But since their sense of righteousness is flawed, their plans fall apart and the ending is quite disastrous as Howe explains: "When they reach town, the putrescent corpse is buried, the daughter fails in her effort to get an abortion, one son is badly injured, another has gone mad, and at the very end, in a stroke of harsh comedy, the father suddenly remarries" (138).
Addie and Cora represent two different versions of right. For Cora faith is on lips all the time and she expresses righteousness through words, for Addie, actions are more important and thus she appears vain compared to Cora but has a deeper and more accurate sense of right and wrong. While Cora appears with utterances such as "I trust in my God and my reward" (70) and "Riches is nothing in the face of the Lord, for He can see into the heart." (7) Addie is not interested in this lip service and for her words are hollow expression of faith while actions are what really count. She says, "people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too." (168).
Right and wrong and what man considers right are important considerations in this story. We notice that despite what our faiths or religious beliefs might teach, people have their own innate sense of right and wrong that is grounded in nothing but selfish fulfillment of their desires. This truth has often been exposed and elaborated in literature. King Lear is a classic example of man's weird sense of right and wrong. While Cordelia believes she is correct in her assessment of her love for her father as she declares: "I love your majesty/According to my bond, no more nor less" (1.1.92-93), King Lear cannot see it as such. He sees it as a sign of inferior love and disowns the only daughter who loved her from the core of her heart. The father in this case is moved by his own sense of what he feels is right while Cordelia has her own innate sense of the same. This leads to a conflict that results in the tragic of an extreme nature. Similarly in Machado de Assis's Dom Casmurro, we notice how ethical behavior of people originate from their own selfish desires, pre-conceived notions and sometimes their insecurities. In this novel, the protagonist Bento suspects his wife of infidelity simply because she sheds a tear at his death. Her one tear drives him mad as he concludes: 'Well, whatever may be the solution, one thing remains and it is the sum of sums, the remainder of the residuum, to wit, that my first love and my greatest friend, both so loving towards me, both so loved, were destined to join together and deceive me' (p. 277). He also sees Jose Dais, a dependent of the house as nothing but a nuisance. 'When I am master of the house, he's going to go, you'll see, I won't have him here a minute longer.' Such views are product of an aristocratic society where housekeepers were seen as 'inessential people who had no defined function, but were (if they were lucky) parasitic on the large and wealthy oligarchic families' (Gledson, 1984, p. 53). Of course Bento sees nothing wrong with this and to him treating Dais, as an unnecessary adjunct was morally and socially 'right'.
From the discussion above, we can conclude that man's sense of right and wrong is not driven solely religious or moral considerations. It is more or less based on more selfish things such as man's ambitions, his insecurities, and his place in the society and his upbringing. This is the very reason why conflicts arise. Man is usually unable to see the other person's viewpoint because it comes from a sense of right and wrong that is different from his beliefs.
Shakespeare, William. King Lear. Ed. R.A. Foakes. Surrey: International Thomson Publishing Company, 1997.
Bleikasten, Andre. Faulkner's as I Lay Dying. Bloomington/London: Indiana University Press, 1973.
Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1975.
William, Faulkner. As I Lay Dying. New York: Random House, 1985.