As I Lay Dying

“He touches the quilt as he saw Dewey Dell do, trying to smooth it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries to smooth it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh.”

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (New York: Vintage International, 1985), 52.

This passage illuminates how selfish Pa is, and the “wrinkles” he creates foreshadow the events further on in the novel that are simply means to the end Pa wanted, not in fulfillment of Addie’s wishes as he claims. It also emphasizes his lack of genuine love for his wife, with his hand as “awkward as a claw”, as he attempts to smooth the quilt under her chin. He ends up comforting himself, not for his loss but at the long awaited prospect of finally obtaining his teeth, with his hand “stroking itself” in a way that he could not stroke his wife.