Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
SHORT PLOT / CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)
The plot of As I Lay Dying is deceptively simple. The mother, Addie, is dying, and wants to make sure that her dying request is granted, namely that she be buried with her family in Jefferson. She also wants to make sure that the coffin is made well, so she has Cash build it right outside her bedroom window.
Once she dies, the family proceeds to take her body to Jefferson. Jewel rescues the coffin after it is nearly lost in the river; Cash breaks his leg during this episode. Darl tries to burn the coffin later on and Jewel rescues it again.
They finally reach Jefferson and Addie is buried. Dewey Dell turns Darl in and he is sent to prison. Dewey Dell is tricked into having sex with MacGowan in exchange for an abortion drug, but he gives her a placebo. Anse buys new teeth and finds a wife.
The primary theme of this novel is that sanity is both tenuous and tenuously defined. Darl, who everyone notes has an odd look in his eyes or is outright insane, is the one who is most philosophically sophisticated. Is intelligence in the face of trial or adversity a negative? Cash states that sanity is defined by how a community views a particular person or event. Faulkner anticipates the ideas of social construction with this definition. Sanity/insanity has much less to do with an individualís mental state than with the communityís perception of that individual.
A secondary theme of this novel is that death affects individuals differently. Some, like Jewel and Vardaman, do into denial. Others, like Darl, want to get beyond it but are frustrated in those attempts. Cash, at the beginning, and Jewel, towards the end, try to "honor" the dead in an overly heroic and dramatic way. Dewey Dell, who is the one who reacts most passionately at her motherís death, becomes more interested in her abortion that the burial. Anse seems able to get past his wifeís death rather easily so that before she is even buried, he is courting a new wife.
The mood is one of futility, hopelessness, and frustration. The episode when Dewey Dell is looking at the sign for New Hope encapsulates the mood. She knows that there is little hope for them; one is not surprised to discover that her "quest" for an abortion frustrated. Darl recognizes the futility of the drive to bury Addie; he twice tries to intervene and end it, but to no avail.