How do our lives ravel out into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings: in the sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls.— Darl Bundren, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying may actually be his most accessible piece of literature in its easy sentence structure, simple dialectical speech patterns, and absence of sentences over nine hundred words. The novel follows fourteen narrators in no specific chronological sequence through the death of one family's mother. The direct family shares the majority of the novel, with a few chapters dedicated to a priest, a cook, and more. Even the mother herself, Addie Bundren, gets to enjoy her own chapter in which she posthumously tells us of the futility of words and the lack they create by accepting them into our life. But Addie Bundren's magnificent act of suspended animation is not our concern here.
Darl Bundren is the second youngest of Addie's sons—Cash, Jewel, Vardaman and himself. He, along with his brothers, goes through an existentialist journey to discover not only who he is, but also when. And when he finds out his when and his who, he begins to wonder how he got to attain those positions. Darl's search lies almost entirely within the constructs of language and his God-given clairvoyance to allow himself to create a world around him in which he is comfortable. Through his creation he touches upon subjects such as being and not-being, which is not necessarily not existing, but not ‘being’ with the given preconceptions that are formed within the object's original compared ‘being’. Vardaman is highly perceptive at noticing the difference between the two, in his definition of a fish that has been cut up for dinner and it's new ‘not-fish’ existence rather than its previous ‘fish’ existence.
Darl sadly does not ever find his sense of self and instead attempts to find so many loose connections that do not exist that he kicks himself out of his own being. Darl is sent to a mental institution where his last words are “We are Darl's brother, our brother Darl”.
Here Darl has stopped with the rest of his family a few days after Cash has broken his leg in a bad accident concerning a river. They stop to look for water and to redress Cash's wounds.
Darl's considerations on the evolution of his life are reminiscent of several of the paths the characters take throughout the novel. Darl is also becoming more comfortable with the idea of ‘not-being’; however, he begins to only use ‘not-being’ as a means of understanding rather than ‘being’. Darl does not know how to relate the world around him to things that exist as they are, so he chooses their existence that is not. Allowing his bout into futility though, he does raise an excellent point. Darl has began to wonder why it is that as people grow older they still allow themselves to fall for the same mistakes they did years ago. History has a tendency to repeat itself and our lives can then only become “echoes of old compulsions”, “weary gestures wearily recapitulant”. He notes on the fact that this is highly acceptable for the majority of our term, however we only notice it near our death and by the time we try to do something to stop it, it is too late and nonsensical. Our actions are simply “dead gestures of dolls”—futile motions that are made for the whole sake of making the motion itself. They have no substance, they have no life, and they come from something that never lived to begin with.
Darl's ability to see ahead, behind, and possibly even sideways allows him the greatest access towards an identity, however, he is the only character in the novel who loses his entirely. For Darl to exist within the world he is a part of would have been impossible because he is simply not stuck within the same constructs as the rest of his family. Darl can ravel out into time though he wishes to stick to at least some sense of his old ‘being’. Darl's ‘not-being’—his existence as Darl within Darl—and his ‘being’—his existence as Darl within the Bundren family—can never co-exist and thus it leads to a complete failure of identity.
Darl's short words here make an impact that, though highly exclusive, can still pertain to almost anyone. Life has a tendency to get out of hand and we never seem to notice until it's too late.
Posted by Brother David Ruiz, 12 January 2009