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As I Lay Dying
William Faulkner

THE STORY, continued

26. ANSE

Anse bemoans his luck throughout the monologue. He feels that Jewel is showing disrespect for his mother by bringing the horse. And he feels Darl is showing disrespect, too, sitting on the plank seat above his mother, laughing. Clearly there is something odd about Darl. Cora called him "queer," and now Anse says that his behavior has made him a figure of gossip.

The laughter appears to have been triggered by Jewel's appearance on horseback. What could be so funny about that? Perhaps Darl is laughing at his father's impotent anger. Maybe, as some readers have suggested, he is laughing at the absurdity of the whole scene.

Through Anse's eyes, the Darl who sits laughing on the wagon seems to be a personality in the process of disintegration. Scour the next section for clues that might persuade you to accept or reject this view.

27. DARL

In this section, you get Darl's description of Jewel's arrival on horseback. As the Bundrens pass Tull's place four miles from home, the wagon maintains a "dreamlike" pace. In contrast, Jewel is all motion, "the horse driving, its hooves hissing in the mud."

Cash realizes that the body is decaying and says that "in a couple of days now it'll be smelling." Darl bares his hostility toward Jewel with his response. He suggests that Cash share his thoughts about decay with Jewel. When Cash worries about the coffin's "balance," Darl suggests he tell that to Jewel, too.

As Jewel's horse passes the wagon its hoof splatters a "gout of mud" onto the coffin. Patiently, as he does everything, Cash wipes away this insult with a leaf.

Some readers have criticized the book on the grounds that Darl doesn't sound like an uneducated hill farmer in his monologues. "We go on," he says in this section, "with a motion so soporific, so dreamlike as to be uninferant of progress, as though time and not space were decreasing between us and it."

When he speaks aloud, however, he sounds more like a creature of his environment. "I haven't got ere one," he says in section 24. To many readers, the disparity between the way he speaks and the way he thinks is perfectly acceptable. To others, the elevated, poetic style of his thoughts makes him somewhat unbelievable.

28. ANSE

In this brief section, Anse sums up his view of life, of the hard times that "the hardworking man, the farmer" has to endure. He appears to put himself in that category- a piece of comic irony that may make you laugh.

The family makes it to the Samsons' house at "dusk-dark" and learns that the bridge they had hoped to cross has been washed out. Somewhat like Cora, Anse shrouds himself in the Scriptures for solace and protection. But what truly revives his enthusiasm is the thought that "now I can get them teeth. That will be a comfort. It will." Since this book is filled with symbolism, what could Anse's teeth stand for, in your opinion?


Samson is one of eight characters whose interior monologues Faulkner produces to give you "outsiders' views" of the Bundrens. Thus, this section gives you something to measure the Bundrens' perceptions against.

The men sitting on Samson's porch around sundown are surprised to see the Bundrens come into view. They don't realize at first that the wagon is carrying Addie's coffin. The younger Lon Quick goes down to the road to tell them that the bridge is out. He returns to the house leading the wagon, his face looking "funny, around the nostrils."

Samson invites the Bundrens to stay for the night. He tries to persuade Anse to take Addie back to New Hope in the morning and bury her there. Apparently he nearly succeeds, because when he returns to the barn, he discovers Dewey Dell insisting that Anse take the body to Jefferson. "If you dont do it, it will be a curse on you," she tells Anse.

Samson doesn't understand the real reason behind Dewey Dell's insistence. From earlier clues, you are well aware of her reasons. This episode offers one of the novel's many instances of dramatic irony (when the audience understands the implications or meaning of an action or statement, and the characters do not).

Dewey Dell's argument works. Anse refuses to hear any more talk from Samson about burying Addie in New Hope.

The values that bind the Bundrens and their neighbors into a community are very much evident in this chapter. Like the Tulls, the Samsons look after the Bundrens, even though they don't think highly of them. The Samsons' sense of obligation to their neighbors is so great that Samson considers the Bundrens' refusal to accept his wife Rachel's food as an insult.

And yet, despite all this concern and sense of community, Faulkner makes clear in a number of ways that the Samsons understand the Bundrens no more than the Bundrens understand each other. The two families' sleeping arrangements symbolize the gap between them. This is one more example of the book's theme that even people who are united in a common purpose live in isolation from one another.

At the end, you don't know what the Bundrens' plans are. Samson just hears them drive off toward New Hope. He supposes they can cross the river "up by Mount Vernon," which would put them 18 miles from Jefferson.


Dewey Dell's confused thoughts reach a fever pitch in this section. Her mixed feelings about her abortion and her mother's death clash with the memory of a nightmare and a homicidal fantasy about Darl. Faulkner sets some of her deeper and more urgent reflections in italics.

As the sign indicating the turn for New Hope looms into sight, Dewey Dell reaches a moment of decision. Should she tell Anse to turn? If she does, she realizes, "We wont have to go to town." Notice she doesn't say, "We wont be able to go to town." Why do you suppose she doesn't?

Look for answers to that question in the flurry of thoughts- many of them incomplete- that surround her statement. She thinks of the "agony and the despair of spreading bones"- a birth image, perhaps, similar to the feeling she had in section 14.

This thought runs into a description of Darl focusing his eyes on her. As his eyes rise to her face, she feels them strip her naked, exposing her. Abruptly she recalls a nightmare of waking "with a black void rushing under me" and of Vardaman stabbing a fish. She thinks of killing Darl. This series of images- an objective correlative that evokes hate- is her fiercest thought yet in association with Darl.

Her thought of murder butts against her memory of the nightmare she began to think about in the previous paragraph. You don't have to understand this nightmare to realize what it reveals about Dewey Dell's emotions. It is another objective correlative- a story that calls up the emotion Faulkner wants you to share with Dewey Dell. Is the emotion fear? Terror? Whatever it is, the emotion provides the context for her fleeting thought about not having to go to Jefferson. She is frightened and for a moment unsure that she wants an abortion.

They pass the turn off to New Hope, and Dewey Dell expresses her faith in God. Why do you suppose she does this, here and at the end of the chapter, after reporting Darl's taunt to Jewel about the buzzard? Have you ever decided on a course of action without knowing where it would lead? If so, you might have said something like, "Well, now it's in the hands of fate."

Dewey Dell contrived to put herself in the hands of fate during her seduction by Lafe. She seems to be doing something of the same sort here.

31. TULL

The fact that the Bundren family is a study in contrasts is never made clearer than in this section. Read this section to learn how the Bundrens' many differences shape their reactions to obstacles.

Tull has hitched his mule to his wagon and followed the Bundrens to the banks of the swollen river. They're sitting in their wagon looking at the collapsed bridge when he catches up to them.

Tull can't fathom Anse's attitude. He finds the head of the Bundren clan looking at the bridge with a "kind of pleased astonishment." Samson, in section 29, noticed Anse react in a similar way when he heard how high the water had risen. "I be durn," Samson said, "if he didn't act like he was proud of it, like he had made the river rise himself." What could Faulkner be getting at, describing Anse this way? Could it be that Anse is pleased, secretly glad to confront such an enormous obstacle? Or could Anse be one of those people whose physical expressions always seem inappropriate, like people who laugh when the occasion calls for tears?

Despite his look of pleasure, Anse is hesitant. Dewey Dell isn't, however. She looks at Tull the same way she looked at Samson, "her eyes... going hard like I had made to touch her." She's determined now to cross the river. She reminds Anse twice that "Mr Whitfield crossed it." Tull points out that Whitfield came across three days earlier, when the river was five feet lower.

Anse says that they'll probably be safe since he made his promise to Addie "in the presence of the Lord." But he is incapable of making a decision to cross.

As earlier, it is Jewel, the man of action, who makes the decisive move. Jewel snarls contemptuously at Tull before moving his horse and telling the family to "come on."

32. DARL

This section is a flashback. Read it for the insights it gives you into Jewel and Addie's special relationship.

Faulkner uses flashbacks sparingly in this book. However, he does use them here, just before the crossing, and just after the crossing in sections 39, 40, and 41. The flashbacks deepen the meaning of the climactic crossing by telling us more about the characters even the dead one, Addie. Also, by making you jump from the past to the present, the flashbacks are a kind of springboard that heightens the effects of the climax.

Three years earlier, Darl explains, when Jewel was 15, he took to sleeping on his feet. His mother and older brothers worried about him. He was losing weight.

It was when Addie began hiding things for Jewel to eat that Darl began to realize that the two had a special relationship. And he suspected that the relationship concealed a secret. Darl noticed Addie sitting in the dark next to Jewel when he was asleep. She was hating Jewel, Darl reasoned, for making her love him so much that she was forced to deceive others.

His older brothers realize that Jewel is staying out all night. Cash follows Jewel and discovers that he has been spending his nights clearing 40 acres of land for old Lon Quick.

One day Jewel rides up to the Bundrens' field with the spotted horse he bought with his earnings. Addie is there. She cries when she learns what happened.

What is the secret that this episode reveals to Darl? Why does Addie cry? And why does Jewel stare down at her from his horse, "his face growing cold and a little sick looking, until he looked away quick"?

These are all important question- ones Faulkner raises here but does not answer directly. Some readers feel that Addie's tears are tears of relief over learning that Jewel is safe. Others feel that she cries so hard because she realizes that she is losing Jewel, that he is transferring his affections to the horse.

Perhaps- a third interpretation- he is declaring his independence here, not just from Addie but from the entire family. When he says he'll kill his horse before giving him Anse's feed, he's quite convincing.

33. TULL

Faulkner uses this section to build tension before the crossing. To understand his technique, look for images and observations that make you fear for the fate of the wagon.

Crossing the bridge with Vardaman, Dewey Dell, and Anse, Tull lists the visible dangers and suggests some not seen. The bridge is "shaking and swaying," its center dipping down into the "molling" (muddily churning) water. Here Tull evokes an image of elemental forces emanating from inside the earth. Tull's group has to walk into the water before coming up on the other side. Those coming up on the other side, he suggests, look as if they "must come from the bottom of the earth."

Adding to the danger are logs floating down the river that bump against the sunken section of the bridge. The logs shoot "clean outen the water" and tumble on toward the ford- the point where the Bundrens hope to cross with the wagon.

From the far bank, Tull looks back at the wagon, which Cash is turning before bringing it down into the water. The wagon drops out of sight. For the life of him, Tull just can't figure out why the Bundrens would "risk the fire and the earth and the water" to get to Jefferson.

Faced with any obstacle, Anse is a jumble of weaknesses. Tull reminds you of them here. But what really seems to keep Anse going, more than the lure of new teeth, is his promise to Addie. "She is counting on it," he says. Anse's speaking of Addie as if she were alive calls attention to one of the novel's major themes: the ability of the dead to motivate the living.

34. DARL

Together, sections 34 to 36 will give you a complete picture of the crossing, which is the climax of the first portion of As I Lay Dying. Darl describes the crossing until the wagon begins to tip over halfway to the far bank.

His account is a dramatic one, although it builds slowly. They start across the river without any clear plan. Jewel takes the lead, a rope extended between the wagon and his saddle horn to brace the wagon against the current. His horse finds the ford- the old road beneath the river- and he beckons the others to come forward.

In the middle of the river, a huge log rises out of the water. The log is bearded with "a long gout of foam" and seems to walk on the water "like Christ." Compare this image with Cora's line in section 36: "Log, fiddlesticks. It was the hand of God." (See note, "Christian Imagery," in the discussion of section 36.)

As the log bears down on them, Cash does an odd thing. He reaches below the seat and unwinds the rope from its fastening, then tells Jewel to ride on and pull them ahead of the log. Jewel charges a good distance ahead before he realizes that the rope is free. Faulkner never explains this ruse on Cash's part. Can you?

The log strikes the wagon, tilting it. The mules lose their footing and drown. As the section ends, Jewel is turning his horse violently in an attempt to get back to the wagon. Cash is trying to brace the coffin and his tool box. Darl has jumped off, to be carried by the current to shore.

Darl describes the swollen river as a desolate place, a scene of barrenness and waste. Three times he refers to its "desolation." Its swiftness calls up an image of "the wasted world" accelerating "just before the final precipice." Such end-of-the-world imagery has led some readers to conclude that Faulkner is trying to evoke one of those mysterious rivers in Greek mythology that separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. One of those rivers that the souls of the dead were ferried across was the hateful Styx, the sacred river by whose name the gods took their most solemn oaths.

Does Faulkner mean to say that the Bundrens are crossing to the underworld- to the land of the dead? Or that they are returning from the underworld, as Tull suggested in section 33 when he said that people crossing the bridge seem as if they "must come from the bottom of the earth"?

Before you answer, remember how Faulkner uses ancient myths. He doesn't rewrite the old myths using modern characters. Instead, he makes references to the old myths to suggest stories that lend meaning to his own.

So you don't have to assume that the Bundrens are crossing to or from Hades- although you are free to. However, the link between a river in Mississippi and a river in Greek myth should make a bell go off in your mind. It should make you sit up and realize that, for the Bundrens, this crossing is terribly significant and treacherous.


Vardaman picks up the story where Darl left it- with Darl in the water and Cash trying to keep the coffin dry. Notice how Faulkner catches a young boy's excitement by omitting commas until the very end.

Vardaman's understanding of the scene is somewhat bent by his peculiar perspective. He thinks that his mother is a fish- "in the water she could go faster than a man"- and that Darl is in the water chasing her. Vardaman rushes down to the riverbank and is horrified to see Darl emerge from the water empty-handed.

The section ends with Vardaman running frantically along the bank. Faulkner maintains the suspense into the next section, where you will learn the outcome of the disaster.

36. TULL

Faulkner takes his time revealing how Addie and the wagon were saved. Before you discover what happened- from Tull's point of view- Faulkner has his characters explore some of the Christian imagery that he suggested earlier.

Readers who examined the original manuscript of As I Lay Dying discovered that Faulkner penciled in as an afterthought the sentence about the log's rising upright "like Christ." His biographer, Joseph Blotner, believes that Faulkner may have added the reference to Christ in order to prepare you for Cora's calling the log "the hand of God" in this section.

Why would he want to do that? There are at least two possibilities you might explore. First, Faulkner might share Cora's view- that, as Vernon says, the Bundrens "was daring the hand of God to try" the crossing. It's a perfectly acceptable interpretation of the event, and not just to someone who, like Cora, takes her religion literally. As has been noted, Faulkner alludes to several Biblical and Greek myths in which characters defy the gods.

Tull describes his view of the disaster in the river. He sees Darl jumping from the wagon as it turns over and Cash fighting to keep the coffin from slipping. In the end, Jewel and his horse are the heroes of the day. The horse pulls Cash out of the water. Jewel has managed to fasten his rope to the wagon and keep it- and Addie's coffin on top of it- from being pulled downstream by the current.

37. DARL

Darl describes the aftermath of the disaster, as the family tries to recover on the far bank of the river. He provides a touching look at the solidarity of the Bundrens and their helpful neighbor, Vernon Tull.

It's an hour after the crossing. Cash lies still on the ground. The wagon has been hauled ashore, the coffin still lying "profoundly" on the wagon bed.

In an aside, Darl tells why the family chocked the wheels of the wagon carefully. On the wagon, it seems, "there lingered somehow... that violence which had slain the mules...." The only thing on the wagon is Addie in her coffin. Could Faulkner be suggesting that there's something violent about Addie's character we have yet to learn about?

Vernon and Jewel dive for Cash's tools. Vardaman, Darl, and even Dewey Dell help. Anse just stands and watches, mournfully, now and then walking down to gaze at his dead mules. As they find the tools, one after another, they set them down beside Cash like offerings. Toward the end of the chapter, you learn that Cash's leg is broken. -

The section ends with a passage that identifies Dewey Dell, once again, with the fertility of the earth. Her "wet dress shapes... those mammalian ludicrosities which are the horizons and the valleys of the earth."

38. CASH

After spending a section describing Cash's visible anguish, Faulkner composes this brief and sudden section like the punch line of a joke. Lying there, you realize, Cash's concerns are not at all those of his family. His concerns are personal: an obsession with his craft, and with the way the coffin failed to balance properly on the wagon. Brief as it is, the section buttresses the novel's theme that people are isolated from one another even when they are united in a common purpose.

39. CORA

Sections 39 to 41 are flashbacks. Faulkner takes your attention away from the journey while Cora, Addie, and Whitfield reminisce. The three sections are tied together as a unit. Notice, as you read them, how each one introduces the next and comments on the others.

Almost from the start, Cora sounds like Elihu- the fourth speaker in the Book of Job who accuses Job of arrogant pride. Cora believes that Addie takes "God's love and her duty to Him too much as a matter of course, and such conduct is not pleasing to Him." When Addie says, "My daily life is an acknowledgment and expiation of my sin," Cora explodes. "Who are you, to say what is sin and what is not sin? It is the Lord's part to judge; ours to praise His mercy...."

She doesn't stop to ask- as you should- what Addie's sin is. Instead, she shoots ahead, missing the point. "Just because you have been a faithful wife is no sign that there is no sin in your heart," she says. "I know my own sin," Addie says. "I know that I deserve my punishment."

Again, Cora has too much momentum going to ask- as you should- what that punishment is. Addie's sin, Cora feels, is favoring Jewel instead of Darl, and her punishment is not having that love returned. "Jewel is your punishment," she says. "But where is your salvation?"

Watch how Addie replies. "He is my cross and he will be my salvation," she says. (By "cross," she means her burden- not her sin. The reference is to the cross that Christ carried to his crucifixion.) "He will save me from the water and from the fire," she goes on. "Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me." Addie is of course speaking of Jewel.

Addie's boast that Jewel will be her salvation echoes two lines from the 66th Psalm in the Old Testament. "We went through fire and through water; but thou [God] brought us out into a wealthy place." The next line is a paraphrase of a section of the 23rd Psalm: "Though I walk through the valley of death, I fear no evil, for thou [God] art with me."

Cora thinks Addie is referring to God and not to Jewel. When she realizes her mistake, she is dumbfounded. She is sure that Addie is mocking God- that "she had spoken sacrilege." It's a confirmation of all Cora's fears: Addie is "lost in her vanity and her pride" and has "closed her heart to God and set that selfish mortal boy in His place."

Cora views "Brother Whitfield"- "a godly man"- as her ally. She talks about "that summer at the camp meeting" when Whitfield "wrestled with [Addie's] spirit, singled her out and strove with her vanity in her mortal heart."

Camp meetings were popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were revival meetings, when families set up tents in the country for a couple of weeks and mixed vacation with religion. Evidently Whitfield spent a lot of time with Addie at one such gathering.

What do you think about Cora's report? Do you think that Addie's sin is loving Jewel, and that her punishment is not getting his love in return?

Addie makes clear in the next section that she has another sort of sin in mind. She is not so clear about her punishment.

Some readers think that maybe Cora is on to something when she says, "Jewel is your punishment." Does Addie seem to agree with Cora when she compares Jewel to the cross Christ had to bear?

It's not always easy to figure out just what Faulkner's people mean when they talk about sin. Actually, they're talking about two sorts of sin: (1) the sin of the human race, traceable to Adam's original sin; and (2) personal sin. According to the Bible, Adam was the first man. His sin- the original sin- was to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. For this disobedient act, Adam was banished from the Garden of Eden, together with Eve, who tempted him to eat the fruit. Adam's sin left all humans with a tendency to sin, or act unethically, requiring constant vigilance on the part of the individual.

As to personal sin, some Christians divide all human acts into good, indifferent, or bad. Faulkner's people, like most conservative Christians, believe that all acts that are not positively good are sinful. There can be no indifferent act. Thus, to Cora, favoring Jewel over her other children is sinful. An even worse sin is idolatry- setting up a human in God's place. It is precisely this sin that Cora feels Addie commits. The sin brings Cora to her knees, begging God to forgive Addie and redeem her, or deliver her from sin.

Christians call that deliverance "salvation." Addie is convinced that Jewel will be her salvation- not realizing, perhaps, that he would save her quite literally. Another irony is that when he "saves" her, she is already dead- beyond physical, if not spiritual, salvation.


Many readers find this section the most revealing one in the novel. It is Addie's only monologue, and it ties together a lot of the novel's loose ends.

Addie begins with a reminiscence of her days teaching school. She was unhappy as a teacher, because like all children her pupils were self-absorbed. She hated them. She whipped them eagerly when they made mistakes.

What did she mean by that viciousness? What was her aim? Some readers feel that she was lonely, and that she hoped to break through her isolation by inflicting pain. "I would think with each blow of the switch: Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life..."

Like most interior monologues, this one is replete with non sequiturs- passages that don't seem to follow previous ones with any logic. (In Latin, non sequitur means "It does not follow.") One of the most baffling of these is the line, "And so I took Anse." Addie says it twice- the second time without the and- as a frame for the story of the courtship that led to her marriage.

Many readers think the line important. Addie does not say, "And so I fell in love with Anse," or, "And so I married Anse." So some readers feel that she saw Anse only as an object, like the switch she scarred her pupils with, and hoped to use him to break through her isolation.

But Anse never "violated" her "aloneness." It took Cash, her first-born, to do that.

In this section Faulkner explores at length one of the novel's major themes, the futility of words compared with actions. Words, to Addie, are without value. "Words go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless," she says. The word love, "like the others," is "just a shape to fill a lack." Anse used the word love to describe what Addie knew didn't exist- real love between them.

With Cash, it was different. The love between mother and son was very strong, something both of them experienced. "Cash did not need to say it [the word love] to me nor I to him."

Obviously, action- something which is experienced, not just talked about- is the test of life to Addie. If something cannot be experienced, it cannot be alive. Thus, Anse is dead to her, just a word, "a significant shape profoundly without life."

Having Cash didn't end Addie's isolation. It only intensified it, leaving "time, Anse, love"- everything without meaning to her- "outside the circle" of her loneliness.

Darl was an unwanted child. When Addie learned she was pregnant with Darl, she was furious. She felt Anse had tricked her. So she decided to get revenge. She made Anse promise to bury her in Jefferson when she died.

To some readers, these revelations help explain a couple of the novel's mysteries. Many readers trace Darl's oddness to the fact that his mother shunned him. According to this interpretation, Darl's rejection causes him to wonder if he exists, and it eventually drives him out of his mind.

Addie's concocting the journey to Jefferson as a form of revenge against Anse adds another dramatic irony to the novel. Suddenly you realize what Addie's survivors don't: that Addie may not have cared at all about being buried in Jefferson. Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman have personal errands pulling them to Jefferson. Now we realize that Addie also had an ulterior motive- revenge.

It's a strange form of revenge. When you're getting back at someone, you want that person to know it. Not Addie. As she says, Anse "would never know I was taking revenge."

What do these revelations make you think about Addie?

In the final segment of the monologue, Addie describes her affair with Whitfield. This infidelity amounted to a series of passionate trysts in the woods, probably during the camp meeting that Cora refers to in section 39.

To some readers, her adultery was a defiant, rebellious act. To others, it was an attempt to reach outside of herself and experience the "terrible blood" of reality through sin- a "more utter and terrible" sin because it was committed with a minister.

Whatever the reason for it, the affair was Addie's sin. Jewel- in her view- was her punishment. Yet, she saw her redemption in the affair, too. Talking with Cora, you will remember, Addie called Jewel her "cross" and her "salvation."

You might enjoy playing with the similarities many readers find between As I Lay Dying and Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece, The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850. The Scarlet Letter explores through allegory and symbolism the problems of moral evil and guilt. The heroine, Hester Prynne, is, like Addie, caught in a loveless marriage to a man with a physical deformity. (Hester's husband has a twisted shoulder; Addie's, a humped back.) Hester has an adulterous affair with her minister- a man named Dimmesdale who, like Whitfield, is highly respected by his community. Hester names the child of this sin Pearl- her Jewel. Both Hester and Addie despise deceit but practice it to protect their lovers.

After Jewel's birth, Addie put her affairs in order- she "cleaned [her] house." She made amends to Anse by giving him two more children, Dewey Dell and Vardaman. (She always considered Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Darl to be Anse's children, not hers.) This done, she "could get ready to die."


This section ends the flashbacks that began with Cora's soliloquy. It presents a picture of the sort of religiosity and emptiness of words that Addie detests.

Faulkner structures this section as a simple narrative. Whitfield hears that Addie is dying, and God tells him to confess his adultery to Anse. He risks his life to reach the Bundrens' house.

When he learns from one of the Tulls' daughters that Addie has died, he changes his mind about confessing. God, he reasons, "will accept the will for the deed."

He enters the Bundrens' "lowly dwelling" cleansed of doubt. "God's grace upon this house," he says.

Read Whitfield's prayer aloud, and you will hear echoes of Psalms in the Old Testament. His prayer imitates the repetitive structure of those poetic pieces. Whitfield says "let me not" three times and "let not" twice. Pick up a Bible and leaf through the Book of Psalms, and you will find similar devices used there.

It is fitting that a man of the cloth should speak in biblical cadences- after all, he is probably more familiar with the Bible than with any other piece of literature. However, Faulkner may have another purpose in framing Whitfield's thoughts this way. He may be indicating that Whitfield is a phony, talking in a voice that is not his own.

Back in section 20, Tull suggested as much. Whitfield's voice as he presided over Addie's funeral didn't seem to be part of him.

Some readers think this section funny. Whether you do or not will depend on your view of Whitfield. You may think him contemptuous- someone to sneer at, not laugh at. On the other hand, you may see him as a sort of clown, a weakling who thinks he can trick even God into believing he is strong and blameless. A clown's hypocrisy is usually harmless. A villain's is not. You can laugh at Charlie Chaplin but not at Adolf Hitler. Which sort of a hypocrite is Whitfield?

How could Addie fall for such an empty person? This is one of the many mysteries of As I Lay Dying that Faulkner invites you to solve. Was Addie blind to Whitfield's weaknesses? Or was her passion for him totally physical and his weaknesses of no significance to her?

42. DARL

This section brings you back to the present, and to the interrupted journey. Darl's narration gets more complex here, as his attention switches without warning from the general action to Jewel. References to Jewel are printed in italics.

As the section opens, Jewel rides back to the riverbank leading a team he has borrowed from Henry Armstid, a farmer who lives nearby. Vernon leaves to recross the bridge as the family drives off to Armstid's farm with Cash lying on top of Addie's coffin.

The dunking helped cut down the smell of the rotting body. Armstid offers to let Anse put the coffin in the house overnight. Anse refuses the offer and stores the wagon and coffin in a one-sided shed. Lula Armstid feeds them and puts Cash to bed inside the house.

Darl's description of Jewel's activities seems to indicate a certain obsession on Darl's part. After you've read the entire section, go back and read through just the italicized passages to see what fascinates Darl about Jewel. We see Jewel continually in motion- on his horse and off it, taking care of it. Jewel doesn't even leave his horse to go into the Armstid's house to eat.


Armstid's only monologue is a tricky one. And that's what makes it a fine demonstration of Faulkner's mastery of the storyteller's art. He reveals what's happening in bits and pieces, leaving you in doubt until the next to last paragraph. In the last paragraph, he raises a question about Jewel that keeps you turning pages to find an answer.

Basically, this chapter is about Anse's search for a team to replace the one that drowned during the river crossing. But other things happen during the nearly two days the Bundrens stay at the Armstids'. Jewel can't locate Peabody to fix Cash's leg, so Uncle Billy sets Cash's leg with the help of Jewel and Dewey Dell. Though Cash faints, he never complains.

Addie's body has begun to smell again. The smell draws buzzards, and Vardaman spends most of his time chasing them away. The smell prompts Lula Armstid to express her outrage over the way the Bundrens are treating Addie.

Lula's outrage moves Armstid to ask Jewel if he wants to borrow a mule to look for Anse, who has ridden off on Jewel's horse to buy a mule team from a man named Snopes. Jewel explodes, knowing that Armstid wants the smell out of his yard. He is so mad he shakes "like he had a aguer"- a fever. Jewel tries to move the wagon out of the shed but is unable to budge it. Darl refuses to help him.

Anse returns in the evening. He has made a deal for a mule team. After much prying, he is forced to admit that he offered Jewel's horse in return.

While trying to guess what Anse exchanged for the team, Darl remembers Anse's going through Cash's clothes the night before. Apparently Anse stole eight dollars from Cash- not enough, Darl realizes, to buy a team. Anse's action- stealing from his own son- is another clue to his selfish character. Equally interesting, however, is Darl's statement that Cash intended to spend the money in Jefferson on a "talking machine" (a graphophone). So Cash had a personal reason to go to Jefferson, too!

Jewel is dumbfounded to learn that Anse offered his horse in trade for a mule team. He leaps on the horse and takes off like "a spotted cyclone." Anse borrows Armstid's team to haul the wagon (with Cash on top) about a mile down the road.

The next morning, one of Snopes' farmhands appears at Armstid's house with a team of mules for Anse. The farmhand found Jewel's horse in Snopes' barn that morning. Apparently Jewel had ridden it there, sacrificing his prize possession.

Jewel's sacrifice is one more demonstration of his love for Addie. It should remind you of Addie's prophecy- that Jewel will be her "salvation."


Faulkner reports events from a child's perspective again in this section. Note, as you read it, how an innocent eye can misinterpret- or fail to interpret- events.

The vultures that follow the Bundrens throughout their journey are a constant reminder of death. In a real sense, these black carrion-eaters stand for death- a haunting symbol of the end that awaits everyone, not just Addie. Vardaman is fascinated by them. He issues periodic reports of their numbers in this section.

Vardaman still believes his mother to be a fish. He won't believe she is inside the coffin, although Dewey Dell has apparently tried to persuade him that she is. Darl, more thoughtful and imaginative than Dewey Dell, has told Vardaman that he might see Addie when they reach water again.

Cash is in pain but uncomplaining. "Don't bother none," he tells Darl. Anse figures they'll "just have to" buy medicine in Mottson, a small town they are heading toward.

Vardaman can't understand why Jewel is gone. He wonders if his departure has something to do with Jewel's mother's being a horse. Darl never answers that question. If it were addressed to you, how would you answer it?


This section provides you with another "outside opinion" of the Bundrens. Moseley, who owns a drug store in Mottson, reminds you just how bizarre the journey is.

Moseley sees Dewey Dell looking into his shop through the window. Before entering, she "kind of bumbled at the screen door a minute, like they do," he says. The word they refers not just to the Bundrens but to the class of people- hill farmers- from which they spring. The gap between town people and hill people is a recurrent theme in the novel.

Moseley can't get Dewey Dell to tell him what it is she wants. When he learns that she wants something to induce an abortion, he is indignant. He advises Dewey Dell to use the ten dollars Lafe gave her to get married.

After Dewey Dell leaves, Albert, Moseley's assistant, describes the scene on the street. Anse parked in front of the hardware store, and the smell of Addie's body, dead eight days, made women flee. But Anse won't move on. "It's a public street," he tells a marshal.

Albert tells Moseley that the Bundrens "came from some place out in Yoknapatawpha county." This is the first mention in any of Faulkner's books of the name he gave the county where 15 of his novels are set. Faulkner called the county his "mythical kingdom." Yet its geography and history parallel in many ways those of Lafayette County, in northern Mississippi, where he lived most of his life.

It wasn't until he wrote his third novel, Sartoris, in 1928, that he began to mine this region for material for his books. He finally realized, he said later, that "my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and that by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

Faulkner said the name comes from the Chickasaw words yocana and petopha, which mean "water runs slow through flat land." Faulkner made Yoknapatawpha County the most famous region in American literature. He drew a map of the county for The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley.

46. DARL

For the most part; this section describes the family mixing cement and fashioning a cast for Cash's leg. As you read it, notice how Darl's mind seems to come apart.

Cash doesn't want them to delay the journey for his sake. And when they apply the cement to his leg, his only worry is that it will drip onto the coffin.

The most remarkable thing about this section is Darl's behavior. In the last section, the druggist's assistant told how Darl came out of the hardware store and ordered Anse to shut up. That outburst may have seemed uncharacteristic to you. Here, Darl is harsh with Anse again. When Anse says he doesn't want to "be beholden" to anyone for a bucket and water, Darl says, "Then make some water yourself."

Moreover, Darl pitches in with the rest to make a cement cast- something that will certainly do more harm than good. For the first time, he proves as ignorant about something as the rest of the family.

Meanwhile, his mind seems momentarily to lose its focus in two places. The imagery of these poetic passages is of weariness, of lives that wind out into nothingness. What is Darl saying when he ponders how nice it would be "if you could just ravel out into time"? Is he talking about an alternative to death and burial? Or might he be longing to escape the world he finds himself in?

At the end of the chapter, Jewel reappears, moving rigidly and without a word, and climbs onto the wagon.


Vardaman tries to make sense of his jigsaw-puzzle world by fitting the pieces together in his mind. His fixation on the vultures interrupts his thoughts. He looks forward to seeing where the vultures spend the night. It's an innocent desire, and one which will put him in a position to witness a crime.

48. DARL

Stopping at the Gillespies' farm for the night, the Bundrens put Addie's coffin under an apple tree. There, Darl seems to slip further into a private world. He hears Addie talk "in little trickling bursts." And he teases Jewel about his paternity. "Who was your father, Jewel?"

Why do you suppose he persists with his taunts? Is he just being malicious, trying to get a rise out of a rival? Or might he be trying to force Jewel to come to terms with his parentage- and his own relationship to the surviving members of the family?

It's unclear who speaks to Cash and soothes his leg with water. Darl assigns many of the statements and actions to "we"- the family- instead of to individual members. In this way, Faulkner may be underscoring the unity of the family which Jewel has rejected.


In this complicated section, Faulkner prepares you for the book's climactic scene. Notice how he builds tension with the two italicized flash-forwards that interrupt Vardaman's description of what's going on around him.

Darl shows Vardaman how to listen to Addie by putting his ear close to the coffin. Darl explains that Addie is "talking to God... calling on Him to help her." Addie wants God to "hide her away from the sight of man," he says.

What do you think Darl means by this? Faulkner does not waste words in this book, so chances are good that these are not throwaway lines. Many readers feel that this is Darl's way of saying that the journey has gone on far enough.

You'll have to make up your own mind as to whether Darl actually hears Addie talk. If he does hear voices, he may be insane- more than just "queer," as his neighbors call him.

Dewey Dell and Vardaman sleep on the Gillespies' porch, facing the yard. The wind shifts, bringing the smell of Addie's body to the house. The men move the coffin into the barn. Dewey Dell falls asleep, and Vardaman sneaks off to the barn to see where the vultures sleep. And that's where he witnesses something that Dewey Dell has told him not to tell anybody.

50. DARL

Jewel fulfills Addie's prophecy in this section, the novel's major climax. The scene is a fine example of Faulkner's ability to involve you in action.

Faulkner begins the episode in medias res- "in the middle of things." Jewel is in motion from the first sentence to the last. Darl is outside the house- a clue that he may have caused the emergency. He spots Jewel leaping out of the house, the glare of the fire reflected in his eyes.

Inside the burning barn, Jewel pauses at the coffin and looks back furiously at Darl. He and Darl and the other men rescue the animals.

The animals saved, Jewel heads back into the barn for the coffin. Gillespie tries to stop him but cannot. Jewel knocks Gillespie down and races into the barn. With a superhuman effort, Jewel- "enclosed in a thin nimbus of fire," like a god- carries Addie's coffin to safety.

Darl describes Gillespie, who is naked, and Jewel, who is in his underwear, as "like two figures in a Greek frieze, isolated out of all reality by the red glare." A frieze is a relief sculpture that appears on many ancient buildings. Greek friezes often portrayed warriors in combat. By making this reference, Faulkner suggests once more that his characters have a mythical dimension, one that makes them "larger than life."


Vardaman describes the fire's aftermath. Cash's foot has turned black. The men try to chip off the cast but succeed only in cracking it.

Jewel lies on his stomach, his back raw. Under the apple tree, Darl is lying on the coffin, weeping.

Why is he crying? Vardaman assumes it is because Addie was almost lost in the fire. But he might be crying from relief, or even because he is insane. He might be crying for Addie, because she did not burn and must bear the agony of continuing the journey.

52. DARL

The funeral cortege finally reaches Jefferson in this section. Darl describes the family's exhaustion as they approach the town. Everyone is thinner, including Vardaman.

The town seems to breathe life back into the family. When Jewel speaks angrily about digging "a damn hole in the ground," Anse puts on his old airs and once more shows his ignorance of his children's feelings. "You never pure loved her, none of you," he says. What might Addie say about his use of the word love?

Dewey Dell has Anse stop the wagon outside of town. She disappears into the bushes and reappears wearing her Sunday clothes, which she had been carrying wrapped in newspaper.

The smell of Addie's corpse outrages people they pass on the hill into town. Reacting to their outrage, Jewel nearly provokes a fight. Darl convinces Jewel to apologize.

Darl seems very much in control here, a marked contrast to his erratic focus in earlier sections. This is a useful point to remember, because his sanity will become an issue in the next section.

53. CASH

The Cash that Faulkner presents here may surprise you. He appears here and in the final section as one of the novel's most thoughtful characters.

How sane is Darl? Cash tries to answer that question in this section. He decides, as members of any farm community might, that anyone who would set fire to a barn and endanger livestock must be crazy. He balances this judgment with understanding, however. "I can almost believe he done right in a way," he says. He can see how Darl could think it was necessary to "get shut of her in some clean way."

Is Darl insane enough to warrant being committed to an asylum? Psychiatrists would no doubt disagree. It's a moot point, because, as Cash says, "It was either send him to Jackson, or have Gillespie sue us." Anse would rather see his son behind bars than pay for Gillespie's barn.

Anse borrows two shovels, and the family buries Addie. Faulkner handles her burial almost as an afterthought. Can you suggest why?

What surprises Cash most about the way Darl is taken is Dewey Dell's violence toward him. She leaps on Darl, "scratching and clawing... like a wild cat." Her hatred for Darl, who knows her secret, leads Cash to conclude that it was she who told the Gillespies that Darl set their barn on fire.

Like Dewey Dell, Jewel uses the occasion to vent his anger. "Kill him. Kill the son of a bitch," Jewel yells.

Darl's reaction is pitiful. Lying on his back, pinned down, he looks up at Cash and says, "I thought you would have told me." Later he sits on the ground, laughing. When Cash tells him Jackson will be "better for you, Darl," Darl plays with the word better and continues to laugh.

Would an asylum be better for Darl- "quiet, with none of the bothering and such," as Cash tells him? Or would he just be exchanging one lunatic world for another?

Cash's reference to Mrs. Bundren is misleading. Cash is not speaking of Addie, or her people, but of the woman who will soon become Anse's second wife.


Doc Peabody's second (and final) monologue contains none of the philosophizing of his first one. He is laboring over Cash's leg shortly after Addie's burial. Cash stands to end up with a shortened leg- one he may never be able to walk on again.

Anse, who is off returning the spades, takes the brunt of Peabody's anger. Notice how Peabody compares him to a disease that has infected the entire family. Is his diagnosis accurate?

Peabody seems sickened that Darl was handcuffed "like a damn murderer." But what angers him more, it appears, is that the action didn't bother Anse.


In this comic monologue, Skeet MacGowan, a druggist's assistant, takes advantage of Dewey Dell's ignorance and desperation. Her search for an abortion is the first of the Bundrens' personal errands whose results Faulkner must report on before he can end the novel.

MacGowan clearly thinks he is pretty clever and that women- especially country women- are beneath him. Today you might call him sexist, a term that Faulkner never knew. Most of his monologue is a braggart's description of how he seduced a gullible stranger. Faulkner makes the action move swiftly, and he even adds some tension by keeping one of MacGowan's eyes on the clock.

Dewey Dell is a mere object to MacGowan, as she might be to any listener who didn't know her. But you do know her- "warts" and all- and that fact may make you less amused than MacGowan with his conquest.

Still, MacGowan is a comic figure. Note the role his wise-guy patter plays in making him funny, and note, too, his ignorance- of grammar, pharmacology, and even of Dewey Dell. Also observe his position in the shop. When you meet him, he's doing a mundane task, pouring chocolate syrup, and he continually eyes the clock to make sure his boss won't catch him. He is really a clown- more pathetic than heroic- despite what he would like you, his listener, to believe.


In the previous section, MacGowan spotted Vardaman sitting on the curb outside the drugstore. Here, Vardaman accompanies his sister to and from her meeting with MacGowan.

Vardaman displays a country boy's fascination with the town. The street lights "roosting in the trees" intrigue him. A cow clops through town as Vardaman waits for Dewey Dell to emerge from the drugstore, and his senses are so alert he even "hears" the silences between hoofbeats. When the cow leaves the square, he is aware as never before of the square's emptiness- an objective correlative which signals his loneliness.

The town's sights and sounds don't blot out Vardaman's thoughts of Darl and the electric train he came to Jefferson to see. The two thoughts are united by the image of a train- the one Darl took to Jackson, and the one he still hopes to see in the store window.

Apparently they've already made a visit to the toy store and learned that its owner won't display the train until Christmas. Vardaman has had to settle for a substitute- a "bag full" of bananas, which he will share with Dewey Dell.

When Dewey Dell leaves the drugstore, she is angry. She is sure that MacGowan has tricked her. Like Vardaman, she's not going to get what she came to Jefferson for.

57. DARL

Darl's final monologue is perhaps the most difficult one to make sense of. Separated from his family, he seems to have lost touch with reality.

Apparently inside the asylum at Jackson, Darl recalls leaving Jefferson by train with two armed guards. Thoughts of incest and bestiality clash in his mind and make him laugh. We learn for the first time that he went to France during World War I.

There is also an ending here, and a beginning. The journey to Jefferson is over. Two journeys from Jefferson have begun. Darl has gone to Jackson. His family is about to depart for home. It could just be, some readers think, that Darl is a kind of crazed Janus- the god of endings and beginnings- overseeing both journeys.

Is Darl insane? Some readers insist that he is just acting the part that others have thrust upon him. Darl is laughing at the absurd world he is escaping, they say. Others insist that Darl is insane, and that his family's rejection of him- after Addie's painful rejection- finally pushed him over the edge.


Dewey Dell's final monologue provides another damning glimpse of Anse in action. He has discovered her ten-dollar bill and wants it. Dewey Dell tells him not to touch it. This outburst gives Anse another chance to exhibit his self-pity. In the end, he gets what he wants- which is, as usual, something that belongs to someone else. -

NOTE: It's not clear when this scene takes place. The next section suggests that it occurred the morning after Dewey Dell's meeting with MacGowan.

59. CASH

Cash has the last word. He describes the family's final moments in Jefferson.

After the burial and Darl's capture, Anse returns the shovels to the widow's house. He goes back to her house in the evening and apparently spends the night there. Peabody has given the family enough money to stay in a hotel.

In the morning, after asking Cash for money- and probably taking Dewey Dell's- he buys a set of teeth and gets married. Jewel, Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Cash are outside the courthouse when Anse arrives sheepishly with his new wife, a "duck-shaped woman" with "pop eyes." To Cash's delight, she is carrying a graphophone, a wind-up phonograph. So, he and Anse, of all the Bundrens, get what they'd hoped to get in Jefferson.

The next-to-last paragraph adds a bittersweet note. Cash regrets that Darl can't enjoy the graphophone, too. But, he says, "This world is not his world; this life his life."

Anse's introduction of his new wife to his children ends the novel on an upbeat note. Looking "hangdog and proud," he tells his children, "Meet Mrs Bundren." The book ends with a smile and perhaps even with some hope.

What are we to make of this story? One way to approach the answer would be to draw a balance sheet. What did the Bundrens lose and what did they gain from the journey? The losses can be toted up quickly: two dead mules, Jewel's horse, Cash's crippled leg, and Darl's institutionalization.

The gains aren't so easily added up. Although Cash got his graphophone, the visible gains were mainly Anse's: new teeth and a wife. Yet even Darl, if you choose to believe Cash, will be better off. Moreover, the fact that Anse profited from the journey means that Addie never got her revenge.

Toting up the gains and losses, some readers have concluded that the book sounds a hopeful note. They see in the battered family's survival a victory for the human race, whose next generation Dewey Dell was unable to abort. Twenty years after writing As I Lay Dying, Faulkner spoke in these terms when he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. "I believe that man will not merely endure he will prevail," he said. "He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."



ECC [As I Lay Dying Contents] []

© Copyright 1985 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.
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