The Benefits of Teaching As I Lay Dying

Desiring to change up my reading list this year, I decided to add As I Lay Dying and am so glad I did because it has proven to a great choice. I feel part of my duty as a southern teacher is to offer at least one southern work for my students, and AILD perfectly fits the bill. The story of Addie Bundren’s death and her family’s journey to Jefferson to bury her offers multiple points for teaching and student reflection. I want to give a shout out Matt Brown for sharing his resources and encouragement; most of my lessons were s̶t̶o̶l̶e̶n̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶m̶  inspired by him.

Vardaman

CharacterizationAs I Lay Dying offers the perfect lens to teach character. The reader has the unique opportunity to learn about each character as they experience the death of Addie Bundren, wife, mom, and neighbor. With the shared experience serving as a focal point, comparing characters offers students the means to study different characterization methods, development, and methods. I assigned each family group a character and asked them to do two things: 1 – present a general character analysis with a visual aid and 2 – present a digital presentation about the character in relation to the novel as a whole. (Here’s the basic outline of my character presentation something that can be used with any work). I was amazed by the thought, analysis, and depth of the projects.

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cubism

Method of NarrationAs I Lay Dying offers students to explore a novel with experimental narration since the story uses 15 narrators, includes stream-of-consciousness narration, and has a layered effect in terms of chronology of events. To introduce the work we discussed the Cubism art movement and looked at Picasso’s “Factory, Horta de Ebbo” (seen above) which serves as a perfect visual of how As I Lay Dying feels when reading with the overlapping of events. I then had students write about a central even for five minutes (sadly for our school a bomb threat last year in which the entire student body was evacuated), and I read the papers anonymously to the class. Students recounted the same event but remembered different details and had different responses to it. Again, this prepared students to read and appreciate the different perspectives of each narrator.

Diction and syntax – Because of the number of narrators in the novel, the text offers the means to teach and compare types of diction and syntax. Vardaman’s statement, “My mother is a fish” emphasizes his young age through the simple sentence with the repetition of it highlighting his confusion and trying to make sense of his mother’s death. Darl’s poetic diction is reflective of his ability to reflect on how Addie’s death affects others; something most characters never think of. One advantage of having multiple narrators in one text with different types of diction and syntax provides opportunity for discussion on author choice – something I am always trying to get my students to consider.

My students loved the novel and learn so much while studying it. I would love to hear how you teach As I Lay  Dying or what novels you love to teach.