As I Lay Dying Summary
by William Faulkner

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As I Lay Dying Summary

As I Lay Dying is a novel by William Faulkner in which the Bundren family contends with the death of its matriarch, Addie.

  • Addie Bundren is a bitter old woman who is on her deathbed. She hates her husband, Anse, and resents all of her children except for her son Jewel.
  • After Addie's death, the Bundrens transport her body to her hometown of Jefferson for burial. 
  • The Bundrens face many hardships as they travel to Jefferson. When they arrive, Anse betrays his children, uses money he has stolen from them to buy himself a new set of teeth, and marries another woman.

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Summary

Summary of the Novel
Addie Bundren, the wife and mother to a poor white farm family, is on her deathbed. Friends and family members gather around to comfort her and to prepare for her funeral. Addie, a proud and bitter woman, has no interest in the religious comfort her neighbor, Cora Tull, offers. She is tired of living, loves only her son, Jewel, and despises her husband, neighbors, and all others around her. She desires only to be buried among her own family members in the town of Jefferson. She has made her useless and ineffectual husband promise to do as she wishes and, upon her death, the family sets out for Jefferson with her corpse in a casket.

On the way to Jefferson, each member of the family narrates part of the story and relates what happens during the journey or what has happened in the past. Each of the narrators has his or her own reason for making the trip. Anse wants to get a set of false teeth. Dewey Dell, the daughter, needs an abortion. Cash plans to buy a record-player. The baby, Vardaman, is promised a toy and exotic fruit (bananas) when they get to town. The only characters who have no material stake in getting to Jefferson are Addie’s sons, Darl and Jewel. Darl is as determined to prevent the grotesque affair as Jewel is to carry out his mother’s wish. Darl uses every obstacle or setback to try to prevent Addie’s casket from getting to Jefferson.

Many incidents occur which seemingly frustrate Addie’s progress toward being buried in the soil of her home town. Her youngest son, drilling holes in her casket so she can breathe, instead, drills through to her face. The casket is overturned while the family is crossing a river and nearly gets washed away. Cash, one of Addie’s sons, injures his leg and needs a doctor. However, the family refuses to postpone its journey. These setbacks make the trip longer than expected, and the body begins to decompose. Followed by cats and buzzards, and accompanied by a terrible odor, the burial procession is chased out of towns. Darl fights with his brother Jewel, who is intent on burying Addie in her family plot. When he sets fire to one of the barns holding the corpse, Jewel must “rescue” Addie.

When they reach Jefferson, Anse goes into a house to borrow spades to dig Addie’s grave. His family waits in the wagon and wonders why it takes him so long. They see a woman peering out at them from behind the curtains of a window. Cash’s leg becomes gangerous because of the makeshift cement cast which Anse made for him. Dewey Dell, nervous because Darl knows her secret, turns him in for burning the barn. He is arrested and taken away to the asylum for being insane. Dewey Dell is fooled by a druggist’s clerk pretending to be a doctor. He gives her some talcum powder in capsules for medicine, then convinces her that she needs to have sex again in order to undo her “problem.” Anse, who has sold Jewel’s prized horse, stolen money Cash was planning to use for a gramophone, and wheedled Dewey Dell’s ten-dollar abortion money from her, uses the funds to get a shave, haircut, and new teeth. After Addie is buried, he returns to the Jefferson house, goes inside, and brings out the new Mrs. Bundren, a flashily dressed woman, shaped like a duck, with hard-looking pop eyes who joins the family in their wagon.

Estimated Reading Time
The average reader should be able to complete the entire novel in...

(The entire section is 2,923 words.)