What Is Satire?
Satire is a genre of literature, and sometimes graphic and performing arts, in which vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be humorous, its greater purpose is often constructive social criticism, using wit to draw attention to both particular and wider issues in society.
Satire and irony in some cases have been regarded as the most effective source to understand a society, the oldest form of social study. They provide the keenest insights into a group's collective psyche, reveal its deepest values and tastes, and the society's structures of power.
For its nature and social role, satire has enjoyed in many societies a special freedom license to mock prominent individuals and institutions. The satiric impulse, and its ritualized expressions, carry out the function of resolving social tension. Institutions like the ritual clowns, by giving expression to the antisocial tendencies, represent a safety valve which reestablishes equilibrium and health in the collective imaginary, which are jeopardized by the repressive aspects of society.
As the title of As I Lay Dying imparts, Faulkner sets this 1930 novel against the backdrop of classical epic narratives--to be specific, that of The Odyssey. And we have discussed many ramifications and nuanced aspects of characters and their actions in this novel.
Now, let's shift gears. Have you noticed how often characters such as Anse, Cora, and Whitfield, among others, quote the Bible and refer to God? Yes, there is definitely an underlying theme of Christian salvation. In this light, it is natural that Whitfield—the local minister who sinned against his God and congregation—craves for a divine signal of forgiveness.
Furthermore, it may be even predictable that Anse who often resorts to quoting the Bible will get his own redemption. Why don’t you write about your opinion on the original sin, expulsion from “Eden,” personal suffering and sacrifice, the pursuit of the Holy Grail, and eventual redemption of the Bundrens?
The Pursuit of the Holy Grail, or What May Fulfill the Bundrens
Why do you think Faulkner chose to borrow a phrase from The Odyssey and use it as the title of his new novel, now known as As I Lay Dying?
Following is an excerpt from Book 11 of The Odyssey, from which Faulkner derived his title:
I looked at him and wept. Pity filled my heart.
Then I spoke to him—my words had wings:
‘Lord Agamemnon, son of Atreus,
king of men, what fatal net of grievous death
destroyed you? Did Poseidon stir the winds
into a furious storm and strike your ships?
Or were you killed by enemies on land,
while you were cutting out their cattle
or rich flocks of sheep? Or were you fighting
to seize their city and their women?’
“I paused, and he at once gave me his answer:
‘Resourceful Odysseus, Laertes’ son,
and Zeus’ child, Poseidon didn’t kill me
in my ships by rousing savage winds
into a vicious storm. Nor was I killed
by enemies on land. No. Aegisthus
brought on my fatal end. He murdered me,
and he was helped by my accursed wife,
after he’d invited me into his home
and prepared a feast for me, like an ox
one butchers in its stall. And so I died
the most pitiful of deaths. Around me
they kept killing the rest of my companions,
like white-tusked pigs at some wedding feast,
communal meal, or fine drinking party
in a powerful and rich man’s home.
You’ve encountered dying men before,
many of them, those slain in single combat
or the thick of war. But if you’d seen that,
your heart would’ve felt great pity. There we were,
lying in the hall among the mixing bowls
and tables crammed with food, the entire floor
awash with blood. The saddest thing I heard
was Cassandra, Priam’s daughter, screaming.
That traitor Clytaemnestra slaughtered her
right there beside me. Though I was dying,
I raised my arms to strike her with my sword,
but that dog-faced bitch turned her back on me.
Though I was on my way to Hades (which one may also translate as "as I lay dying")
she made no attempt to use her fingers
to close my eyelids or to shut my mouth.
The truth is, there’s nothing more disgusting,
more disgraceful, than a woman whose heart
is set on deeds like this—the way she planned
the shameless act, to arrange the murder
of the man she’d married. I really thought
I’d be warmly welcomed when I reached home
by my children and my slaves. That woman,
more than anyone, has covered herself
and women born in years to come with shame,
even the ones whose deeds are virtuous.’
“Agamemnon finished. I answered him at once:
‘That’s horrible. Surely wide-thundering Zeus
for many years has shown a dreadful hate
towards the family of Atreus,
thanks to the conniving of some woman.
Many died for Helen’s sake, and then
Clytaemnestra organized a trap for you,
while you were somewhere far away.’