William Faulkner uses language in a unique way in his novel As I Lay Dying. Language is a form of expression to show thoughts and emotions. Faulkner uses it to convey the individual characters’ thoughts and feelings. He also uses it to draw a line between language and true expression. He shows the limitations of language and the difference between language and words.
As I Lay Dying covers the story of a family as they journey to bury the mother, Addie, in her hometown after her death. They all go through the same situations but each experience different emotions and thoughts. They express these through the language they use. What each character says as well as how he/she says it lets the reader see the character'’ underlying meaning. Through Faulkner’s technique of letting each person involved speak in the first person, language takes on an important role in understanding the characters.
Darl is an example of the power of language due to him having the most chapters as narrator. His language is more clear and reflective than the other speakers are are. He uses similes and metaphors like the horse to represent his mother. Dewey Dell is different than the rest of her family. Instead of just reporting facts or describing she uses language to express her true feelings. Language is personal to her and demonstrates its power. An example of this is when she describes how the doctor “could do so much for me if he just would” and how he “is a big tub of guts and I am a little tub of guts and if there is not any room for anything else important in a big tub of guts, how can it be room in a little tub of guts.” The language is simple but its what she is thinking in her head.
Cash uses language the most when Darl is taken away and he becomes the new authority or narrator. He can easily express what he thinks now. Jewel doesn’t see language as anything more than a way to communicate. He follows more along the lines of his mother by acting on his thoughts and feelings. Vardaman’s language is the simplest and seemingly incoherent, yet his childish thoughts come across strongly. Vardaman sees his mother as a fish due to his lack of understanding reality and metaphors.
Language is a power tool for Darl, Dewey Dell, and Cash but for their mother Addie it is a limitation. She says, “words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.” Addie believes that language is the experience and words will never match that. While the children feel defined by their language, she feels defined by experiences. She makes this clear when she describes a scene with Cora Tull, “And so when Cora Tull would tell me I was not a true mother, I would think how words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless, and how terribly doing goes along the earth.”
The whole technique that Faulkner uses with language and his characters most fits stream of consciousness. He puts pure thought into the language. This technique helps to fix any of the limitations that language puts on conveying thought. This shows in Vardaman who’s language skills haven’t developed totally yet. He demonstrates stream of consciousness to the extreme by his somewhat confusing and random comments. However, these are how Vardaman views things and words are added to try and let the reader see into the mind of the character.
To overcome the language limitation of words not always adequately showing thought, Faulkner sometimes goes beyond the scope of what words can express. This is demonstrated when the characters make up non-existent words to convey what they are feeling or thinking that normal words fail to describe. They also use metaphors and similes to show comparisons. One example of when words just fail is when Faulkner leaves a blank space in the middle of a dialogue because there is just no word to describe it. Another example is when Tull is describing the casket that Cash is making and he has no word for it so Faulkner inserts a picture into the middle of the dialogue. This type of language use almost creates a portal for the reader into the character’s brain.
Faulkner’s use of language in As I Lay Dying overcomes limitations by using a different style of language in this novel than is common in others. Through doing this he can directly express what each character is thinking while still following their thought patterns. This technique allows language to go beyond simple words and into the human spirit and life.
Word Count: 781