Reliability of Perception

In William Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying, tragicomic register entangles the narration provided by both Bundren and non-Bundren narrators. The coexistence of hilarity and calamity forges situational irony that illustrates the Bundren family’s tribulation with wavering perspective.  Whether kindhearted or acrimonious, however, these ironic moments play a prominent role in most of the novel's vignettes. The many non-Bundren narrators who perceive the Bundren escapade to be an uncanny amusement or a crude irreverence underline an ensuing a sense of a humorous realm. Accordingly, reliability in perception can be derived in outsiders who are able to step back from the quicksand of self-absorption that victimizes the Bundren family members and perceive the circumstance with a selfless mind able to laugh at the seemingly cursed fate of the Bundren family.

From a detached perspective held by narrators outside of the Bundren family, it is easy to gaze down upon their trials and travails and indulge in comic perception tainted with blasphemy towards their misfortune.  Indeed, Moseley and Peabody undoubtedly add fuel to this rampant fire of sacrilege. Upon Moseley’s account of the Bundren’s disembarkation in Mottson, his adaptation of their odyssey discloses the very truths the Bundrens themselves repudiate: the family had been lugging around a decaying corpse enclosed in a homemade casket for what “had been dead eight days" to the point that its stench “must have been like a piece of rotten cheese coming into an ant-hill," a lingering odor the family didn’t even pause to consider (Faulkner 488). In other words, either the Bundrens chose to disregard the reek or, since it had been undulating in their shadows since her death, they became accustomed to the stench to the extent that it was no longer recognizable. At this time, Moseley’s perspective as a bystander enables us to stop and smell the roses in order to appreciate or weigh out their value. However, in this case, the roses are metonymically substituted by the putrefying carcass of an elderly woman which we must measure the significance of to the family.  His ability to derive situational irony in the Bundrens’ misfortune allows us to step back from the panicked convolution of the family’s own narrations and examine their hardship with a clear mind.

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By employing implicit absurdity perceived by the onlooker in instances of innocent tragedy of the victim, Faulkner situates the reader outside the family in order to provide them with a clear angle. Even without the direction of a bystander, we perceive situational irony in circumstances that are grave and solemn to the Bundrens, as they are unable to feel otherwise. Addie’s death is sobering. It is understandable. However, Faulkner strategically paints the canvas for us before we can even start to imagine independently. Indeed, the family’s thoughtfulness to tend to Addie by “[propping] her on her pillow” to “raise her ...

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