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A Critical Book Report in as I Lay Dying

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A Critical Book Report in As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying is a novel written by William Faulkner in 1930. William Cuthbert Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons of Murry and Maud Butler Falkner (he later added the “u” to the family name himself). “His great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was an important figure in the history of northern Mississippi who served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, founded a railroad, and gave his name to the town of Falkner in nearby Tipah County” (“William Faulkner”). Faulkner identified with this strong and energetic ancestor and often said that he inherited the “ink stain” from him. In 1902, the Falkner family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner was to spend most of his life. He left school in his senior year of high school, and began working at his grandfather’s bank. After his plans to marry his beloved Estelle Oldham were squashed by their families, he tried to enlist as a pilot in the U.S. Army but was rejected because he did not meet the height and weight requirements. Then he went to Canada, where he pretended to be an Englishman and joined the RAF training program there. Although he did not complete his training until after the war ended and never saw combat, he returned to his hometown in uniform, boasting of war wounds. He briefly attended the University of Mississippi, where he began to publish his poetry. He again returned to Oxford after spending a short time living in New York, where he worked at the university post office. His first book, a collection of poetry, The Marble Faun, was published at Faulkner’s own expense in 1924. The writer Sherwood Anderson, whom he met in New Orleans in 1925, encouraged him to try writing fiction, and his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was published in 1926. It was followed by Mosquitoes. His next novel, which he titled Flags in the Dust, was rejected by his publisher and twelve others to whom he submitted it. It was eventually published in drastically edited form as Sartoris (the original version was not issued until after his death). Meanwhile, he was writing The Sound and the Furry, which, after being rejected by one publisher, came out in 1929 and received many ecstatic reviews, although it sold poorly. Yet again, a new novel, Sanctuary, was initially rejected by his publisher, this time as “too shocking.” While working on the night shift at a power plant, Faulkner wrote what he was determined would be his masterpiece, As I Lay Dying. He finished it in about seven weeks, and it was published in 1930. In 1929, Faulkner had finally married his childhood sweetheart, Estelle, after her divorce from her first husband. They had a premature daughter, Alabama, who died ten days after birth in 1931; a second daughter, Jill, was born in 1933. with the eventual publication of his most sensational and violent (as well as, up till then, most successful) novel, Sanctuary (1931), Faulkner was invited to write scripts for MGM and Warner Brothers, where he was responsible for much of the dialogue in the film versions of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and many other films. He continued to write novels and published many in the popular magazines. Light in August (1932) was his first attempt to address the racial issues of the South, an effort continued in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and Go Down, Moses (1942). In 1946, most of Faulkner’s novels were out of print in the United States (although they remained well-regarded in Europe), and he was seen as a minor, regional writer. But then the influential editor and critic Malcolm Cowley, who had earlier championed Hemingway and Fitzgerald and others of their generation, put together the Portable Faulkner, and once again Faulkner’s genius was recognized, this time for good. He received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature as well as many other awards and accolades, including the National Book Award and the Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and France’s Legion of Honor. He said on receiving the Nobel Prize:

I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work — a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust. It will not be difficult to find a dedication for the money part of it commensurate with the purpose and significance of its origin. But I would like to do the same with the acclaim too, by using this moment as a pinnacle from which I might be listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail, among whom is already that one who will some day stand here where I am standing.

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