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Free Study Guide-As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner-Free Book Notes
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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES

Faulkner did not divide his novel up into conventional chapters; instead, he broke it up into brief sections based upon who was narrating.

SECTION 1: Darl

Summary

Darl begins the novel with a short but telling section. He and Jewel are walking up to the house. On the walk, Darl mentions the heat, Jewel’s "pale eyes like wood," Tull’s wagon, and the box that Cash is making for Addie.

Notes

Faulkner uses Darl’s first section to situate him as a reliable, straightforward narrator. The details that Darl includes are all relevant to later events: the heat makes the trip to Jefferson unbearable with a corpse, Tull’s wagon is how they transport the coffin, and the coffin is what Cash is building.

Darl mentions that Jewel’s eyes are "like wood"; this image becomes much more significant when Vardaman drills two holes in the coffin.

SECTION 2: Cora

Summary

Cora’s section begins with a seemingly unrelated discussion with Kate and Eula on cakes, eggs, and God’s watchful eye. It is only until we are halfway through the section that we realize this conversation is taking place in Addie’s room as they are taking care of her. The conversation then turns to Addie, who they say is the best baker in the area. Even though it is clear that they know she is near death, they repeatedly state that she will be up and baking soon. Cora also tells us that Addie just lies there intently watching Cash, but we are still not explicitly told what he is making.


Notes

Unlike Darl’s first section, which is rather straightforward, Cora’s section reveals the duplicitous nature of language. First, she is talking about cakes while dealing with a dying woman. Secondly, she insists Addie will get better while her interior monologue reveals just the opposite. Faulkner is making the reader conscious of the nature of language and truth.

Addie’s eyes are described in this section first like "two candles when you watch them gutter down into the sockets of iron candle-sticks" and later, Cora says, "When she finds me watching her, her eyes go blank." In these two instances, the eyes reveal how close Addie is to death.

SECTION 3: Darl

Summary

Darl’s second section furthers the detailed reporting of the first and adds an element of stream of consciousness (where the narrative attempts to follow the patterns of thought) to it. Darl begins by describing Anse and Vernon, then moves to the taste of water. We again are told how hot of a July it is. The water leads Darl back to thinking about his younger years, and to sex. His youth leads him to think about his father’s youth and how hard it was on him. Jewel is mentioned, and so Darl then shifts to thinking about and watching Jewel and his horse. The interaction between Jewel and the horse is violent, ending in the horse kicking at Jewel and Jewel then kicking the horse in the stomach, and later hitting it in the mouth. We are told that this is far enough away that Jewel does not hear Cash sawing, and the section ends with a sort of reconciliation between Jewel and his horse: "Eat . . . you sweet son of a bitch."

Notes

By including elements of stream of consciousness narration to Darl, Faulkner adds more dimension to the possible ways of telling a story. Not only does he have fifteen people sharing in the story-telling process, he also has each of them tell their version in unique ways.

Darl’s brief mention of his father’s rough childhood helps us understand Anse’s actions at the end of the novel.

Darl also mentions that he used to wonder if Cash was out in the woods masturbating or having sex. This is important because one of Darl’s problems is that he is too involved in other people’s sexuality.

The relationship between Jewel and his horse is both violent and loving, which is important because it parallels Jewel’s relationship to his mother. Most of the children have associations with animals: Jewel’s is his horse.

By stating that Jewel is too far away to hear Cash sawing, Darl reminds us of Addie’s imminent death, the death that permeates the novel.

SECTION 4: Jewel

Summary

Jewel’s narrative is an internal monologue. The first thing he mentions is Cash’s constant hammering and sawing right under Addie’s window. Jewel interprets this as being Cash’s attempt to show off. He then moves to the people, including his sister Dewey Dell, who sit with Addie "like buzzards." He says he wants them to leave her alone, but it is clear that he wants to take care of her. He states that he wishes that he had fallen off of the church instead of Cash or that the lumber that fell off of the wagon had landed on him instead of Anse; clearly, Jewel wishes that it had been he who had been cared for by Addie. The section ends with Jewel wishing that it would be just himself and Addie on the hill, where he would roll rocks down at the faces of the rest.

Notes

Jewel is desperately jealous, so jealous that he would willingly be injured or die (be on the hill) to be with his mother. We find out later that one reason for Jewel’s jealousy is that his mother intentionally shows him less affection because she is guilty and afraid that Anse might discover that he is not Jewel’s father.

Jewel’s narrative is one of strong passions, jealousy and anger, and thus it runs together. It provides a nice counter to Darl’s narrative, which is much more tightly organized.

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