In the literary work “As I Lay Dying”, the author William Faulkner portrays his use of black comedy in the novel. Black comedy is defined as the morbid, gloomy, grotesque, or calamitous situations in its plots (Dictionary.com). Faulkner demonstrates his writing techniques of black comedy through the characters actions. “As I Lay Dying” is criticized as a black comedy because of the portrayed tragic irony of incoherence, insanity, and the submission to abuse in the novel.
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“As I Lay Dying” have several examples where The Bundrens demonstrated incompetent behavior throughout the novel, which was grotesque behavior that is found to be humorous among readers and critics. An example is Cash building his mother’s coffin outside her window. From Jewel’s perspective “It’s because he stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box. Where she’s got to see him” (Faulkner 1864). That is unfortunate that Addie must witness her son take pride in building her coffin outside her window.
Another example is Anse Bundren, the husband who is not self sufficient for himself or articulate the meaning of “work”. Darl states “I have never seen a sweat stain on his shirt. He was sick once from working in the sun when he was twenty-two years old, and he tells people that if he ever sweats, he will die” (Faulkner 1864). Addie Bundren has always prepared his meals, watched the children, clean, and wash laundry. Faulkner shows irony of how Anse marries a woman after knowing her for a couple of days after Addie has been buried.
Vardamen who is the youngest son in the family has taken upon himself to believe his mother could not breathe in her coffin. Vardamen caught a fish from a nearby creek and gave it to Dewey Dell to prepare for dinner. After Addie’s death, Vardamen compared his mother to the fish that was lying the pan bleeding. He figured if the fish died because it could not breathe, he should drill holes into Addie’s coffin so she can breathe. The tragic incoherent behavior was demonstrated when the lid of the coffin was removed and discovered there are two holes drilled into Addie’s face.
The eldest child in the family named Darl was considered insane at the end of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, Darl narrates “Jewel and I come up from the field fifteen feet ahead of him, anyone watching us from the cottonhouse can see Jewel’s frayed and broken straw hat full head above my own” (Faulkner 1860). This suggests the possibility the beginning of his insanity not being surfaced. The black comedy was suggested when Darl decides to set the barn on fire as a method of saving his mother only to put other members of his family at risk. When the family arrived in Jefferson, Mississippi, Addie was then finally buried. Ironically, Darl was taken in by two officials has taken Darl into custody and placed him in a mental intuition in Jackson, Mississippi. In the novel, Cash thoughts stated “I be durn if I could see anything to laugh at” (Faulkner 1947). “The primary shock in Darl’s final short monologue is his transfer of himself to the third person” (Simon 104).
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Addie Bundren had a small excerpt in the middle of the novel about her thoughts and feelings. She began to display submissive behavior to abuse stated “When the switch fell I could feel it upon my flesh: when it welted and ridged it was my blood that ran, and I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are away of me!” (Faulkner 1920). Throughout Addie’s life her father influenced Addie the meaning of life is the preparation of staying dead for a long period of time. She then finds herself marrying Anse and come to the realization there is no point in living after baring her second child, Cash. It is humorous to find that she spent her whole life mentally and physically abusing herself through her relationship with Anse and until death. It is a travesty how she spend her life through abuse but ironically Jewel decides to resent her until death and after death.
“As I Lay Dying” is humors because of the characters display of grotesque behavior. “Faulkner’s characteristic style as well as the variations in style that create differences in tone, ranging from comedy to thoughtful contemplation” (Bunselmeyer 424). The tragic and exaggerated events that happened throughout the novel gives critics something to laugh about because of irony of incoherence, insanity, and the submission to abuse in the novel that hopefully will not happen in reality.
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