Examining Homer's Odyssey through Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

 


              William Faulkner was quite an incredible man as well as a talented and cutting edge writer of his era. By the time he wrote As I Lay Dying, he had published five others and was receiving much acclaim for his works. It is no wonder that such an incredible figure in American literature would feel a deep connection to the classical works of Homer. One intruiging passage from the Odyssey lends itself to the novel's name.

              Agamemnon speaks to Odysseus , " As I lay dying, the woman with the dog's eyes would not close my eyes as I descended into Hades . "Faulkner was known to recite this quote from memory throughout his entire life. I believe that he was drawn into the story of Odysseus, because it is an epic quest of incredible odds, set in a gothic tone of never-ending despair. Odysseus is trying to return to his wife and son after battle , while receiving a series of set backs caused by an angry array of Gods. It is possible that Faulkner took this idea of epic proportions and found the religious and almost magical tones to be easily displaced upon a Southern scene.

    Of course, As I Lay Dying is itself an epic quest. With keeping in the tradition of ?"journey stories?", it is told from 15 different perspectives. Trials and tribulations occur, as well as loss, suffering, and an active portrayal into the interior motives behind each traveler. Similar to Odysseus?'s betrayal by Poseidon , it feels as if God has abandoned this helpless rural family. A mother has been left for dead, never knowing the enjoyment of life because of the forced suffering of motherhood and wifedom. And with her death comes a pack of children, lost to the warmth of a mother?'s love.

    Other similarities between the two stories exist. For instance, both begin in the middle of the drama, using flashbacks or digressions to fill in the missing gaps for the reader. Both stories focus on exotic characters, with outlandish behavior to set a different scene than what might have been expected of a journey narrative . Both stories have an almost magical feeling. It seems that the children of As I Lay Dying could never really be, although they seem genuine with their eloquent and sometimes bizarre commentary. This same mystical quality occurs in the Odyssey, with Cyclopes, nymphs, and Gods, carrying human qualities, in an attempt to provide answers for the mysteries that plagued the world of antiquity.

    It is easy to say that Faulkner used the Odyssey as a model for his own epic journey narrative. He was able to create his own quest, where death is the primary motivator of all of the character?'s behaviors. ?"?As I descended into Hades?", can be read as Addie?'s return to her family cemetery, a literal final descent from the hill farm to the grave. The same quote also refers to the eyes of Agamemnon, open while being drug into Hades, keeping him conscience well into the after life. Addie is stuck in this same consciousness between death and life. Even in the beginning of the novel, she is not really living. It is as if she has already accepted her death, but through the punishment of a merciless god, is continually waiting to be let go.

 

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