Disability in “As I Lay Dying”

This semester I am taking a course called Disability and Literature with Dr. Foss. We began the semester with reading Disability Theory and now we have moved into reading texts and looking at them under a different light. Some of you may have heard Kathleen say she and I were sick of Faulkner before we even picked up As I Lay Dying because we had just finished The Sound and the Fury in Foss’s class. Disability is obviously a theme in both of these novels.

Since we are reading AILD in this class I thought I would bring up a passage I found interesting. From the beginning of this novel Darl seems to be our most “trustworthy” narrator. It is argued that this is only because we are getting the most information out of him, and therefore we are forced to believe it. However, towards the end of the novel Darl must be committed to a mental institution for burning down a barn. And we no longer have Darl as a a reliable narrator. The honor is passed on to Cash.

Right before Darl is taken away Cash makes an interesting comment. “Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and it aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. It’s like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way a majority of folks is looking at him when he does it” (134). This passage is a perfect for analyzing under the microscope of Disability Theory.

How did Darl sunddenly become so crazy? Was it because the loss of his mother was finally getting to him? Or was it simply because committing him is what would save the family from being sued by the Gillespies? Cash seems to think his brother isn’t actually crazy, but his actions of burning a barn were. You don’t see any of the family fighting the fact that he is being shipped off to an insane asylum either. In Disability and Literature we would have a discussion as to whether Darl truly is crazy or is it just the way we as readers (reading copious amounts of scattered stream of consciousness narrative) or as the characters see him? I just thought it was an interesting point to bring up. And a very insightful thought an impartial character like Cash has made. I’d like to know what others think about Darl’s “sentence.”

Oh and I tried finding some info on the Jefferson Asylum and this was about all I found. I think it’s kind of creepy that the original location of the places is now home to the University of Mississippi Medical Center…

4 Responses to “Disability in “As I Lay Dying””

  1. meganne says:

    With disabilities, readers have to be careful about perception and identification/association. Faulkner is very careful about that kind of negotiation by using a writerly text where we have to draw our own conclusions; not only with Darl, but with Vardaman as well because contextual research suggests two ways of looking at Vardaman–as a teenager with mental disabilities or a young child.

    I read Cash’s statement about Darl to mean that Darl isn’t crazy, as you suggested, but did something crazy for which the family must try to rectify. However, it is very easy to see how someone might argue that Darl is crazy and we first become cognizant of that when “Darl begun to laugh. Setting back there on the plank seat with Cash, with his dead ma laying in her coffin at his feet, laughing. How many times I told him it’s doing such things as that that makes folks talk about him” (61).

    As someone with a disability and constantly negotiating the perception and association of “having” one, I always rely on letting the character speak for and label himself. Since Darl has become an unreliable narrator, Cash is the next best thing. I trust him in asserting that Darl is not crazy but rather had a crazy moment, though I do think Darl’s burning of the barn suggests some kind of identity crisis or failure to cope with changing family dynamics. So maybe Darl’s punishment is not one for being crazy, but one for an inability to cope–some might even suggest PTSD, though I think that’s stretching it a bit.

  2. jakeg says:

    I think it all becomes a matter of subjective perspective. Personally, I would consider the people diagnosing Darl. How in any way are they qualified to pass judgement onto Darl. Second Darl’s action of burning down the house was only a reaction to the ludicrous behavior of the family in the first place. Darl’s was attempting to end the insanity of dragging around his decaying mother when she could have been buried anywhere was only a reaction to the families insanity. Third, if my family sent me to an insane asylum, I would probably go crazy on the way there and that is where Darl really looks derelict to the reader. This whole situation reminds me of Bertha from “Jane Eyre”. If you say someone is crazy and lock them up in a room, or asylum, under the accusation of insanity, they will most likely go crazy anyway.

  3. hokiepride81 says:

    When Darl was in the train, there was no question in my mind he was going a little crazy. In fact, I’d say he went off the deep end after getting hauled away.

    In my opinion, I’d say him getting hauled away is what sent him over the edge and he had this building up in him for a while. From Annie’s chapter, we can gather that Darl is not the most liked son and he is stuck in the middle. There’s nothing to really believe that Darl was close to Addie and vice versa.

    Thus, we see Darl teasing Jewel about their mom being dead and also about Jewel being illegitimate. Him burning down the barn where Addie is stored pretty much puts it out there how much he hates this whole situation.

    Basically, I’m not so sure he is able to cope correctly with his mom dying. Teasing a mourning brother and burning her body down in a barn aren’t exactly the best ways to show his love for Addie. He has this hate, maybe even rage, over Addie and the entire family just building and building up inside of him. Finally, when they come to take him away, he completely blows up.

    So to your question over his legitimate insanity, I do think he has some mental disorder where he can’t cope with what’s around him. Being taken away to that mental hospital probably put it all to light.

  4. Richards says:

    An excellent thread here, and I thank Jacklyn for usefully starting an intertextual, interclass discussion, one that reminds us that we’re never reading texts or negotiating theoretical approaches in a vacuum. What do you all make of Vardaman, Darl, and their disabilities, especially within the context of the other characters and their own “disabilities”? You all seem to be suggesting the relative nature of this designation and calling into question a mythic stable norm of “ability.” Are there any characters in the novel who are “able”?