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The Critical Perspectives Of Darl Bundren English Literature Essay

Darl Bundren, as we discussed last week, is a character whose peculiarity has and continues to inspire debate. Having reached the end of the novel, we now possess some important information regarding this character, such as Darl’s burning of the barn which housed the corpse of his mother and his subsequent confiscation by the men from the Jackson mental institution. From their response to the barn burning, we see that the characters of the novel believe Darl to be insane, and this may very well be the case, but there are critics who believe Darl’s sanity is no open-and-shut case. In this report, we will examine three articles which contain slightly contrasting views of Darl Bundren, leaving us, the reader, to decide if we believe Darl is clairvoyant, crazy, or just highly perceptive. We will also be looking at these articles through the lens of my last report, seeing if critics agree or disagree with my interpretations, and what details I might have missed.

In his article, “What Are You Laughing at, Darl? Madness and Humor in As I Lay Dying,” John Simon seems to believe Darl is not only mad but clairvoyant. First, Simon makes the claim that “…Darl is a failure as an individual…”, using words like “dehumanized” to describe him, and even using my own chosen word, “detached” (108). Unlike the other critics we will look at, Simon does not seem to have any realistic explanation for Darl’s gift of insight, seeming satisfied with the idea that he is in fact gifted, meaning that he possesses some unusual ability to see what natural human senses cannot detect. Simon says: “Darl is the surrogate of the author within the novel in a very definite sense insofar as his clairvoyance allows him to roam inside and outside the mind of others and his own mind” (108). Simon here indicates his belief that Darl’s clairvoyance is not only a distinct character trait but is also an apparent tool for the author, enabling Faulkner to achieve the benefits of a third person narrator in a novel which has only first person narrators.

Another point of interest in Simon’s essay is his comparison of Darl to Shakespeare’s Hamlet: Simon makes this comparison early on in the essay, but, despite saying “We shall return to the Hamlet theme…” he unfortunately does not say much else on the subject. However, the suggestion alone brought to mind certain similarities between Darl and Hamlet, not only in the question of their madness but in each character’s reluctance to rise to action. Darl, after all, waits during most of the novel to get involved with the Bundren’s ordeal, choosing perhaps an inopportune moment to take action (I am referring of course to the burning of the barn). But not all critics agree with the idea that Darl is mad and, in the case of Charles Palliser, they certainly do not agree that Darl has clairvoyant abilities.

In “Fate and Madness: The Determinist Vision of Darl Bundren,” Charles Palliser departs from the views of critics like John Simon, seeing Darl not as a madman but as a highly logical, highly perceptive member of his family. In his own words, Palliser says, “…Darl actually has no supernatural gifts and there is a rational explanation for his supposed clairvoyance: all that he knows is the result of guesswork based on his knowledge of the past” (623). In Palliser’s opinion, Darl watches and learns so well the personalities and motives of those in his life to the point that these people have simply become predictable to him. This idea is in line with something I said in my last report, when I suggested that readers may very well consider Darl to be a psychic but that I believed he was just highly perceptive. Furthermore, Palliser contends that Darl’s apparent predictions of the future (for example, his assertion that Dewey Dell intended to go to Jefferson for an abortion) are all grounded in the realm of foreseeable human choices: “Darl, then, $foresees nothing that is not dependent on human will or, like his forecast of the rain-storm and of the moment when his mother will die, predictable on rational or experiential grounds” (624). Darl, according to Palliser, does not see the future; he just collects information like a psychological squirrel, storing this knowledge within himself for later use.

Unlike the previously mentioned critics, Calvin Bedient, in his essay “Pride and Nakedness,” sets aside the idea of Darl being clairvoyant or insane, setting his focus instead on the fact that Darl is definitely disturbed; accepting this, Bedient attempts to identify what may have caused this disturbance. His opinion, in short, seems to be that Darl does not have a distinct identity, at least not in his own eyes. “This bitter gift and fatality,” Bedient says, “this plurality of being, Darl carries like a cross. If he is a freak, he is also a victim, and knows with characteristic lucidity what has made him the casualty he is” (67). And what has made Darl a casualty? Bedient thinks it is Addie’s love for Jewel. “Darl exists,” Bedient says, “but, because he is unloved, he cannot become himself…” (67). The absence of a loving mother figure in Darl’s life has left him with a more metaphorical absence in his heart and in his mind; and from this absence extends the ambiguity of Darl’s place in his family and in reality. Bedient’s argument seems particularly cogent since it can be supported by the fact that Darl does indeed seem to lack an identity of himself. He does not refer to himself all too often, especially not his emotions or desires, eventually coming to refer to himself in the third person as if he were anyone else. “Darl cannot find his own shape” Bedient says. “It is thus his destiny to be, not himself, but the world. Since Darl, neither acts (he is called “lazy”), nor possesses anything that he can call his own, nor is loved, he must fall back upon introspection to give him identity” (68). And this is what Darl does until apparently losing a necessary grasp on the reality in which those around him reside.

Works Consulted

Deville, Michel. "Alienating Language and Darl's Narrative Consciousness in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying." Southern Literary Journal 27.1 (1994): 61-72. Print.

Olsen, Kathryn. "Raveling Out Like a Looping String: As I Lay Dying and Regenerative Language." Journal of Modern Literature 33.4 (2010): 95-111. Print.

Palliser, Charles. "Fate and Madness: The Determinist Vision of Darl Bundren." American Literature 49.4 (1978): 619-33. Print.

Simon, John K. "What Are You Laughing At, Darl? Madness and Humor in As I Lay Dying." College English 25.2 (1963): 104-10. Print.


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