Thematic Correlations between As I Lay Dying and t
he Old TestamentSince its original publication in 1930, the novel As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner has drawn much exploration and critique. Though this analysis is very far reaching and broad in topic, one interesting route of investigation is the novels connection to the Old Testament. One does not have to be a Christian to study the similarities in theme; there are very many occurrences of biblical subject matter and correlation, these having been studied by student and scholar alike. The Old Testament is known commonly as the more historical part of the Bible; it sets up the background knowledge to the New Testament and gives readers an idea of the nature of the times. Many general themes of the Old Testament are reflected in the Bible as a whole, as well as each book having its own plot and theme. Such Old Testament themes such as original sin and ideas corresponding to that of the Book of Job can be found inherently in As I Lay Dying.
The idea of original sin comes from the Book of Genesis, when the first humans, Adam and Eve, ate the fruit of the tree that they were told by God not to eat. Since these first two humans erred in their ways, God then made all humans to be in their image, an image of sin and fallibility. As taken from the Boom of Genesis: Then the Lord God said, Now these human beings have become like one of us and have knowledge of what is good and what is bad(Bible 5). The theme of sin relies on this fact; humans make conscious decisions to do wrong. Other themes of moral nature can follow within the main ideas brought forth in Genesis, such as guilt, sexuality, and tension between the sexes (Rule). In As I Lay Dying, the original sin of Anse and Addie seems to give way to the sin of their children, much like that of Adams ancestors. Although according to biblical tradition, each child is born into sin, Jewel Bundren was especially born into a sinful life. He was a product of Addies infidelity to Anse, an act that was on Addies mind until the day she died. The guilt she felt, even to the husband she had no love for, was so overwhelming that she produced both Dewey Dell and Vardaman to negative the sin that was Jewels birth. Her self-worth was then so low that she felt she was ready to die after her recompense to Anse was finished. And now he has three children that are his and not mine. And then I could get ready to die (Faulkner 176). Addie had strong opinions on sin, as shown in her one chapter of the novel. She recounts an instance with her neighbor Cora Tull: She prayed for me because she believed I was blind to sin, wanting me to kneel and pray too, because people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too (Faulkner 176). Addies sin with Jewel seems to perplex other members of the family through their journey to bury her; Darls inability to mentally communicate with Jewel leads him to question Jewels origin. Darl also seemed to put his views into the mind of Vardaman, though the poor neglected child was confused enough. Addie and Anses relationship, as explained in Addies narrative, has an obvious lack of intimacy, closeness, and meaningfulness. This can be seen as a sin inherited by their daughter, Dewey Dell. Her sexual curiosity and navet lead her to an unwanted pregnancy with a father, Lafe, who does not care about her. Throughout the story, she is in deep worry for herself and gives the impression of almost forgetting about her own mothers death. Like Eve and Addie, she bears a share of responsibility for her great sin, and will then live in sin with her child. This theme presented in Genesis proves true even in this fictitious story of an unfortunate family as they pass sin through the generations.
The Old Testaments Book of Job has some close correlations of As I Lay Dying. The Book of Job tells the story of Job, a man who suffers total disaster- loss of children, loss of property, and the affliction of a repulsive disease (Bible 593). Before God appears to Job, the story tells how Jobs friends and he himself react to the situation. His friends think of Jobs suffering in religious terms, that his afflictions must be punishments from God for sins. Though this is unlikely since Job is a righteous man, the accusations and beliefs of the friends of Job bear resemblance to the accusations bore by the friends of the Bundrens, especially Cora Tull. Each of her judgments on the members of the Bundren family is infused with her sense of Christian morality, however hypocritical she may seem. She blames the tipping of the Bundrens wagon on her belief of a God of retribution, when Vernon tells her of what happened down at the river: Log, fiddlesticks It was the hand of God (Faulkner 153). Cora also speaks a rare and unknowing morsel of truth and sense when she alerts Addie to her punishments from God: There is your sin. And there is your punishment too. Jewel is your punishment. But where is your salvation? And life is short enough to win eternal grace in. And God is a jealous God. It is His to judge and to mete; not yours (Faulkner 168). In the bibles story, God reprimands Jobs friends for their incorrect assessments of Jobs suffering; this leads to conclude that if the novel mimics the biblical tale, then friends such as Cora Tull are wrong and got their own retribution. Cora as well as Anse Bundren both seem to be fountains of meaningless religious words; both spouting words that no one else believes, Anses with much less conviction and personal backing. Addie and Job are the centers of their respective stories, each surrounded by opinionated friends. Both seem to reject the opinions of their friends, deciding that they do not understand the situation of suffering (Rule 126). One difference between the books however, is that in the Book of Job, there is restoration and resolution at the end; at the end of the Bundrens journey, situations are just as confusing if not worse than before Addies death.
These religious themes and correlations within the novel can be looked at in many ways when discussing Faulkners involvement in the religiousness. One could argue, though it has not been proven, that Faulkner must be religious and have great knowledge of the Bible. This seems legitimate because the biblical correlations are complicated and placement would take much thought. This theory may also lead to the supposition that Faulkner wanted to make religion a central theme of the novel, a very broad topic that may or may not even be true. On the other hand, one could also argue that his biblical references were merely subconscious and placed in arbitrarily based on a previous knowledge of the Bible. This would be to suggest that these complex themes were part of his unassuming genius and that this novel has many layers of theme. Another view may also be that the biblical correlation is totally false; being that Faulkner may not have been religious at all. Any of these hypotheses may be true; Faulkners degree and progression of religious views has not been documented. One can most easily assert that the religious views are present, no matter what Faulkners motivation may be. The religious themes are universal and can be enjoyed and understood by all. Overall, Faulkners use of biblical themes and plots such as original sin and the Book of Job underline the main themes of the novel of family relationships, love, sin, guilt, and actions versus words. Much like religion in general, the significance of the religious themes in the novel can be debated but inherently are present.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage Books, October 1990.
Rule, Phillip C. The Old Testament Themes in As I Lay Dying. Readings on William Faulkner. Ed. C. Swisher. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, 1998.
Good News Bible. New York: American Bible Society, 1992.