill Addie’s request. Anse’s singular focus on carrying out his late wife’s wishes drives the family’s journey, even if it’s rooted in self-interest.

Darl Bundren

The introspective son whose mental state deteriorates during the journey. Darl’s character evolves as he grapples with internal conflicts and the challenges of the arduous journey, becoming a central figure in the narrative.

Dewey Dell Bundren

Addie’s daughter, struggling with a secret pregnancy and grief over her mother’s death. Dewey Dell’s hidden turmoil and her efforts to deal with both her pregnancy and her mother’s passing reveal the depth of her character.

Jewel Bundren

A fiercely independent and enigmatic son, deeply attached to his mother. Jewel’s unwavering love for Addie and his tumultuous relationship with his family drive significant events in the story, making him a critical character in the narrative.

Key Themes

In “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, a prominent theme is the exploration of family bonds and the impact of death. The journey to bury Addie highlights the complex interplay of love, sacrifice, and dysfunction within the Bundren family.

Death and Mortality

Death permeates the narrative, as the Bundrens grapple with Addie’s demise, illustrating the inevitable and inescapable nature of mortality. The decaying corpse in their midst serves as a stark reminder of life’s transience.

Family and Dysfunction

The family’s journey exposes the dysfunctional dynamics among its members. Anse’s self-interest and Darl’s descent into madness highlight the strain on familial bonds.

Isolation and Alienation

Characters often find themselves isolated in their grief and struggles. Dewey Dell’s secret pregnancy and Darl’s mental state create a sense of alienation, emphasizing the characters’ isolation within the family.

The Southern Gothic

Faulkner’s narrative reflects the Southern Gothic genre, marked by dark humor, grotesque elements, and a decaying rural backdrop. The novel’s setting and characterization align with this distinctive literary tradition.

Genres in As I Lay Dying

The novel encompasses multiple genres, including Southern Gothic, tragicomedy, and psychological fiction. These genres enrich the narrative by infusing it with dark humor, exploring complex family dynamics, and delving into the characters’ psychological depths. The Southern Gothic backdrop enhances the story’s atmosphere, emphasizing the rural decay and grotesque elements.

Southern Gothic

The novel’s setting in Yoknapatawpha County and its use of dark, macabre themes and eccentric characters align with the Southern Gothic genre, creating a haunting and atmospheric backdrop.


The novel blends tragedy and comedy, encapsulating the absurdity of life’s challenges and the characters’ humorous and sometimes pitiable responses to adversity.

Psychological Fiction

Through Darl’s deteriorating mental state and the character’s internal struggles, the story explores psychological depths, offering insight into their thoughts and emotions.

Family Drama

At its core, the novel is a family drama, focusing on the Bundren family’s dynamics, conflicts, and relationships as they navigate their arduous journey to fulfill Addie’s final wish.

Language used in As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner employs a distinctive narrative style in “As I Lay Dying.” He employs multiple first-person perspectives, allowing readers to delve into each character’s thoughts and emotions, revealing their internal conflicts.

The prose is characterized by stream-of-consciousness and intricate, dense sentences that mirror the characters’ complex psyche.

The language creates a vivid and emotionally charged atmosphere, enabling readers to immerse themselves in the Bundren family’s journey.

Literary devices in As I Lay Dying

The author skillfully uses literary devices to enrich the narrative. He employs stream-of-consciousness, shifting perspectives, and interior monologues to delve into characters’ inner thoughts and emotions.

Symbolism is evident in the various obstacles encountered on the journey, such as the funeral service and Addie’s coffin, which represent the characters’ struggles and the weight of their mother’s death.


While “As I Lay Dying” primarily delves into the complexities of the Bundren family’s journey to bury Addie, it also carries allegorical elements. The characters and their struggles can be seen as representations of broader human themes.

Darl’s descent into madness, Jewel’s unwavering dedication, and Anse’s self-serving nature can be interpreted as allegorical reflections of the human psyche and the complex, sometimes destructive, dynamics within families.


William Faulkner incorporates ekphrasis within “As I Lay Dying” when describing Addie’s coffin. The detailed, almost reverential description of the coffin turns it into a symbol of death and mourning.

This vivid portrayal adds depth to the story, enhancing the reader’s understanding of the characters’ complex relationship with mortality and their mother’s body.


 In the novel, similes are woven into the narrative to create vivid comparisons that enrich the reader’s understanding and engagement. For example, when Addie dies, her passing is described as “like the shutting of a door.”

This simile conveys the abrupt and final nature of her death, allowing readers to grasp the emotional weight and the family’s sense of irrevocable loss.

These similes act as literary devices that make the narrative more immersive and emotionally resonant, enabling readers to connect with the characters’ experiences on a deeper level.


William Faulkner employs metaphors throughout “As I Lay Dying” to illuminate the characters and their inner worlds. One significant metaphor revolves around Addie’s husband, Anse, who can be seen as a metaphor for self-interest and personal gain.

His actions reflect a self-serving nature that extends beyond his character, shedding light on the themes of individualism and egoism in the broader context of the narrative.


In the novel, Vernon and Cora Tull, neighbors of the Bundrens, serve as analogies for a stable, nurturing family unit. The Tulls’ contrasting dynamics with the Bundrens emphasize the latter’s dysfunction and the impact of Addie’s death.

This analogy aids readers in grasping the complexities of family relationships and the consequences of Addie’s passing in a relatable and easily understandable way.


William Faulkner masterfully employs vivid imagery in “As I Lay Dying” to craft sensory experiences that immerse readers in the narrative. The youngest Bundren child, Vardaman, becomes a vessel for evocative imagery.

His perception of the world is filled with tangible and poignant details, particularly when he associates his mother’s death with the imagery of fish.

These vivid, sensory descriptions allow readers to feel the profound grief and confusion experienced by the characters and offer a unique perspective through a child’s eyes, enhancing the novel’s emotional depth and reader engagement.


In “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, symbolism abounds. The broken leg of the oldest son, Cash, serves as a symbol of the physical and emotional burdens the family carries during the journey.

The Mississippi State Insane Asylum represents confinement and mental struggle, mirroring Darl’s deteriorating mental state.

These symbols connect to broader themes of suffering, confinement, and the weight of familial duty, enriching the novel’s depth.


Personification in Faulkner’s work is subtle but meaningful. Jewel’s refusal to sell his beloved horse personifies his emotional attachment and resistance to compromise.

The log, which ultimately causes Cash’s injury, takes on a malevolent presence, personifying the obstacles and misfortunes that impede the family’s progress.

These instances add depth to the characters and setting by infusing them with human qualities, intensifying the reader’s connection to the story.


Hyperbole finds its place within the narrative through the complex characters of Darl and Jewel. Their contrasting personalities and emotions are depicted with deliberate exaggeration, amplifying their inner struggles.

Darl’s introspection is characterized by hyperbolic expressions of despair and insight, adding depth to his character. In contrast, Jewel’s fiercely passionate and exaggerated actions underscore his intense attachment to his mother, elevating the emotional intensity of the story.

These instances of hyperbole create a heightened sense of the characters’ internal turmoil, enriching the narrative’s emotional impact.


Dramatic irony is prevalent as the characters’ actions and thoughts often reveal unintended consequences and hidden truths.

For example, the journey to bury Addie, which is supposed to honor her last wish, is filled with ironic mishaps and misadventures, underscoring the futility of their efforts.

This type of irony serves to highlight the discord between intentions and outcomes, adding depth to the story.


Faulkner skillfully employs juxtaposition in “As I Lay Dying” to create thought-provoking scenarios. The contrast between Jewel’s intense attachment to his horse and his family’s lack of cohesion is striking.

Vardaman’s innocent perception of events alongside the adults’ more complex emotions emphasizes the generational divide.

The use of a team of mules for a somber journey and the arrival of a new wife following Addie’s death juxtapose the absurdity and tragedy within the narrative, challenging the reader’s understanding of the character’s motivations and the story’s underlying themes.


In “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, the broken leg of Cash presents a paradoxical situation. It symbolizes both a literal and metaphorical brokenness within the family.

While Cash’s physical injury is evident, it mirrors the fractured nature of the family itself, damaged by dysfunction and concealed secrets.

This paradoxical use of Cash’s broken leg serves as a poignant symbol, reflecting the overarching theme of suffering in the narrative.


Faulkner’s writing in “As I Lay Dying” often alludes to his own previous works and themes that are recurrent in his novels.

While not explicitly stated, there are subtle references to the larger body of Faulkner’s work, particularly in the exploration of the South, complex family dynamics, and the human condition.

These allusions serve to connect “As I Lay Dying” to Faulkner’s broader literary universe, offering readers a deeper understanding of his recurring motifs and preoccupations.


William Faulkner uses repetition in “As I Lay Dying” to create a powerful and haunting effect. The recurring themes and motifs, such as the family’s relentless journey, the decaying corpse, and Dewey Dell’s unwanted pregnancy, emphasize the inescapable nature of their predicament.

This repetition underscores the cyclical and tragic aspects of life and death, contributing to the book’s themes of suffering, family bonds, and the relentless passage of time.

The Use of Dialogue 

In “As I Lay Dying,” dialogue serves as a potent tool to convey character traits, themes, and narrative tension. Through the characters’ conversations and monologues, their distinct personalities, motivations, and internal struggles are revealed.

The dialogue also reinforces important themes in the novel, such as the impact of Addie’s death and the family’s relentless determination.

It contributes to the narrative’s emotional depth and provides readers with a direct window into the characters’ complex psyches.

Word Play 

William Faulkner utilizes wordplay techniques, such as puns and double entendres, to add depth and complexity to “As I Lay Dying.” These techniques often emerge through the characters’ inner thoughts and dialogues.

One example is Dewey Dell’s double entendre concerning her secret pregnancy, where she uses ambiguous language to convey both her pregnancy and grief, adding layers to her character and the narrative’s emotional depth.


Parallelism in “As I Lay Dying” is evident in the characters’ individual narratives and their collective journey. Each family member’s experience is presented in parallel, creating a symmetrical structure that allows readers to compare and contrast the characters’ struggles and emotions.

This parallel structure reinforces the theme of familial bonds and shared suffering, contributing to the novel’s overall message about the complexities of human relationships and the universality of pain.

As I Lay Dying: FAQs

Whether you seek insight into the novel’s themes, characters, or the author’s background, you’ll find valuable information here.

What happens to Addie’s coffin As I Lay Dying?

Addie’s coffin in “As I Lay Dying” undergoes a perilous journey, encountering mishaps such as falling into a river and being temporarily abandoned, reflecting the challenges faced by the Bundren family.

What is the significance of the title As I Lay Dying?

The title “As I Lay Dying” encapsulates the novel’s themes of mortality and the journey towards death. It signifies the characters’ struggles and introspection during this arduous process.

Is As I Lay Dying a comedy or tragedy?

“As I Lay Dying” is primarily a tragic novel, emphasizing the hardships and suffering endured by the Bundren family during their journey to bury Addie.

Are the characters in As I Lay Dying Black?

The racial background of the characters in “As I Lay Dying” is not explicitly specified, but they are described as white in the novel, with Faulkner’s work often focusing on the experiences of white characters in the American South.

What is the main conflict in As I Lay Dying?

The main conflict in “As I Lay Dying” revolves around the Bundren family’s arduous journey to bury Addie, which is fraught with obstacles, internal tensions, and external challenges.

Summing up: As I Lay Dying: Summary, Plot & More

In “As I Lay Dying” by William Faulkner, the narrative unfolds through a complex web of characters and themes. 

The Bundren family’s harrowing journey to fulfill Addie’s final wish delves into profound aspects of human existence, such as death, family bonds, and the inescapable nature of suffering.

The novel’s literary techniques, including vivid imagery, symbolism, and wordplay, create a rich tapestry of emotions and insights.

Overall, “As I Lay Dying” stands as a literary masterpiece, captivating readers with its exploration of the human condition, Southern Gothic elements, and the depth of familial ties.

Its impact lies in its ability to resonate with readers on a universal level, making it a timeless work of literature that continues to captivate and challenge its audience.

Other Notable Works by William Faulkner

If you are interested in “As I Lay Dying”, you may be interested in other works by William Faulkner including:

  • The Sound and the Fury” (1929): This novel is another Faulkner masterpiece, known for its complex narrative structure and exploration of the Compson family’s tragic decline.
  • Light in August” (1932): A novel that delves into themes of race, identity, and religion in the American South, making it a significant work in Faulkner’s canon.
  • Absalom, Absalom!” (1936): A powerful exploration of the South’s history and the legacy of the Sutpen family, addressing issues of race, family, and the weight of the past.
  • Go Down, Moses” (1942): A collection of interconnected stories set in Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, offering a glimpse into the lives and histories of its inhabitants.
  • The Yoknapatawpha County Novels” (Various): Faulkner’s extensive collection of novels set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County provides a comprehensive view of the American South’s complexities, with recurring characters and themes.

These works showcase Faulkner’s distinctive narrative style, exploration of the Southern Gothic, and his unflinching examination of the human condition, making them essential reads for those intrigued by “As I Lay Dying.”

"As I Lay Dying" is celebrated for its innovative narrative structure, stream-of-consciousness style, and exploration of the human condition.