Words, Words, Words
"Don't judge a book by its cover" is a turn of phrase which cautions one to truly know and
understand a person before passing judgment upon them. In literature, this is the duty of the author: to introduce his or her readers to the characters; to let the readers get inside the heads of the characters and see the world from their perspective. In the realtivism of the literary universe, only through empathy can character be judged. Some authors hold the reader's hand and tell them exactly what to think about a character; they spell out exactly what that character's motivations are and whether these are congruous with the morals of the world the author has crafted. Other authors, such as William Faulker, leave the challenge up to the reader. Seeing the world from the perspectives of the characters in As I Lay Dying requires a redefining of the reader's own semantic perception of the world. Understanding the novel's characters and their thoughts and feelings and motivations requires complete freedom from preconceived semantic associations; it requires redefining the associations the reader has with words and redefining the words themselves.
It is Addie's chapter which provides the key to this dissection. She reveals to the reader that words can never act as true substitutes for pure emotion. She remarks: “I knew that that word [love] was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear” (172). Words are attempts to
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼communicate how one feels inside his or her head, and they rely on shared experience. When a character speaks of love, for example, the reader is subject to his own personal interpretations of love--his own opinions and experiences--and he relies on the personal emotive responsive invoked by the word in order to sympathize with the character. However, this will never produce an accurate response. Words rely on...