Addie

“That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to get at. When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the one that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride. I knew that it had been, not that they had dirty noses, but that we had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouth from a beam, swinging and twisting and never touchingm and that only through the blows of the switch could my blood and their blood flow as one stream. I knew that it had been, not that my aloneness had to be violated over and over each day, but that it had never been violated until Cash came. Not even by Anse in the nights.
He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill the lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than pride or fear.”
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.

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Faulkner’s Patient Noiseless Spider

Faulkner once said that, “man’s tragedy is the impossibility or at least the tremendous difficulty of communication.” In the same fashion, merely saying something does not guarantee a true conveyance of a message or a connection between two individuals; people verbally exchange statements, but unless the individuals involved in the conversation understand the words spoken, real communication is impossible. Just saying a word does not guarantee that it has the same meaning and importance to whom it is being said. In the same way, true communication is only possible if it connects the speaker and the listener. In the novel As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner shows how some meaning is lost through language; in doing so, he demonstrates that communication is not always possible through words alone, and that sometimes actions create a greater resonance than simply creating a sound to fill a void in time.

Unless statements bear meaning to both the speaker and the person to whom it is spoken, they remain to be mere words or a shape to fill a lack. Throughout the novel, Cora assumes that Addie and Jewel’s unorthodox relationship implies that “Jewel is [her] punishment,” while Darl, the unfavorable one, had the “true love.” Cora never truly communicates because she has no message to convey; she only produces audible air and strings of words conveying nothing. Like an empty barrel making the most noise, she states things without fully knowing the situation and what lies beneath the surface. Her statements do not mean anything to her or to anyone around her. Likewise, atonement is just a word unless the sinner genuinely tries to redeem his or her sins. Upon realizing that Addie did not proclaim their illicit affair, Whitfield thinks, “He will accept the will for the deed, who knew that when you framed the words of my confession it was to Anse I spoke them, even though he was not there.” Ironically, “confession” or honesty and truth have no magnitude to Whitfield, a minister, a man of God. Though ministers are supposed to know the significance and the meaning of confession and salvation, Whitfield disregards them to maintain his righteous image. He feels vindicated and relieved that his reputation remains untarnished even after the scandalous affair. Like meaningless words to Cora, to Whitfield, salvation and love are also just words, simply a name or a label to hide the contents or the true meaning.

Unlike words, actions bear a greater magnitude that connects individuals. Unlike Cora’s careless statements, Addie concludes, “words are no good…words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to sat at.” The difficulty of choosing the right words baffles Addie to the extent that she ends up refraining from ever saying what she feels. To Addie, physically expressing an emotion is better than saying it, because when the timing is right, “you wouldn’t need a word for that [feeling of love] anymore than for pride or fear.” Like his beloved mother, Jewel acts rather than talks; his actions speak louder than words. He strenuously works for a horse that represents his love for Addie. He loves his mother so much that he endures crossing a frigid river and goes through fire just to comply with her wish. His heroic feat speaks magnitude about his relationship with his mother. Verbal communication fails to detail the magnitude of love Jewel has towards his mother. He cannot say it therefore he acts upon it instead. The two characters exemplify the inefficiency of words to fully describe a tremendously complex emotion like love.

In contrast to Jewel, Darl struggles to communicate which hinders him from ever creating healthy relationships. The lack of familial affection ultimately leads to his mental deterioration. Throughout the novel, Faulkner never shows any indication of love towards Darl from anyone including his parents instead, is referred as the “queer” and “lazy” one. His gift of perception delineates him from everyone else; his mind can comprehend what others cannot. Unfortunately, he uses his gift in the wrong way. Upon knowing Dewey Dell’s secret, Darl tortures her instead of helps her. He states, “The reason you will not say it is, when you say it even to yourself, you will know it is true”. This causes Dewey Dell to face the harsh reality of her untimely pregnancy; the statement strips her from the lies she tells others and herself leaving her bare and defenseless to the piercing truth. Darl forces her to face her demons. It causes Dewey Dell to harbor hatred towards Darl. Once an opurtunity arises, Dewey Dell “jump[s] like a wildcat so that one of the fellows had to quit and hold her and her scratching and clawing at him like a wild cat”. Because of the torture that Darl causes, it destroys their relationship. Darl’s inability to communicate efficiently not only sends him to the asylum, but it also hinders his ability to form a functional connection with his family. Without any support, nor strong bonds, Darl cannot use his mind for his benefit, it leads to his demise.

Although tremendously difficult, achieving communication produces healthy relationships. Before he goes to the mental institution, Darl vulnerably asks Cash, “Do you want me to go?”. The statement produces a scene where Darl finally establishes a true connection with someone. Because Darl creates a bond with Cash, his fate is less tragic. Now, he has one connection, one hand to save him from drowning in his complex thoughts. Cash responds to Darl’s plea assuring him, “It’ll be better for you…Down there it’ll be quiet, with none of the bothering and such”. By comforting Darl and reassuring him that going away is better than staying with the family, Cash provides something Darl desperately needs: a connection. If Darl and Cash established a stronger relationship early on, Darl could have been saved from the precipice of madness.

Man tragically struggles to achieve true communication. People, in order to truly communicate, must understand the implications and the significance of their statements unlike Cora and Whitfield.  The relationship Addie creates leads to a great hindrance because each problem goes unresolved; dilemmas just linger under a façade, getting worse by the day. Ultimately, Darl suffers from the lack of true communication. His gift of perception is tragically wasted because he cannot express the beauty of his mind to good use. Darl’s depth and awareness is lost in translation, it conveys only to madness in the eyes of the family. In trying to contain or summarize a feeling in a word, the less powerful and significant it becomes. The more one verbalizes a pure emotion, the more obscure it becomes. Verbally stating a feeling is like describing a work of art, no amount of words can ever express the impact and feeling it evokes to whom ever sees it. In a way, verbalizing emotions like love, fear or pride just gives it a label, a mere box in which to confine it. Unless man understands how to truly communicate through words and actions, he will be like a futile spider launching forth a filament trying to connect to its vast surroundings.

“I believe that man will not merely endure but prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”

-William Faulkner