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By Daniel Defoe

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By the time they finally load the coffin in the wagon, the corpse has already begun to stink; the brothers are “breathing through [their] teeth to keep [their] nostrils closed” (98), and the buzzards have already appeared (94). The Bundrens will travel for six days under a miasma of death-stench with an aerial escort of vultures filling out the meager one-wagon funeral cortege. For the reader, the spectacle is horrifying and disgusting, but it is also darkly comic. The Bundrens made this impression during their stop in the town of Mottson: It was Albert told me about the rest of it.

He himself is going to the mountain to dance with the bacchantes. The maenads are half women, half creatures, who accompany Dionysus in his triumphal march. They have something strange and wild in them, for, as in every human being, the strange and wild are always latent and will erupt when unleashed. It has manifested itself in the women of Thebes. The music, the dance, the singing, are barbaric. The new god Dionysus takes no account of any difference between Europe and Asia, between Hellenic and barbarian.

The tone of As I Lay Dying is extremely complex and uncertain, as witnessed by the astonishing range of contradictory interpretations the book has inspired. For Patricia R. Shroeder, it is formally a comedy with Anse Bundren as its comic hero; whereas for Robert Merrill it is a tragedy with Darl as its tragic hero. While Shroeder’s Anse is purely comic, Cleanth Brooks saw the Bundren patriarch as “one of Faulkner’s most accomplished villains” (154). The novel’s openness of meaning stems in part from the radical narrative technique, in which fifteen different first-person narrators relay fragments of the story and comment on the action.

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