Unit 2 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1534

New Characters:
Armstid: neighbor to the Bundrens; attends Addie’s funeral

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Reverend Whitfield: preacher who conducts Addie’s funeral

Uncle Billy Varner: older neighbor; attends Addie’s funeral

Jody: Uncle Billy’s son

Quick: neighbor to the Bundrens; attends Addie’s funeral

Houston: neighbor to the Bundrens; attends Addie’s funeral

Littlejohn: neighbor to the Bundrens; attends Addie’s funeral

Summary
Upset by his mother’s death, Vardaman rushes from the house and to the barn where he takes out his frustration by beating the horses. Dewey Dell, preoccupied with her problem, agonizes over Peabody’s ability to help her if she could only tell him. She finds Vardaman hiding in the barn and sends him in to supper. She feels lonely and remains in the barn, talking to the cow that she is milking.

In order to persuade her brother to go along on the trip to Jefferson, Dewey Dell promises Vardaman that they will get bananas to eat and a shiny toy for him when they get to the city. Vardaman runs away to the Tulls’ house. They bring him back home and remark how Vardaman kept opening the window in Addie’s room so she could breathe and how he bored airholes in the coffin for Addie. Some of those holes bored into her face.

The family is up all night finishing the coffin, working through rain and darkness, in order to have it ready by morning. Cash insists on making the job perfect.

In the morning, the news comes that the bridge is washed out. Jewel and Darl, hampered by the washed-out bridge, arrive home three days after their mother has died. Addie’s death seems to have changed Anse. He now stands taller and is self-important. Neighbors gather for the funeral service, and buzzards circle above the house, scenting the decaying corpse.

Jewel, Cash, and Darl help carry the coffin out of the house and down the steep path. Darl taunts Jewel, who loses control of his emotions and, in doing so, loses control of the coffin as well. Addie and her casket go careening down the side of the hill. The family loads the coffin on the wagon and prepares to leave. A clean-shaven Anse complains that his family is too concerned with their own needs and is not showing proper respect for the dead. Cash is concerned with carrying his tools with him, and Dewey Dell says she must carry cakes to town for Mrs. Tull. Vardaman is interested in getting his toy train. Anse seems especially annoyed that Jewel rides his high-spirited, spotted horse rather than ride in the wagon. He also criticizes Darl for laughing while sitting in the wagon with his mother’s coffin. Anse again bemoans his hard life and feels that the false teeth he will get in Jefferson will be a comfort to him.

Analysis
There is a tradition of dark, gothic horror in Southern literature. Faulkner employs these gothic horror elements throughout the story. Though the novel is a tragedy, he also injects some “black comedy” or dark humor into the story. The macabre scenes lend a horror-film feeling to the novel. For example, descriptions of the Bundren house, off-center and built on an inaccessible hill, make it seem like a haunted house. When Addie dies, a storm rages. The air is described as sulphurous, a word used in descriptions of Hell. The favorite phrases used by Jewel, Addie’s favorite son, are Goddamn, damn, and hell. Darl has the ability to know what is happening somewhere else. Faulkner italicizes those parts of Darl’s narrative which are not straight narration in order to draw attention to Darl’s peculiar ability to “read” people or to presage things which are happening somewhere else. Adding to the macabre atmosphere is Addie Bundren’s insistence on being buried in her own home ground in Jefferson. Her body begins to decompose and smell while the family awaits Darl’s and Jewel’s return before they transport her casket.

The association between animals and people becomes more evident in this section of the novel. Anse is described as buzzard-like. Vardaman confuses his mother and the fish he caught and cut up for dinner. He says to the horses, “You kilt my maw!” as he strikes at them with a stick. Darl tells Jewel, who has already been described as being one with his horse, that his mother is a horse. Dewey Dell, unhappy with her pregnancy, identifies with the moaning cows which she milks. She feels as burdened and as helpless as they are. She says, “I feel like a wet seed wild in the hot blind earth.” The words and phrases used to describe her feelings and appearance make her almost indistinguishable from the cows and from nature. Finally, the buzzards begin to circle around Addie’s unembalmed corpse and to follow her as the coffin travels to Jefferson. The distinction between people and animals is blurred. Anse’s posture is similar to that of a buzzard. The metaphor can be extended to Anse’s character: like a buzzard, he seems to feed off Addie’s death. As her body rots, he appears neater, cleaner, and more alert than when we first met him.

In addition to drawing parallels between his characters and animals, Faulkner borrows some ideas from witchcraft, devil worship, and vampirism to add to the gothic flavor of the novel. Addie is placed in her coffin upside down, an inversion of traditional burial which calls to mind the inverted crosses used as symbols in witchcraft or devil worship. In folklore on witches, animals are important as “familiars.” A witch is often depicted with a cat, bat, or some other animal. In folklore, a witch or devil often takes the shape of an animal. Vardaman’s boring of auger holes into the coffin to permit his mother to breathe recalls tales of vampires who only rest in their coffins. Vampires also need to rest in the soil of their own land. Addie wants to be buried in the soil of her family plot in Jefferson. Adding to this interpretation is how Addie seems to be alive in her casket. Darl remarks that it is as if her body is moving inside the coffin as they carry it. The casket breaks free of their hands and coasts down the hill as if it cannot get away from the Bundren house fast enough. Some folk beliefs include the idea that evil spirits cannot cross a bridge or body of water. The washing out of the bridge, preventing Addie’s body from crossing it, reinforces the notion of Addie as an evil spirit.

Each narrator becomes a much more fully developed character in this section. It is clear that for Anse, Dewey Dell, Vardaman, and Cash, Addie’s death represents an opportunity for satisfying a personal desire, whether it is buying a set of teeth, getting an abortion, finding a toy, or being preoccupied with tools and craftsmanship. Most of Addie’s family members do not seem moved by her death.

Cash’s sole preoccupation is the casket and how well it has been made. He is concerned with beveling the edges of the casket. He also is obsessive in his insistence that the casket be properly balanced on the wagon. One of Cash’s chapters is a simple list of the 13 reasons for building the casket as he has. Dewey Dell does not mourn her mother. She mourns her own lamentable condition of being pregnant and alone. Vardaman, behaving as any child might, looks at the trip as an adventure which offers a shiny toy and exotic fruit at its end. Jewel and Darl are the only ones preoccupied with Addie. Jewel is intent on getting his mother’s body to Jefferson with dignity and fulfilling her wish. Darl challenges Jewel’s obsession by taunting his brother about Addie’s death. He laughs at the absurdity of making the 40-mile trip to Jefferson with an already decaying corpse. Anse calls his laughter disrespect for Addie and remarks that it is Darl’s habit of unprovoked laughter which makes folk consider him odd. Darl’s narratives are the most philosophical, complicated, and confusing sections of the novel. In one passage, in which he describes sleep as “is-not,” it becomes clear that Darl is a thoughtful character whose ideas and concerns are far different from those around him. It is as if he is trying to discover who he is and where his place is in the world. He says, “How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” Darl appears to feel that he is not at home where he is. Indeed, his family members and his neighbors comment on his strangeness as a sort of foreignness. He is like a traveller in another country, trying to make sense out of the words and actions of those he encounters.

A definite tension exists between the grim, violent, and silent Jewel and the omniscient, thoughtful, and peculiar Darl. The tension grows as the journey progresses, and its focal point seems to be Addie’s wish to be buried in Jefferson.

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