As I Lay Dying

Selfishness and Altruism 12th Grade

The 1930’s novel by American writer William Faulkner constructs a tragedy out of a family journey to keep a promise and bury Addie, the matriarch of the Bundren family. From the trip, and more than 20 points of view Faulkner implements, the actions of the Bundrens and those who surround them are questioned as selfish or altruistic, and the characters are engaged in a struggle between the contrasting actions of selfishness and altruism. Selfishness is demonstrated when a character acts without consideration for other people, for their own personal interest and profit. Amidst selfish actions and human conflict, Faulkner believes that the human spirit is one capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance, as he expressed in his Nobel prize speech and can be observed in As I Lay Dying through altruistic actions when a character makes a sacrifice for someone else, a selfless action when the family’s primary goal is threatened, one that lacks any interest. Additionally, Faulkner blurs the line - one that seems to be so wide - that separates altruistic behavior and selfish behavior, exposing how in the struggle of humans between altruism and selfishness these concepts become subjective to readers and characters alike. Essentially,...

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