Dewey Dell, a significant character in William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying adds more meaning to the novel. Her unique language, laughable ignorance, and motherly instinct shape her into a complex character that is enigmatic. Dell could be considered an intelligent, mature young woman or a mentally challenged child.
Dewey is a Woman-Child
Dewey has problems expressing her thoughts clearly. Her language is informal and inconsistent. When Lafe gets her pregnant, she says that she is a part of his “guts… He is a big tub of guts and I am a little tub of guts…” a raw, emotional way of expressing her feelings toward pregnancy.
In her beginning narration, she says, “The first time me and Lafe picked on down the row. Pa dossent sweat because he will catch his death from sickness…” This juxtaposition of the first and second sentences is pretty arbitrary, and her thoughts are constantly changing. She could be upset about her pregnancy, and her rambling thoughts cause her to confuse the reader. She could also be naive with little understanding about how to express herself in a formal manner.
Later on, we find out that Lafe disappears, trying to avoid any responsibility with Dell and his unborn child, and she wonders “why he didn’t stay in town.” It is so humorous that Dell could be so naive and cannot see that Lafe left her because she was pregnant. She throws the reader a curveball, however, about her intelligence when she becomes more poetic, confusing the reader about her intelligence. ” I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” This is a rich poetic statement coming from a girl that cannot reason or express her thoughts in a formal language.
Dewey as a Reluctant Mother Figure
Dewey also acts like a mother to Vardaman and the rest of the family. As they are moving along Addie’s coffin, Dell silently says that everything is happening “too soon, too soon.” She is referring not only to her pregnancy, but the fact that she is now the mother figure. She consoles Vardaman when he weeps that Peabody killed Addie. She tells him to get supper while hugging him and assuring him that everything will be fine. Then, when Vardaman leaves, Dell acts unexpressively by saying that Peabody “could do everything for me if he just knowed it.”
Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying is unique in that it is told by 15 different characters. Dewey is the only daughter of Addie and Anse Burden and the second youngest of the Burden children.
Source: Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. ISBN: 978-0679732259