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The time period during which Faulkner was characterized by a great deal of insecurity about Southern culture, which was undergoing a profound shift, according to Cheryl Lester: "When Faulkner published As I Lay Dying in 1930, the modernization of the South had already begun to propel a spatial and social dislocation that would amount by century's end to the departure from the region of not only 29 million Southerners" but also the influx of Northern culture into the South, as the nation gradually became more connected by radio, cars, and railroads (Lester 2005, p.1). For Lester, the novel is a novel of migration and the ambiguous benefits of Southern culture and traditions: when Addie demands that her family lay her body "to rest forty miles away, in Jefferson, where her relatives are buried" her "request places a burden on her family, who subsist on limited means as small farmers and occasional wage laborers in rural Northern Mississippi in the late 1920s" (Lester 2005, p.1). The burden upon the family of social obligations is a heavy one: they must honor the past and custom, but Addie's body becomes a heavy weight to bear, just as the ties that bind them together are heavy and strangle one another, physically, emotionally, and economically.
Marc Hewson of The Mississippi Quarterly offers a feminist reading of the book. The centrality of Addie and her profound influence upon her sons forces the reader to question Southern patriarchal norms: "The trip to Jefferson thus becomes for her boys a form of education in her ways. By mourning her and contemplating their relationships with her, Cash, Darl, Jewel, and Vardaman learn to emulate her and adopt her suspicion of patriarchal constructs" (Hewson 2000, p.1). Addie ties her boys to the land and their common mother, even in death. Her maternity is a source of self-realization and identity for herself and her sons. The piecemeal nature of the work exemplifies how all of her sons make up different pieces of Addie, who lives on in all of them.
However, Cinda Gault offers a 'reverse' feminist understanding of the text: according to Gault,