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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

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Activities: Author Activities

William Faulkner - Teaching Tips

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  • Students will likely find As I Lay Dying confusing, difficult to relate to, and depressing. They are more likely to appreciate the novel if you preface their reading with a short introduction to Faulkner and to the modernist techniques he uses to tell his story. After students have read a few of the monologues, spend some class time letting them discuss the fragmentation and dislocation they feel; then use their comments to explore the epistemological and ontological questions the novel raises. How do Faulkner's characters know what they know? How do we know what we know? How do the Bundrens come to be who they are? How do we become who we are? Can we consider any of the novel's fifteen different narrators "reliable"? Working in groups, ask your students to write a character sketch of each of the novel's fifteen narrators. The sketch should describe the character and his or her context. After students have completed their sketches, ask each group to share their description and to tell the class whether their narrator is reliable and why.

  • Because Faulkner looms as such an imposing figure over the American literary canon, you may need to push your students to be critical of his authority. One way to do this is to ask your students to think about Faulkner's social position and compare it to that of the Bundren family in As I Lay Dying. To help your students understand the Bundrens a bit better, ask them to create a family/relationship tree that indicates with arrows how the characters are connected to one another and which gives the page number and chapter title in which we learn of the characters' personalities. Using their relationship trees as points of reference, ask your students to consider some of the following questions: What would someone of Faulkner's social standing typically think of people like the Bundrens? Is Faulkner making fun of the Bundrens, and if so, why? At what points do we want to laugh at the Bundrens? Why? At what points do we want to weep? Does the novel suggest any reasons for the Bundren's poverty? Why, for example, is Anse Bundren depicted as someone who never breaks a sweat?

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