Both William Faulkner’s As I lay Dying and Homer’s Odyssey deal with the manifestation of fate ruling human lives, and the experience of an epic journey that ends with an absence of progress. Both stories parallel through the use of repetition of structure and themes to develop an underlying message of the human condition.
Just as the lives of the humans in the Odyssey are ruled by the, sometimes petty, judgment of the gods, the idea of predetermination in As I Lay Dying is better examined through the augurs of the novel: Addie and Darl.
The Greek gods of the Odyssey are on constant watch over the tribulations of Odysseus and often meddle within his mortal affairs as a way of shaping his destiny. Athena, being the god with the most affinity for Odysseus, often comes to his aid. She is able to change his appearance, just as with her own, to deceive and test the honesty of those they look to deceive, “‘But come now, let me make you so that no mortal can recognize you.
For I will wither the handsome flesh that is on your flexible limbs, and ruin the brown hair on your head, and about you put on such a clout of cloth any man will loathe when he sees you wearing it; I will dim those eyes, that have been so handsome, so you will be unprepossessing to all the suitors and your wife and child, those whom you left behind in your palace.’” With this, Athena allows Odysseus to pass through his own house and homeland of Ithaca unrecognizable and gives him time to develop a plan to sort out the suitors who have been leaching from his wealth and home. Likewise, Zeus reveals his plan for Odysseus;
“‘ shall come back by the convoy neither of the gods nor of mortal people, but he shall sail on a jointed raft and, suffering hardships, on the twentieth day make his landfall on fertile Scheria at the country of the Phaiakians who are near the gods in origin, and they will honor him in their hearts as a god, and send him back, by ship, to the beloved land of his fathers, bestowing bronze and hold in abundance upon him, and clothing, more than Odysseus could ever have taken away from Troy, even if he had escaped unharmed with his fair share of the plunder. For so it is fated that he shall see his people and come back to his house with the high roof and to the land of his fathers.’”
Thus, Odysseus’s fate seems subject to change at any given whim of the Gods. This reveals that in our Homeric epic, the idea of fate is under the control of the gods. Therefore, we as humans, do not have the choice of free will or the ability to escape our fate.
Unlike Odysseus, who accepts the predetermination of the gods, Addie and Darl are stuck between fatalism and resistance of their fate. For Darl, Addie personifies inescapable fate (can you explain this statement?). Addie is aware of the inability to escape the fate of death, and this sympathy is echoed through a quote from Homer’s Iliad saying, “the spirits of the dead press on us in thousands, not to be avoided by any.” Addie lives believing in a cyclical state, “. . . my aloness has been violated and then made whole again by the violation; time, Anse, love, what you will, outside the circle” (Faulkner, ). This cyclical state is Addie’s expression of allocated fate.
For Darl, his fate is something he is initially unaware of and therefore sets out on a journey to determine. On this journey he finds his fate and is defiant, only to be incarcerated and swept into this same cyclical succession of fate, “We go on, with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it” (Faulkner, ).
This cyclical process brings us to the parallel of absence of progress.
Odysseus, as well as Addie and Darl, end up going on a journey only to return home and a place of no progress and stasis. Odysseus begins and ends his journey in his home land of Ithaca as prophesied by Zeus. He is overjoyed to return to his wife and son and not at all bothered by the predetermination of these events, “. . . — home now, in the tenth year from far abroad . . . he clung for dear life, covering him with kisses, yes, like one escaped from death.”
As for Addie, she leaves home, dies and is brought back for her burial and thus ends in the same place she began. This return plays into Addie’s philosophy of fatalism that plays as the central philosophy of the novel, “ . . . the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time” (Faulkner, ). Darl’s journey plays out in this same way, but leaves him to incarceration and the horror of a journey that will not end. This leads him to burn Addie’s coffin as his pinnacle of contempt and leaves him in a state of resistance to fate, “‘How do our lives ravel out,’ Darl asks bitterly, ‘…the weary gestures, wearily replicant: echoes of old compulsions…in sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls’” (Faulkner, ). Unlike Addie or Odysseus, Darl is unable to accept the uncontrollability of his fate and this drives him to madness.
These themes of the inevitability of fate and our destiny to return home, call us to consider the cyclical shape of our destiny and its infallibility. We must consider how we can learn from these stories; how we consider our own fate, as out of our hands or as ours to govern at our own will.