As I Lay Dying: How Does Time Affect How Human Experience is Portrayed?

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Change from past to present:

“”His mind is set on taking her to Jefferson,”” Quick said.

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“”Then he better get at it soon as he can,”” Armstid said.

Anse meets us at the door. He has shaved, but not good. There is a long cut on his jaw, and he is wearing his Sunday pants and a white shirt with the neckband buttoned. It is drawn smooth over his hump, making it look bigger than ever, like a white shirt will, and his face is different too. He looks folks in the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed, shaking us by the hand as we walk up onto the porch and scrape our shoes, a little stiff in our Sunday clothes, our Sunday clothes rustling, not looking full at him as he meets us.

“”The Lord giveth,”” we say. (Faulkner 86)

After brief interaction with Peabody, Armstid and Co., Tull turns his attention to Anse and talks in present tense. By beginning with the past and switching to present, Faulkner indicates the melding of the past and present together to show how the human experience is not straightforward.

This also shows a change in the conscious mind. Sections narrated in past tense seem to show a disengagement to the events in the passage while parts in present tense show immediate engagement and interest.

In the beginning, Tull is simply listening and not really participating. However, when Anse enters the scene, Tull’s attention is captivated and seems to be physically experiencing it which is indicated by both the present tense and the amount of detail he describes Anse, He looks folks in the eye now, dignified, his face tragic and composed.

Here, Faulkner is breaking through traditional storytelling of linear time by presenting a story that consistently flashes back to the past. This method also provides a reader of an idea of the characters’ mentality as they experience life. Those reflected in the past show little interest by the narrator. Meanwhile, those in present tense show attentiveness to the situation.

Moreover, Tull is able to describe his encounter with Anse with sight, sound and feeling, indicating his awareness of the events. Imagery like scrape, shak[e] and rustle are audible and physical descriptions.

Through this, Faulkner shows that the human experience and memory does not follow strict past, present and future terms. Unimportant events in the mind remain in the background in the past and significant events are portrayed in the present. The talk among the men continues, but it is in the background and past tense.

He shifts time in accordance to the characters’ intensity.


The signboard comes in sight.

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