Oppressionagainst Women in "As I lay dying"
Publishedin 1930, "As I lay dying" presents a case of oppressionagainst women at the time. The author, William Faulkner chooses aunique style of presenting his story, to highlight the theme ofoppression against women. He decided to use the characters as thenarrators of the story. This way, he completely excuses himself fromthe story and instead engages the reader (O`Donnelland Zwinger 4).By doing so, he brilliantly engaged and forced the reader toparticipate fully in the story. The reader is given a chance toevaluate and determine the significance of each event happening inthe story. All characters are unique and each tells events from theirpoint of view. This discussion about the book illustrates thatsucceeded in presenting oppression against women as the main themethat was dominant at the time.
Faulkneruses the two women in the story Addie Bundren and her daughter DeweyDell, to represent women at the time. In this case, women wereregarded as personal objects or commodities of men. For instance, hehas demonstrated this perception, through their sexuality. Theirsexuality was seen more of an obligation at play rather than avoluntary action towards men (Gorra6).Sex has been depicted as a forceful right to the men for thefulfillment of their egocentric interests regardless. The authorclearly criticizes this selfish desire of abusing the sexual rightsof women.
Further,other than for sexual gratification, women`s sexuality was used topromote or add man’s economic status. This has been demonstratedmainly through the use of Addie’s character. She has been made tobelieve that love does not exist. She understands her role in themarriage to take care of the house and have children (Johnson4).Her husband says that children will ensure more hands working in thefields (Faulkner173).He further forces his wife to have more children after she had anaffair with a preacher. This affair led to conceiving her son, Jewel.This was a form of punishment to get even for her mistake.
Ansesurprises the reader at his complete disregard for women’ssexuality, when he cites his reason of anger to that illicit affair.He clearly states that the mistake Addie made was not sleeping withanother man. He says that his concern was the missed opportunity tohave more children (Faulkner172).Women have been presented as a tool whose sole role is to benefit themen (Gorra9).There is no clear love relationship that is evident between Anse andAddie. Anse treats his wife as he treats his animals getting hiswork done fast. They are both regarded as possessions for economicgains. The Character of Anse clearly demonstrates this point.
WhenPeabody comes to treating Addie in her death bed, he evidentlymisreads her expressions. Clearly demonstrating the then existingstereotypes of women and women’s roles. He notes the manner inwhich Addie is looking at him and concludes that she is no more thana ‘pack-horse’ (Faulkner85).He regards women as pack-horses, meaning that their sole purpose isto work just as horses. He sees women in general as mere animals.Instead of seeing Addie as a sick patient who deserves love and carehe is clearly resentful and dismisses her as a family servant.
Faulknerhas presented women as replaceable tools. The Bundren family is seenpreparing to go bury Addie forty miles away, in Jefferson (Johnson8).However, it is important to note the two motivations of Anse thatleads him to go to Jefferson. First, he hopes to get his teeth fixedand possibly get a new wife. It is clear that he is not mourning hisdead wife. During that period, it is evident that women were made tobelieve that their primary duties was to take care of their housesand give birth to children. That is why during the conversationinvolving some women Tuli, Cora and Kate. Kate remarks that Ansewill probably get another wife before the subsequent cotton-pickingseason (Gorra17).Anse’s main reason of getting another wife sooner is to havesomeone look after the house while he is out working and have morechildren. In the last scene of the story, Anse is seen presenting anew wife to the children. This confirms that women were easilyreplaceable and had an insignificant impact on the society.
Womenhave been presented as unsuspecting gullible individuals that aresusceptible to the desires of men. Those women are also sex tools.This has been demonstrated through the teenager Dewey Dell (Johnson16).Even though she is not yet married, she is pregnant. In a scènewhere she is about to milk a cow, she is seen shouting to a wailingcow and remarking that they are both women. She tells the cow thatthe milk in the udder is not compared to what she had inside her.This clearly shows that women believed that they had the same socialstatus as animals in the lives of men. It shows that their purposewas to fulfill men’s desires of having more children as well asprovision of milk.
Inthat period, the author has criticized this archaic presentation ofwomen. He shows that the only importance of the women was of economicand sexual fulfillments. Their importance is demonstrated with whatthey are capable of producing just as the animals. Their role assexual tools is further demonstrated by Dewey Dell. She had made upher mind to terminate her pregnancy by swallowing a pill (Faulkner95).Thus, she sets out to a pharmacy to purchase the pill. However, shemeets a young man by the name Mac Gowan, who insists to help herterminate her pregnancy. Contrary to the expectation of Dewey Delland the reader, he instead has sex with her. This shows clearly thatmen viewed women as sexual objects whose role was to fulfill men’ssexual desires.
Inthis case, Dewey Dell is not seen as a human being who deservescompassion, rather the writer clearly point men’s view of women wasbased on how useful they could be. She was desperate to get rid ofher pregnancy that made her obviously psychologically stressed(Faulkner95).Instead of reaching a hand to help, men are depicted as predators ofwomen and take advantage when an opportunity presents itself. Womenare just objects whose main significance were their ‘usefulness’to the men.
Faulknerhas successfully used the two characters of Addie and Dewey Dell toclearly show the oppression of women in the society. They aredemonstrated as individuals who do not deserve love and compassion(Johnson17).Their emotional needs are irrelevant. Addie has been used to bringinto light the main role of a married woman. Being taking care ofthe house and having children to increase the labor force in thefields. She is not loved and is replaced immediately after her deathby another already willing woman. Dewey Dell on the other hand hasbeen demonstrated as a clear sexual tool that is incapable of makinglogical decisions. Women are clearly unfairly exploited by men.
Throughthe use of such characters, the author clearly invites the reader tounderstand why they acted the way they did. This illustrates that thewomen had no power in the society and were at the mercy of men. Theirdesires, emotional needs and personal fulfillments were in the handsof men. The author clearly lets the reader get to the individualworld view of each character and from there, personally, understandthe significance of all events in the story. The discussionillustrates that Faulkner has successfully presented women oppressionas the theme that was dominant at the time.
Faulkner,William. AsI Lay Dying.New York: Vintage Books, 1985. Print,
Gorra,Michael. AsI lay dying: authoritative text, backgrounds and contexts, criticism/ William FaulknerNew York : W.W. Norton & Co. 2010
Johnson,Claudia. Familydysfunction in William Faulkner`s As I lay dying.Detroit, MI: Greenhaven Press, 2013, Print
O`Donnell,Patrick and Zwinger, Lynda.Approaches to teaching Faulkner`s As I lay dying. NewYork : Modern Language Association of America, 2011, Print