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Why End With Cash Bundren in Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying"?

Updated on October 19, 2017
StephanieBCrosby profile image

Stephanie Bradberry is an herbalist, naturopath, and energy healer. Her academic career includes teaching, tutoring, writing and editing.

William Faulkner
William Faulkner | Source

Faulkner does no wrong. His creation and establishment of Yoknapatawpha county is genius and endearing. But I had to question one aspect of his novel, As I Lay Dying. As I neared the end of reading the novel, I could not wait to see how it ended. The first thing I noticed was that Cash narrated the last chapter: why Cash? This thwarted my expectations, because for the last several chapters, Cash was either unconscious or in extreme pain and the reader only catches glimpses of him. Every time something important happened, the reader could expect Darl to narrate. Also, all the previous narrations by Cash were short and simple, with the exception of the one on page 232.

So, after reading the last chapter, I tried to see how it fit into the past themes of the novel. Whenever Cash narrates, he usually does not say much, except for the last two chapters, but he reveals many things. Then I read Cash’s last narration again. I focused on the fact that Cash is very logical, which is seen when he talks about the reason why he built his mother’s coffin the way he did (82). Cash approaches issues with caution and reasoning, like when he tells Jewel to be patient because their father “aint as spry as [him] (259).

I think Faulkner wanted people to think twice, or even more, about the ending of the novel. Cash is more of an observer and focuses his attention on one thing at a time. Knowing that Faulkner does not always do what the reader expects, I should have sensed that Cash would not remain a static character. At this point in the novel, Darl—who was the main narrator—is absent due to the fact that he went crazy and was sent to jail. This event left the story and the readers with very few alternatives for somewhat reliable narrators. Therefore, Cash’s insight becomes helpful in getting a clear representation of the end events since he is one of the only logical Bundrens left. Cash did not try to look into a situation too heavily, allowing the reader to get an unbiased report of events.

Map of Yoknapatawpha County
Map of Yoknapatawpha County | Source

Although I still do not understand the complete meaning of the last chapter, I gained a lot by having to re-read it a few times. I was forced to really zero in on any clue I could find as to why Cash would narrate the ending of the novel. Faulkner made me realize that just because a character may seem insignificant at first, he or she may actually serve a larger purpose or say more than you may pick up the first time around. Through re-reading and relating the last chapter to previous chapters narrated by Cash, I came up with my own reason as to why the novel ended the way it did. Cash is logical and unbiased and was a perfect replacement for the central narrator, Darl. The ending is rushed, especially at the climax, but I think Cash is the only character that could give an honest perception of what happens. Now Cash is one of my favorite Faulkner characters.

Work Cited

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York: Vintage, 1991. Print.

© 2011 Stephanie Bradberry

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