Printer Friendly


William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying (AILD) enters into the realm of psychological instability and madness as one of the main characters, Darl Bundren, begins the novel as the most prolific narrator but ends on a train to an insane asylum after he attempts to burn a neighbor's barn which contains his dead mother's coffined body. Due to Darl's eloquent interior monologue, abstract introspection, and enigmatic clairvoyance, much previous criticism exclusively focuses on Darl's internal consciousness, and more specifically, on the question of his insanity. Many take on the role of diagnosing Darl's madness rather than examining the diagnosis in the text itself by means of the surrounding, external context. (1) Of course Darl's complex consciousness is crucial to the text, but the question of Darl's madness, like that of Shakespeare's Hamlet, has been too easily accepted by critics as the "vortical subject of the play," (5) as Margreta de Grazia has recently suggested, leaving "the plot as inert backdrop to the main character" (3). In a similar vein, it is important to avoid simply psychologically analyzing Darl in a literary vacuum, and instead investigate the public perception of Darl's behavior within the novel in terms of its significance within the historical and regional context.

Many Faulkner critics investigate the question of Darl's madness without stepping back to explore the undercurrents of the economic, political, and moral milieu, without analyzing the social implications to understand how society uses madness to police certain behaviors. Andre Bleikasten begins to address the socially constructed nature of madness within Faulkner's textual frame: "the boundary between sanity and insanity is but the arbitrary division mark of a social order, ... madness only exists as defined by and confined in collective discourse and collective perception" ("Requiem" 192). Faulkner's text highlights the arbitrary and communally created definition of madness, as Darl's expulsion to an asylum serves a sociological purpose, regardless of his mental state. While Bleikasten's examination of Darl in the social framework of the novel furthers previous criticism that concentrates purely on Darl's interiority, I will extend his analysis into the historical, political, and ideological conversation. More fully examining the perceived threat Darl poses to his family and the South in an early-twentieth-century capitalist society will illuminate the conditions that require his removal from the familial and public spheres. Ted Atkinson's recent and original approach to AILD in Faulkner and The Great Depression suggests that Darl is penalized because he represents the threat of social upheaval on the rural community due to his destruction of and disregard for private property (187). But beyond the practical economic consequences of Darl's actions, I posit that only through the lens of gender, sexuality, and queerness can we fully understand the desire for autonomy in a capitalistic society built on the fictions of self-ownership and self-coherence. I will highlight the regional consequences Darl faces for exposing the underlying contradictions and instabilities of gender and selfhood in this social, economic, and political context.

The distinct importance of this historical moment--the New South's reformation post-Reconstruction in the midst of Jim Crow right at the start of the Great Depression--is essential to understanding Darl's position in AILD. Faulkner began writing his self-proclaimed tour de force on October 25, 1929, the day immediately following the Wall Street Crash that spiraled into the Great Depression, posing a compelling intersection between his literary work and the political moment (Blotner 633). But few critics have focused on the historical implications of this text due the novel's transhistorical themes and the absence of Faulkner's familiar focus on overt subjects of race and Southern dynasty (Faulkner's; Fujie). (2) However, the clear contrast between AILD and the rest of Faulkner's body of work draws attention to the novel's lack of racial conflict or the burden of Southern history. Despite this absence of explicit thematic focus on the surface, the underlying conflicts of autonomy, independence, and masculinity that compose the racial and historical discourse of Faulkner's other works permeate this text. Therefore, putting the novel's narrative tactics and introspective content in conversation with history illuminates the often overlooked public sphere that lurks in the background of AILD. The Bundren family may appear autonomous and isolated in their own private, ahistorical realm, but across the journey to town, their fictional autonomy dissolves due to Darl's mental promiscuity and disruption of gender norms; thus, they plunge into the Southern public sphere in which they need to reassert their fantasy of autonomy through idealized conceptions of gender and selfhood based on the norms and desires of the New South. Rather than exposing a historical discourse based on race and Southern dynasty as typical of many of Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha texts, I will show that AILD interacts with the historical framework in terms of sexual and gendered disruptions of capitalistic ideologies.

Throughout the text, Darl becomes an impending threat because he queers the boundaries between masculinity/femininity, self-coherence/self-dissolution, public/private, and dependence/independence, thus disrupting the impossible capitalistic fantasy of total self- and regional-autonomy. I am using the term queer on two levels in this analysis. As David Halperin astutely claims in his research on Foucault and sexuality, "Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence" (62). The term queer is a marker of Darl's difference, his lack of a solid identity, his inability to fit within the limits of his family and surrounding Southern society. Additionally, the conventional meaning of queer as strange is given a specific gendered inflection by the text, in parallel with the semantic shift of the term at the end of the nineteenth century as containing an overt, sexual meaning. Therefore, while Darl's queerness can be understood by his general eccentricity, this term distinctly carries unstable valences of gender and sexuality. Darl is associated with an exposed portrayal of sexuality from the start, and Faulkner creates a narrative environment in which sexuality subtly permeates the entire discourse. His queerness is necessarily sexual without referring to sexual intercourse or homosexuality; instead, Darl's queerness is sexualized through his forced penetrations into others' consciousnesses.

Therefore, Darl's queerness lies in his continual supersession of boundaries and his refusal to perform within socially constructed norms, as he questions the limits of the gender binary, of physical bodies, of individual identity, and of privacy and autonomy. His queering threatens to dissolve historically and culturally constructed boundaries that were never stable to begin with but that are essential to a smoothly functioning capitalistic society. Darl threatens the basis of the underlying ideologies of gender and individuality by exposing the instability of these boundaries at a historical moment when gender and regional autonomy were essential to the New South's reputation and progress. Darl is deemed mad and forcibly committed to an insane asylum in Jackson, which reciprocally emasculates him and strips him of his own autonomy, rendering the asylum as a prison to protect Darl's family and the Southern community's physical and ideological safety. By beginning with an examination of his queerness in terms of gender roles and identity, leading to an exploration of his queerness as blurring the boundaries between bodies and identities, and concluding with an analysis of his institutionalization as a reassertion of the idealized and constructed binaries, I will reveal how Darl's queerness evolves throughout the text as a threat to the illusion of coherence and autonomy that his immediate family, and the New South, cling to in order to survive and prosper.

Darl's queerness will first be explored in terms of his problematic gender performance that generates and magnifies economic consequences, as he disrupts normative masculinity and thus concurrently disrupts society's idealized construction of self-, familial-, and regional-autonomy. The language of queerness within the text draws attention to Darl's liminal genderedness as he problematizes the clear distinction between the masculine and the feminine. Darl's failure to act within the socially defined code of Southern masculinity leads his brother, father, and neighbors to frequently label him "queer" throughout the text.

In terms of queering gender identity, Darl consistently challenges typical masculine norms, but the way in which he defies them does not clearly place him within a feminine or androgynous category. Instead, he stands outside of any legible gender identity. Oftentimes, other characters' perceptions of Darl suggest his lack of outward masculinity. The Bundrens' neighbors, Vernon and Cora Tull, suggest a link between his strange intellectualism and questionable manhood. Vernon claims, "[Darl] just thinks by himself too much. Cora's right when she says all he needs is a wife to straighten him out" (71). In addition to emphasizing the economic consequence of thinking too much rather than working productively, the Tulls suggest that if Darl adopted the appropriate gendered social norms and got married, the uncertainty surrounding his masculinity would diminish with his assimilation into acceptable society. The Tulls' judgment represents the emphasis on gender roles at this historical moment, much as critic Joel Williamson suggests, for Faulkner, "society required men to be much too masculine, and women too feminine" (375). Darl exists in the middle of these two extremes in a liminal state, unable to identify with the masculine or the feminine.

Darl's inability (or insufficient desire) to keep up appearances and perform gender norms well enough to fulfill the public ideas of appropriate masculinity renders his behavior noticeably abnormal. The idea of performing gender is key to Judith Butler's theory of gender constitution; she claims that gender is "a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief" (Butler 520). In this context, men are acting masculine, becoming masculine, and solidifying the social norms of masculinity through performance. Butler emphasizes that social paradigms prescribe these gender roles, suggesting that men not only construct their masculinity but also are instructed on how to do so by society and culture. Craig Thompson Friend's emphasis on the importance of performing manhood in the New South reflects Butler's analysis of the socially determined, public nature of gender, as he argues that the "need to publicly demonstrate manliness" served to elevate the ideal image of the Southern man (x). The response of Darl's family and neighbors to his lack of normative performativity suggests the high value of upholding such gender norms.

Darl's lack of gender performance becomes particularly threatening due to his self-awareness of the ubiquity of performance and his desire to escape from and expose its artificiality. In the midst of a mundane conversation with Dewey Dell about water buckets and selling cakes, Darl's mind whirls into a deep meditation about unraveling from the emptiness of social convention: "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 sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls" (207). This abstract reflection on the nature of social existence occurs while Darl's family members enact his concern with empty monotony by exhibiting repetitive, meaningless interactions--as Anse reiterates, "I wouldn't be beholden" and Cash repeats, "I can last it" (206, 207). With his poetic, rhythmic language and constant negations, Darl reflects on life as a series of such meaningless, repetitive gestures that we perform like puppets, questioning how our lives become entrenched in emptiness and nothingness. A few lines later, he relishes in the idea of escaping from such an existence: "If you could just ravel out into time. That would be nice. It would be nice if you could just ravel out into time" (208). Darl desires an escape from the mediocrity and meaninglessness of his life, from the enforced performance of repetitive, insignificant actions and interactions that create and sustain the social environment. This realization of the social performance of human existence--particularly the performances of gender and what will later be discussed as autonomous self-coherence--pains Darl and casts him as a threat; he exposes his revelation through his deviance, through his queerness.

Darl's lack of publicly performed masculinity and his queerness in terms of rejecting the constraints of gender identity trouble the Bundren family due to the economic consequences of such gender bending. Darl's father, Anse, vocalizes his concern for the family's public appearance as a result of Darl's queer behavior:
   I says I got some regard for what folks say about my flesh and
   blood even if you haven't, even if I have raised such a durn passel
   of boys, and when you fixes it so folks can say such about you,
   it's a reflection on your ma, I says, not me: I am a man and I can
   stand it; it's on your womenfolks, your ma and sister that you
   should care for. (105-06)

Despite Anse's stated lack of personal stake in the matter due to his supposed strength and manhood, he is clearly uncomfortable with how Darl's actions reflect on the family's reputation. Within the Bundrens' public reputation, gender deviance and economic consequences are inextricably linked. The Bundrens are especially insistent on fitting into Southern mores and gender norms because their survival rests on their ability to elicit pity and receive charity. Therefore, the family rejects Darl to rid themselves of the threat he poses to their public reputation and economic situation through his acts of queering boundaries.

But viewing Darl as a threat solely due to his liminal genderedness does not account for the presence of other characters who are deemed acceptable regardless of their apparent nonconforming gender performance. In many of his novels, Faulkner problematizes a simplistic portrayal of masculinity. Jay Martin categorizes Faulkner's vision of the process of achieving manhood as "difficult, often baffled, occasionally (but guardedly) triumphant" (157). Despite the desirability of masculinity, the men in AILD exhibit traits that hinder their true achievement of socially structured manhood. In particular, Anse Bundren, Darl's father and the patriarch of the family, lacks any observable masculine ambition and honor, but his masculinity is not questioned in the way that Darl's is throughout the novel. Just as the Tulls judge Darl as "lazy" and lacking agrarian ambition (24), inactivity is the most emphasized aspect of Anse's personality. Multiple characters note Anse's idleness, evident in the fact that he never sweats: "There is no sweat stain on his shirt. 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" (17). Whether his inactivity results from extreme laziness as Bleikasten suggests, or a medical condition as Rita Rippetoe suggests, Anse becomes completely depen dent on his neighbors. The central male neighbor, Vernon Tull, vocalizes the community's obligation to Anse, saying, "Like most folks around here, I done holp him so much already I cant quit now" (33). Anse clearly does not portray a healthy or strong masculine role in terms of Southern ideals of economic prowess, honor, and mastery.

Therefore, it would seem that Anse's questionable masculinity, as evident in his economic dependency and passivity, should alarm both the Bundren family and Southern society comparable to Darl's gender nonconformity. What allows Anse to occupy an acceptable, albeit frustrating, position in society while Darl is deemed an unacceptable threat? Anse's success lies in his performative language and behaviors, as both reinforce the South's code of masculinity and exhibit reliance on the traditional power structures. In terms of his language embodying masculine norms, Anse consistently repeats, "We would be beholden to no man" (19). The idea of beholdenness, or owing someone in return for help, highlights Anse's desire for complete autonomy. This delusion of self-reliance serves to "maintain a sense of dignity rooted in independence" (Atkinson 179), despite Anse's subsequent inaction and dependence on the work of others. Further, the masculine emphasis placed on these networks of dependency, as he will be beholden "to no man," suggests masculinity's association with independence and productivity in this period of increased industrialization and economic importance. Thus, Anse's reiterations serve to bolster his performance of masculinity and his performance of independence. In addition, Anse's marriage to Mrs. Bundren reinforces the existing patriarchal power structure of marriage, allowing him to assume a secure space in terms of the conventional gender and economic framework. Therefore, Anse's questionable personality traits do not jeopardize the South's traditional ideas of masculinity due to his appropriate language and behavioral performance that Darl cannot--or does not--enact. Although the nongendered characteristics of the Bundrens in AILD suggest that the boundaries between masculinity and femininity are not distinct, Darl's language and behavior threaten to expose the instability and indistinctness of the gender binary, thus disrupting the ideological and economic basis of Southern masculinity and power.

Darl's familial threat can be expanded to a broader, historical scale, as his problematization of definitive and categorical gender performance disrupts the New South's notion of Southern masculinity, thwarting the region's continued attempt to get out from under Northern oppression and establish financial independence. Gender and economics are inextricably linked in a bidirectional relationship both within the novel and the concurrent historical moment. The disruption of masculinity yields direct economic consequences, and conversely, economic disruption yields gender instability. Historian LeeAnn Whites claims that the Civil War created a "crisis in gender"; white Southern masculinity was no longer defined in terms of mastery over enslaved black men, thus leaving "white southern men feeling like less than men" (11, 24). Gender and economic instability are coupled, as Southerners suffered "economic devastation and dislocation" as well as ideological emasculation due to wartime defeat (Whites 86). Such physical and psychological factors called for a reestablishment of masculinity in the South. These attempts to redefine Southern masculinity did not only occur immediately after the Civil War; continued economic crises, industrialization, complicated dependence on the North, and renegotiated racial relations propagated this crisis in gender into the twentieth century (Hale 114-19).

The language of gender roles and masculinity in the New South became inextricably linked with goals of reestablishing prominence in the nation both economically and politically. The emasculating effects of post-Civil War economic destruction evolved into new ideals of Southern masculinity associated with economic vigor and production in the New South. As Friend asserts, "Redefining masculinity, then, became a crucial feature of the rhetoric of the New South--a movement led by would-be industrialists and capitalists who hoped to restore the South's economic vitality" (xv). The continued gender crisis, then, rested in the South's sustained economic dependence on the North. Ilse Dusoir Lind categorized the "failure of the South to share in the vigorous industrial development of the North and East as undermining the Southern male psyche, for it forced many of them to accept a degree of economic dependency which placed them in a passive position" (28). Continued dependence on the North thwarted Southern desire for individual, economic, and regional autonomy. The South's state of economic dependence highlights a failure of masculinity, which is why issues of problematized masculinity harbored such a substantial threat to the community. The Bundren family's response to Darl's gender queering and their resulting economic instability begins to align with Southern anxieties of Northern economic and political control.

In order to assert its masculinity and importance in opposition to the North, the South developed its own evolving code of masculinity based on historic ideals of honor and mastery that were redefined to fit into the twentieth-century context of the self-made man in an agricultural and industrial environment. Darl's barn-burning episode in particular highlights the ways in which he defies the code of masculinity through familial and economic disruption. Historically in the South, the honor and mastery of manhood was enacted through violence, though it "had to contain a broader and more ideological purpose, specifically to demonstrate honor in and protection of one's self, family, and region" (Friend xii). Because Darl's act of arson is a disruptive act, not a violent act akin to lynching or assault, it is difficult to situate within this rubric of masculinity. Although Darl appears to be motivated by his own ideology of heroism to save his mother from the Bundrens' grotesque funeral procession--as the family's journey to the burial site becomes a spectacle lasting eight days--burning the neighbor's barn disrupts the code of Southern masculinity as it potentially derails the family's mission to demonstrate familial honor and protection by burying their mother's body in town.

Further, burning the barn threatens Gillespie's and the Bundrens' financial stability, illustrated by the overt economic focus in the Bundren family's language and reasoning. Darl's brother, Cash, understands the basis for sending Darl away to the asylum in material terms, based on the juridical and financial consequences of arson: "It was either send him to Jackson, or have Gillespie sue us, because he knowed some way that Darl set fire to it" (232). Cash rationalizes the situation according to simple, law-abiding, financial logic. In Cash's mind, sending Darl away is not based on a choice or even on the question of Darl's madness; Darl's institutionalization is inevitable, as he must accept the consequences of his destructive behavior in order to save the Bundren family from a lawsuit. The bizarre nature of causality vocalized by Cash and Anse in terms of finances, economic stability, and a decent public reputation centers on helplessness. Anse declares the family's lack of control in the matter, claiming, "I reckon there aint nothing else to do" but send his son to the insane asylum so as not to jeopardize their reputation or risk financial security (232).

The Bundren family's focus on economic rationalization has led critics like Bleikasten to posit that Darl is primarily an economic threat due to the financial consequences of the barn burning ("Requiem") or primarily socioeconomic due to Darl's disregard for private property ownership, which forms the basis of capitalism (Atkinson). Such critical lenses parallel the Bundren family's employment of economic language and reasoning, as both operate within the capitalistic fantasy of complete self-autonomy that privileges financial and economic determinants. Within the novel and the historical moment, economic determinants do trigger conflict and action, but they become significantly threatening as a result of unstable gender performance that dissolves the illusion of autonomy. The weight ascribed to economic determinants rests on the lurking threats of Darl's queerness. Darl's queering and recklessness threaten to wreak economic havoc amplified by gender havoc, thus challenging Southern society's exaggerated importance on overt masculinity due to the idealization of autonomy based on economic power and stability.

Not only does Darl's queerness rest in his failure to perform gender, destabalizing capitalism's illusion of autonomy and creating economic consequences, but he also blurs divisions between bodies and discrete identities, which threatens self-coherence and self-ownership. Following his linguistic preoccupation with disembodiment and the boundaries of identity, he proceeds to penetrate others' minds, an act perceived as invasive rather than intimate. His penetrating clairvoyance queers the division between self and other, internal and external, public and private, thus dissolving his family members' individual autonomy and exposing their lack of independence. This threat is particularly salient in the early-twentieth-century South, when idealistic goals of the liberal, autonomous subject were destabilized by multiple modes of integration.

Darl's relations with the world and the individuals around him lack the concrete, distinguishable boundaries between self and other. According to Calvin Bedient, "Hopelessly open and undefended, at times even plural and familial, Darl's mind leaps barriers of space and flesh, flowing everywhere like the floodwaters of the river--but flowing because unformed, because it has no home in itself, no principle of containment" (267). Darl's own mind is disembodied, incapable of containment, while he recognizes his perception of disembodied voices around him: "A feather dropped near the front door will rise and brush along the ceiling, slanting backward, until it reaches the downturning current at the back door: so with voices. As you enter the hall, they sound as though they were speaking out of the air about your head" (19-20). In this portrait of a feather defying the laws of gravity, Darl illustrates his unique perception of language and the thoughts of those around him. The words and ideas float into his mind just as the feather floats along the ceiling. Darl is destabilizing the ownership of voice, as these voices break the bounds of traditional expression and separate themselves from their speakers.

Many critics have focused on the debate over Darl's clairvoyance as supernatural or an odd hyper-perceptivity, but regardless of the methodology, Darl can dissolve the solid divisions between identities and the boundaries between minds. (3) Nicholas Royle terms this the "Telepathy Effect," describing the connection between characters and/or narrators that yields "mixed and mixing identities, mixed and mixing inside and outside, detachment and intimacy" (93, 104). Darl--rather than a universal, shifting telepathic narrator that Royle focuses on--holds this uncanny power. This blurring or queering of identities seems to stem from the bizarre effect of his eyes on the minds of others. Throughout the text, Darl's eyes are his most notable feature, as his family members constantly comment on the simultaneous contradiction of their emptiness and fullness. Dewey Dell claims his eyes are "full of the land dug out of his skull and the holes filled with distance beyond the land" (27). But more revealingly, Darl's eyes can enter into the consciousness of others. Vernon comments on the visceral reaction he has to Darl's eyes looking "inside" of him: "[Darl] is looking at me. He dont say nothing; just looks at me with them queer eyes of hisn that makes folks talk. I always say it aint never been what he done so much or said or anything so much as how he looks at you. It's like he had got into the inside of you, someway" (125). Darl's intellectually invasive eyes surpass the limits of Vernon's body, indicating that his queerness rejects constraints of physical embodiment.

But his queerness also resonates with the sexual and gender associations, as his eyes get "inside of you," suggesting a forced sexualized encounter between their consciousnesses. This sexualization of Darl's otherness furthers the significance of his queerness, which is introduced through his sexualized nature from the beginning of the text. In his second narrative episode, Darl discloses his first understanding of sexuality and masturbation:
   After that I was bigger, older. Then I would wait until they all
   went to sleep ... feeling myself without touching myself, feeling
   the cool silence blowing upon my parts and wondering if Cash was
   yonder in the darkness doing it too, had been doing it perhaps for
   the last two years before I could have wanted to or could have.

Darl's personal sexuality is passive and solitary, while his attempts to look inside the minds of others are active (and even interactive) penetrations. His sister, Dewey Dell, laments that Darl "knew without the words" about her pregnancy (27), and his continual invasions of her privacy appear explicitly sexualized: "The land runs out of Darl's eyes; they swim to pin points. They begin at my feet and rise along my body to my face, and then my dress is gone: I sit naked on the seat above the unhurrying mules, above the travail" (121). Clearly, Darl's penetrations are perceived as undressing the other. Darl's clairvoyance becomes a sexual act as he punctures others' subjectivities, dangerously exposing the instability of the boundaries of identity and embodiment.

Darl's sexual invasions do not literally seek any sort of sexual dominance, but instead they penetrate others' secrets. According to Donald Kartiganer, Darl "is the supreme agent of violation in the novel. He invades the people around him, not for sex but for secrets, that private, interior world" (373). As Darl penetrates others' subjectivities for secrets, he strips them of their discrete, guarded identities, exposing their innermost truths. Throughout the text, truth is associated with nakedness, as evident in the previous scene with Dewey Dell's figurative nudity in the wagon, and further developed in a flashback episode when the family realizes the truth behind Jewel's deceptive night escapades: Darl describes the scene metaphorically, as if they "flung the whole thing back like covers on the bed and we all sitting bolt upright in our nakedness, staring at one another and saying 'Now is the truth'" (134). The emotions associated with the vulnerable state of naked truth suggest the family's fear of exposure, which Darl constantly seems to disregard because "he does not even have the pride which drives the others to hide their nakedness" (Bleikasten, "Requiem" 196). His boundless consciousness--and "constant probing" (Vickery 246)--does not recognize socially derived boundaries between public and private, between self and other.

Although previous critics have discussed Darl's boundary-blurring clairvoyance, (4) these analyses do not provide a contextualized understanding of the threatening consequences this exposure yields within the text and in the surrounding historical milieu. The concern with losing one's autonomy permeates the characters' fears of invaded privacy. This significant preoccupation appears in multiple instances throughout the text, evident in Anse's insistence on the family's self-sufficiency (despite his complete dependence on his neighbors' assistance) and Dewey Dell's independent attempts to maintain control over her reproductive decisions. Further, the novel's structure mirrors the internal conflict of lost autonomy. Faulkner structured the novel based on divided, independent chapters narrated by each character, suggesting discrete, autonomous identities. But Darl's ability to invade the narration and consciousness of his family members reveals the falseness of their apparent autonomy; instead of being independent, their individual identities are under threat, as Darl in effect violates both the Bundren family and the novel's form. Darl's behavior threatens to expose the fact that the family members--and book chapters--are not autonomous, despite their intention or their investment in appearing autonomous to maintain accepted social conventions and ideologies.

This threat of exposure elicits the Bundren family's decision to commit Darl to the asylum. Not only does Darl's invasive behavior and mental capacity threaten to expose their individual secrets, it also threatens exposure on a much broader and ideological level. His ability to blur boundaries between individuals and between minds disrupts the ideological foundation of self-autonomy and self-ownership. This highlights the fundamental difference between Darl and his family; while the boundaries that Darl blurs are already unstable (previously, the gender binary; now, the discreteness of individuals), the other Bundrens are invested in performing and upholding the socially constructed norms and ideologies while Darl threatens to expose the instability of these constructions.

The dangerous potential of exposing the artificiality of autonomy and individual independence is particularly germane at this historical moment as it threatens the New South's goals of autonomy, self-sufficiency, and segregation. Historically, the South's agricultural system of self-reliant, individual units of farmers and plantations highlighted the emphasis on autonomy. W. J. Cash describes the Southerner's community as an "independent social unit, a selfcontained and largely self-sufficient little world of its own" (32). It follows that the New South's complex relations with the North would exhibit an insistence on their previously maintained independence. In the words of historian James C. Cobb, "The original New South, however, was built both to last and to stand on its own; its architects promised reintegration into the national economy without the sacrifice of the region's racial, cultural, or political continuity or autonomy" (2). According to the South's understanding, reintegration into the national arena would not result in any real integration; instead, personal and regional autonomy and independence would remain unaffected. This understanding derived from the South's most salient fear of the invasive control of the North's federalist intervention, as it was seen as a threat to Southern autonomy. Darl's mind-penetrations are invasions of privacy and autonomy, and they align him with invasive Northern intervention, thus explaining the family's resistance. Whites in the New South idealized their regional history, nostalgically desiring to return to the Old South, reimagined as an era of discrete identities, absolute autonomy, and concrete boundaries between regions and races (Hale 43-51). Despite the fragility of autonomy as an ideal, the New South--enacted by the Bundren family--relied on this belief in order to reassert itself as a stable power in the national milieu.

The threat of uncertainty (in terms of identity and autonomy) and of exposure (as illustrated by the repeated focus on nakedness) raised by Darl's penetrating stares causes alarm to those around him and provokes a violent reaction. As a result of Darl's consistent infringement on her private thoughts, Dewey Dell fantasizes about murdering him and later violently restrains him, "scratching and clawing at him like a wild cat" so the authorities can take him to the asylum in Jackson (237). Bedient suggests that Dewey Dell's (and Jewel's) vicious responses to Darl are a means of "reasserting the privacy of their identities" in order to avoid "exposure to the world, to a nakedness synonymous with defeat" (270, 265). Their violent reactions to sexualized exposure demonstrate a rejection of Darl in order to rid themselves (and Southern society) of the threat posed to individual privacy, identity, and their impossible fantasy of complete autonomy.

Darl threatens to expose not only his family's secrets, but more importantly (to the New South's power and independence), the instability of the Southern code for masculinity, and the ideological basis of capitalism revolving around a selfautonomous, liberal subject. The Bundrens are able to recognize the threat Darl poses to them, as well as the community's physical, social, and ideological safety. To establish their normalcy and resume the illusions of privacy and autonomy, they eliminate Darl from the familial and public spheres by forcibly committing him to an insane asylum in Jackson.

Much criticism focuses on Darl's psychological state, particularly his apparent descent into madness immediately prior to his departure to Jackson.5 By Darl's final chapter, when he is on the train to the asylum, all of his ruminations on identity, disembodiment, and unraveling are realized; his own identity appears to unravel into a multiplicity of voices:
   Darl has gone to Jackson. They put him on the train, laughing, down
   the long car laughing, the heads turning like the heads of owls
   when he passed. "What are you laughing at?" I said.

   "Yes yes yes yes yes." (253)

Darl's nearly indiscernible laughter, repetitive affirmations, and dislocated narration--suggesting his astonishment at the absurdity of his family's behavior as well as the ridiculousness of social conventions--have led many critics to conclude that he is, indeed, mad.

But as evident in the sustained critical debates about his psychological (in) stability, Darl's behavior exhibits both reason and madness as he continues to blur binaries, furthering his queerness as he dissolves the division between sanity and insanity. Darl's decision to burn the Gillespie's barn and Addie's coffin within, while destructive and illegal, can also be seen as reasonable in that he sought to end the grotesque funeral march to town. According to Bleikasten, "There must be reason, then, in his madness, a reason that challenges the reason of reasonable people" (Faulkner's 124). Darl's perceived mad behavior often exhibits a greater degree of reason than the behavior of the other characters. Although he does express cognitive symptoms that are typically interpreted as a psychological illness, these symptoms actually exemplify how he operates outside the socialized norm of autonomous thought. For instance, his mind unravels into a multiplicity of voices once he is forcibly committed. This continual lack of clarity between sanity and insanity prompts Darl's brother, Cash, to contemplate the arbitrary nature of madness: "Sometimes I aint so sho who's got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way" (233). According to Cash, there is a bit of sanity and a bit of insanity in everyone, but something--the balance--sways each individual to act in accordance with one extreme or the other. By this logic, Darl is neither sane nor insane simply because nobody is essentially sane or insane. Darl's simultaneously reasonable and mad behavior threatens to expose that the binary between sanity and insanity is not as clear and definite as publicly presented, instead existing as a socially constructed continuum.

Darl's madness functions beyond a psychological diagnosis as his institutionalization and forced removal serves a distinct social purpose based on public perception and public need. In this text, madness is presented as a social construct, focusing less on legitimizing diagnoses and more on the import of public opinion. It is no longer a psychological illness but a social one. In Cash's monologue, he suggests, "That's how I reckon a man is crazy. That's how he cant see eye to eye with other folks. And I reckon they aint nothing else to do with him but what the most folks say is right" (233-34). Cash suggests that the label of madness is less determined by an unstable psyche and instead by an inability or a refusal to conform to socially prescribed norms. But even as he develops this revelation and sympathizes with Darl's motives to burn their mother's coffin to stop the funeral journey, Cash cannot reject the common view, instead rationalizing the family's decision to send Darl away by returning to his socially accepted, strictly rationalist, black-and-white logic. This submission to the power and authority of public opinion suggests the high level of threat that follows from questioning society's norms and values. Further, Darl, considered abnormal and frustrating to his family in the rural countryside, is removed from society once the family reaches the town of Jefferson. At the conclusion of their odyssey to town, to a locale characterized by a broader public sphere, growing industry, and economic power where social influence prevails, Darl must be eliminated.

Understanding insanity as socially constructed based on deviance from acceptable, normative behavior illuminates the relationship between badness and madness. According to Elie Godsi:
   How any given society at any period in its history defines
   deviancy, and particularly those whom it perceives as 'evil' or
   'mad', always reveals more about that society and the vested
   interests and values of those who are most powerful than about
   those who are being defined. (vii)

The deviant behaviors that legitimize the classification of madness often provide more information about the societal environment, norms, and values rather than about the individual. Therefore, Darl's institutionalization provides a lens into the social climate of the New South, as he is punished for questioning the norms that are valued most at this historical moment. As Darl fails to perform his social role effectively and blurs boundaries, his actions threaten to expose the instabilities that lie beneath the mask of a clear gender binary and a coherent self that provide the stable basis for capitalism's proclaimed autonomy. And the punishment for this threat is institutionalization; madness here becomes a social weapon to eliminate threatening members from society.

In this paradigm of madness as a societal tool of control and power, institutionalization serves to remove Darl from his family and from the New South. The asylum functions to incarcerate rather than rehabilitate. In the complicated, intertwined history of mental illness and criminal justice, mental institutions have been used as mechanisms of social control. Darl's situation blurs the stages of Michel Foucault's historical analysis of madness from the medieval character of the madman and fool as the "guardian of truth" to the invention of houses of confinement in the classical age as a means to reduce madness to silence through morality-policing and imprisonment (14, 38, 59). Foucault's determination of asylums as an invention of social control links madness and criminality both ideologically and physically in terms of incarceration. This link between madness and criminality begins in the text with Darl's commitment mirroring an arrest, highlighted by Peabody's assessment that Darl was thrown "down in the public street and handcuff[ed] ... like a damn murderer" (240). Faulkner's text follows this connection as his use of language to characterize Darl's forced commitment to the institution in Jackson suggests imprisonment--as Cash remarks that Darl is "going to spend the rest of his life locked up" (233)--rather than undergoing therapeutic recovery. Darl furthers this image of imprisonment and captivity in his distant narration about his physical and mental state: "Our brother Darl in a cage in Jackson where, his grimed hands lying light in the quiet interstices, looking out he foams" (254). This tragic image of Darl wasting away in an isolated cell suggests an indefinite separation and punishment as a result of the physical dangers of his barn burning and the ideological dangers of his boundary blurring. According to Patricia E. Erickson and Steven K. Erickson, "When we interpret mental illness as a criminal justice problem, confinement serves the goals of incapacitation because of the underlying value of keeping the community safe from someone who has committed a crime" (7). The main function of instituionalizing individuals for the community's safety places a continued emphasis on the role of society--rather than on the individual's state of mind--in constructing the limits of insanity for its own purposes.

Essentially, Darl's institutionalization serves as banishment from his family and from society. Following Dewey Dell's and Jewel's violent restraint of Darl as the men come to take him to Jackson, no legal procedures, treatment plans, or communication regarding the status of his institutionalization occur. The authorities simply take Darl away on the train, removing him from the central action of the text. As a literary character, he is erased from the ongoing plot; as Addie is buried in a coffin underground, Darl is buried in his asylum cell. His brother, Vardaman, in his childlike, grammatical confusion, highlights the connection between Darl's madness and his elimination from society: "He went to Jackson. He went crazy and went to Jackson both" (251). Vardaman's use and confusion of going mad and going to the institution suggest the importance of displacement--both physical and mental. Darl's institutionalization functions as banishment from his family's rural life and from society at large for his transgressions against societal norms and ideologies.

The Bundren family's forced commitment of Darl to the asylum functions to ideologically reassert the binaries that Darl blurs. Most obviously, their actions affirm the oppositional distinction between sanity and insanity that Darl blurs as he threatens to expose the instability of the binary through his concurrently mad and reasonable behavior. But more importantly, Darl's institutionalization directly and reciprocally responds to the threats he poses to his family and Southern society through his boundary blurring. First, Darl threatens to expose the instability of the gender binary through his lack of a normative, masculine performance; therefore, he is metaphorically emasculated. Historically, insane asylums carry gendered associations with femininity, hysteria, and sexuality. This sociological connection carries into the literary sphere; according to D. A. Miller's literary analysis, "If, typically, he ends up in the prison or its metaphorical equivalents, she ends up in the asylum or its metaphorical equivalents" (168). Therefore, Darl's sentence to an asylum rather than prison holds significance in that it reasserts the gender binary, punishing Darl for his lack of masculine performance by emasculating him through institutionalization. In addition, Darl threatens to expose the instability of discrete identities and autonomous existence through his sexual mind-penetrations; therefore, he is stripped of his own autonomy. Not only does imprisonment overtly destroy any personal independence, but the autonomy of his identity also dissolves. On the train to Jackson, he cannot contain his own identity--just as he disrupted the limits of others' identities by penetrating the boundaries of their minds and bodies. Darl's identity disperses into a multiplicity of selves, and he becomes disembodied into an actor and an observer addressing himself both as "Darl" and "I" Therefore, the reciprocal punishments of emasculation and complete dependence that follow Darl allow his family and society to uphold and reassert social conventions of gender and autonomy--despite their underlying uncertainty--without the constant threat of disruption and exposure. Cash's rationalization of the situation illuminates the conditions of Darl's elimination from the text: "But it is better so for him. This world is not his world; this life his life" (261). Darl cannot function and perform his role in this world, this community, this moment in the New South; therefore, the world is essentially taken away from him as he is exiled to the isolation of the asylum.

Chicago, Illinois

Works Cited

Atkinson, Ted. Faulkner and the Great Depression: Aesthetics, Ideology, and Cultural Politics. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2006.

Bedient, Calvin. "Pride and Nakedness: As I Lay Dying" Gorra 262-75.

Bleikasten, Andre. Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1973.

--. "Requiem for a Mother" The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner's Novels from The Sound and the Fury to Light in August. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990. 147-209.

Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. Vol. 1. New York: Random, 1974.

Butler, Judith. "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory" Theatre Journal 40.4 (1988): 519-31.

Cash, W. J. The Mind of the South. 1941. New York: Random, 1968.

Cobb, James C. "From the First New South to the Second: The Southern Odyssey through the Twentieth Century." The American South in the Twentieth Century. Ed. Craig S. Pascoe, Karen Trahan Leathem, and Andy Ambrose. Atlanta: U of Georgia P, 2005. 1-15.

Cox, Dianne L., ed. William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1985.

Delville, Michel. "Alienating Language and Darl's Narrative Consciousness in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying" Southern Literary Journal 27.1 (1994): 61-72.

Duvall, John N., ed. Faulkner and His Critics. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2010.

Edwards, Erin E. "Extremities of the Body: The Anoptic Corporeality of As I Lay Dying" Duvall 275-301.

Emerick, Ronald. "Darl Bundren's Insanity: The Collapse of Community in As I Lay Dying" Heir and Prototype: Original and Derived Characterizations in Faulkner. Ed. Dan Ford. Fayetteville: U of Central Arkansas P, 1988. 70-81.

Erickson, Patricia E., and Steven K. Erickson. Crime, Punishment, and Mental Illness: Law and the Behavioral Sciences in Conflict. Piscataway: Rutgers UP, 2008.

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. 1930. The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Vintage, 1988.

Friend, Craig Thompson. Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South Since Reconstruction. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2009.

Fujie, Kristin. "All Mixed Up: Female Sexuality and Race in The Sound and the Fury" Faulkner's Sexualities: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2007. Ed. Annette Trefzer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2010. 115-30.

Godsi, Elie. Violence and Society: Making Sense of Madness and Badness. Bath: Bath, 2004.

Gorra, Michael, ed. A Norton Critical Edition: William Faulkner As I Lay Dying: Authoritative Text Backgrounds and Contexts Criticism. New York: Norton, 2010.

Grazia, Margreta de. Hamlet Without Hamlet. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2007.

Hale, Grace Elizabeth. Making Whiteness: The Culture of Segregation in the South, 1890-1940. New York: Pantheon, 1998.

Halperin, David M. Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography. New York: Oxford UP, 1995.

Hemenway, Robert. "Enigmas of Being in As I Lay Dying" Duvall 41-55.

Hwang, Eunju. "Language and Schizophrenia in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying" CEA Critic 70.3 (2008): 1-19.

Kartiganer, Donald M. "'By It I Would Stand or Fall': Life and Death in As I Lay Dying" Gorra 363-75.

Lind, Ilse Dusoir. "The Mutual Relevance of Faulkner Studies and Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Inquiry." Faulkner and Women: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1985. Ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1986. 21-40.

Martin, Jay. "Faulkner's 'Male Commedia': The Triumph of Manly Grief." Faulkner and Psychology: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1991. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 1994. 123-64.

Miller, D. A. The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: U of California P, 1988.

Palliser, Charles. "Fate and Madness: The Determinist Vision of Darl Bundren." Cox 131-44.

Pettey, Homer B. "Perception and the Destruction of Being in As I Lay Dying" The Faulkner Journal 19.1 (2003): 27-46.

Rippetoe, Rita. "Unstained Shirt, Stained Character: Anse Bundren Reread." Mississippi Quarterly 54.3 (2001): 313-25.

Royle, Nicholas. "The 'Telepathy Effect': Notes toward a Reconsideration of Narrative Fiction." Acts of Narrative. Ed. Carol Jacobs and Henry Sussman. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003. 93-109.

Rossky, William. "As I Lay Dying: The Insane World." Cox 179-88.

Simon, John K. "What Are You Laughing At, Darl? Madness and Humor in As I Lay Dying" College English 25.2 (1963): 104-10.

Smith, Frederik N. "Telepathic Diction: Verbal Repitition in As I Lay Dying" Style 19.1 (1985): 66-77.

Vickery, Olga W. "The Dimensions of Consciousness." Gorra 236-48.

Whites, LeeAnn. Gender Matters: Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Making of the New South. New York: Palgrave, 2005.

Williamson, Joel. William Faulkner and Southern History. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.

(1) See Michel Delville; Ronald Emerick; Robert Hemenway; and Eunju Hwang for more examples.

(2) For further study on the subject, see Bleikastens Faulkner's As I Lay Dying; and Kristin Fujie.

(3) For further critical reading of telepathy and the Bundrens, see Charles Palliser; Homer B. Pettey; and Frederik N. Smith.

(4) See Erin E. Edwards, in addition to Palliser and Smith.

(5) See William Rossky and John K. Simon, in addition to Emerick, Hwang, and Palliser.
COPYRIGHT 2013 The Faulkner Journal
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Southard, Marybeth
Publication:The Faulkner Journal
Date:Mar 22, 2013

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters