How Faulkner Uses Darl and Jewel’s Differing Narrations?

1 January 2017

Jewel and Darl arguably represent different viewpoints regarding the ephemerality and importance of one’s existence and identity—a main theme in the novel that also highlights the essence of the fundamental differences between these two characters. Another important theme in the novel is the dissidence between thoughts and words and the way in which each concept is represented by Jewel and Darl, as well as the way these concepts affect the relationship of the two brothers.

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A third theme explores the isolation between the members of the Bundren family and how Darl and Jewel’s isolation from one another and from the rest of the Bundrens contributes largely to the extreme dysfunction seen within the family. Faulkner uses tools such as the words and language that Darl and Jewel use and the frequency with which each brother is visited as a narrator to help compare and contrast Jewel and Darl as characters. The contrasts between the brothers are of particular importance in Faulkner’s attempt to relate to the reader what he is trying to prove regarding the tragic and ironic human existence.

The misfortunes suffered by Jewel and Darl physically, mentally, through their sibling rivalry, and through their isolation from their family and one another are all results of living their lives in a way that Faulkner wants his audience to avoid. Faulkner presents Jewel and Darl as foils in the novel, allowing the different ways in which they handle Addie’s death to provide the reader with an insight into their opposing views on one’s existence and place in the world.

Darl is portrayed as introspective and philosophical; throwing the reader into a query of what words such as, “was,” “is,” and “are” mean in regards to one’s existence. He rationalizes that, “the wagon is because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be” (Faulkner 80). He copes with the death of his mother by deciding that he cannot love his mother because she has simply ceased to exist. Jewel’s character is a man of action rather than of words and demonstrates language far less frequent and more barbaric than Darl’s poetic voice.

Darl is so frequently utilized as a narrator that the reader grows to trust his seemingly omniscient accounts, but his debatable insanity at the end of the novel leaves the reader wondering whether Faulkner was trying to enhance his themes regarding the futility of human existence by allowing the reader to perform a Sisyphean task by reading the novel. This is opposed by Jewel’s arguably anti-Sisyphean statement regarding his dying mother, “It would just be me and her and me rolling rocks down the hill at their faces. ” (Faulkner 15).

This hint that Jewel represents the opinion that life is not ultimately futile is countered by Darl’s nihilistic tendencies. His desire to burn his mother’s corpse can support the fact that he believes her to be non-existent and a burden to the family. Jewel risks his own well-being to save the corpse, perhaps believing that Addie was still in some way connected to it and therefore exhibiting a more theistic point of view. The concept of thoughts and words and how Jewel and Darl’s relationship is affected by and used to convey these concepts is a significant theme in the novel.

Addie, although dead, sets the tone for what disparity the reader begins to view thoughts and words with by claiming words are, “just a shape to fill a lack” (Faulkner 172) and arguing that words, thoughts, and deeds all have unequal values (Faulkner 172-173). Darl has a poetic and cryptic way with words within his stream of consciousness and when speaking to other characters, such as when he relates to Vardaman that, “Jewel’s mother is a horse” (Faulkner 101). He uses such ambiguous words when he is taunting Jewel, who demonstrates angry and abrupt retorts to Darl’s teasing.

It may be argued that Faulkner was trying to make a point about the insufficiency of words by allowing Darl to represent them and then suffer a fate of supposed insanity at the end of the novel. Jewel’s more physical and solitary mannerisms can be linked to the special bond that he shared with Addie that partially fueled Darl’s jealousy. Addie’s husband and father were men of words whom she despised, while Jewel was a man of action and the one that she loved the most.

Since Addie is the character that puts forth the oncepts of words, thoughts, and deeds and assists Faulkner in relating these concepts, it can be assumed that the opposing relationships that she shared with Darl and Jewel and the relationship that the two sons share with one another are meant to convey what Faulkner wants the reader to associate words and thoughts with. The isolation between Jewel and Darl contributes to the intense dysfunction that makes up the Bundren family, and also provides a deeper look into the characterization of the two brothers.

Darl’s intuitive nature has isolated him from the Bundrens in that he has encroached on their own worlds and realities by being able to figure out their own selfish reasons for wanting to go to Jefferson. Darl has been regarded as ‘different’ or ‘queer’ throughout the novel, and Cash confirms this belief by stating, “It was like he was outside of it too, same as you, and getting mad at it would like be kind of like getting mad at a mud-puddle that splashed you when you stepped in it” (Faulkner 237).

Jewel is isolated from the rest of the Bundrens due to his bastard status, his physical separation from them through his refusal to ride in the wagon, and through the assertion of his independence from the family by purchasing his own horse. The isolation of Jewel from the audience is just as apparent, as there is only one chapter in the novel that is narrated by Jewel and he is mentioned the least frequently within the other characters streams of consciousness.

A strong contrast between Darl and Jewel’s characterizations is seen in their reactions to their isolation, where Faulkner paints Darl as being calm and still articulate and Jewel as more barbaric and violent. The Bundrens alienate themselves from other characters in the novel as well, perhaps providing a base for understanding how Darl and Jewel’s own personal isolations affect them as characters and certainly contributing to the extreme dysfunction that encompasses the Bundren family.

In the novel As I Lay Dying, Jewel and Darl are key characters in assisting Faulkner in universalizing what Faulkner would like the reader to take away from the Bundren’s dysfunctional, inverted journey to Jefferson. By employing the theme of the ephemerality of one’s existence, Faulkner is encouraging the audience to relish in what time they have and to spend it doing something self-fulfilling, rather than wasting it on a journey filled with desecration and dysfunction as the Bundren family did.

Addie’s introduction of the concept of thoughts versus words and having deeds to back up one’s words is another way that Faulkner is trying to inspire the reader to find a rewarding purpose in life, particularly by backing up one’s words with actions. In this instance, he is discouraging the reader from “dying” as implied by the title—in other words, discouraging the reader from living an empty, lazy life in which one is physically alive, but without passion.

It is these qualities in the Bundren family, laziness and words without deeds attached to them, that Faulkner insinuates creates the isolation that exists within the family and between the family and the other characters in the novel. By commissioning these themes and engaging Jewel and Darl as very different brothers leading the reader by an example of how one should not live life, Faulkner is creating a catharsis through an inverted, tragic journey.

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