Last Updated on March 24, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1217
Anse complains about the road, the rain, and his sons. He says it is bad luck to live beside a road because God put roads on the earth for people to travel, not to settle down. He blames Addie’s sickness on the road and pities himself because he is old, toothless, and poor.
Although Anse does not say that he is cursed, as he thinks he has done nothing to merit the wrath of God, he does resent what he sees as his bad luck. As he muses angrily on the state of his life, Anse sees Vardaman coming round the house covered in blood, having poorly chopped up the fish he caught. Vardaman asks if Addie is still sick, but Anse, at his wit’s end, just tells him to go and wash his hands.
Along the way, as they complete their errand, Darl seems to taunt Jewel, mockingly asking his brother if he knows Addie is going to die. Darl also recalls the moment of confrontation between him and Dewey Dell, remembering how he accused her of wishing for Addie to die so that she could go to Jefferson and find someone to help her terminate her pregnancy. Outraged both at his accusation and his knowledge of her pregnancy, Dewey Dell asked Darl if he planned to tell Anse about her pregnancy or kill Lafe. Thinking of his family and their dysfunction, he sees the sun turn red and the light turn the color of copper and again asks Jewel if he knows that Addie is going to die.
As Addie shows signs of worsening, Anse finally sends for Dr. Peabody, a seventy-year-old local doctor who weighs over two-hundred pounds and finds it difficult to traverse the path up to the Bundrens’ house. Even from the bottom of the bluff, he can hear the sound of Cash’s saw. Vardaman helps Peabody up the bluff with a rope, and when the doctor arrives he realizes that Addie is essentially dead already. She is gaunt and motionless, and her bones look like rotten sticks under the quilt.
Speaking to Anse outside of Addie’s room, Peabody asks him why he did not send for him sooner, but Anse guiltily evades the question. To himself, Peabody wonders if it would be right to cure her just to make her continue living with Anse. Dewey Dell worriedly calls them into the room, and Peabody can tell right away that Addie is soon to die; however, her intense stare speaks volumes, and he leaves, knowing that he is not wanted. As he walks out onto the porch, he hears the dying woman call out Cash’s name.
Although he is far from Addie’s room, Darl imagines the scene. In his mind’s eye, he sees Dewey Dell telling Anse that Addie wants to see Jewel and watches as Anse haltingly explains that Jewel is not there. He observes as Addie calls weakly for Cash, who, in the dimming evening light, is still working on the coffin, and sees Cash look sadly up into his mother’s window. As he imagines Dewey Dell throwing herself onto the bed as Addie draws her last breath, he hears Anse curse his missing sons.
Still envisioning the scene, Darl watches as Cash enters the room, and Anse asks how soon he will finish the coffin and whether he needs any help. Cash, who is not listening to his father, stares into his mother’s peaceful face. After a long, quiet moment, he leaves the room and resumes his work on the coffin. Anse tells Dewey Dell to make supper...
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and stands over the bed of his dead wife, clumsily trying to smooth the quilt. Darl, working far from the Bundren home with Jewel, says to his brother, “She is dead, Jewel. Addie Bundren is dead.”
As Dewey Dell cries out at Addie’s death, Vardaman runs out to the porch, where he left the fish he caught. He is sobbing, shouting to all who will listen that Peabody killed his mother, as he thinks Addie was alright before the doctor arrives. His yelling frightens the horses, and he strikes them when they buck. When he sees one of the family cows nearby, says that he is not going to milk her, as he refuses to do anything for his family any longer. Vardaman remains outside the house, crying quietly, until it grows dark.
As she copes with Addie’s death, Dewey Dell refocuses her thoughts on her own circumstances, considering her pregnancy, her brief relationship with Lafe, and the fact that, ultimately, everyone is fundamentally alone, no matter how close to others they may seem. She begins making supper: a dish of greens and a pan of bread. As she does, Cash comes into the kitchen, asks after Vardaman’s whereabouts, and tells her that the horses have bolted.
When Dewey Dell serves supper, Cash asks why they are not eating the fish Vardaman caught, and Dewey Dell says that she did not have time to cook it. Anse complains about eating plain turnip greens and bitterly bemoans the lackluster dinner.
Later, Dewey Dell goes out to the barn, thinking about Lafe and repeating his name to herself. There, she eventually finds Vardaman, who is hiding and still crying, claiming that Peabody killed their mother. Dewey Dell tells him to go inside and have supper, then thinks to herself about how the doctor might help her if he knew about her pregnancy.
The entire affair has rattled Vardaman, and the notion of Addie’s coffin being nailed shut and buried deep beneath the earth upsets him greatly. At the same time, he struggles to understand that the dead woman in Addie’s bed—who lies still and pale, soon to be interred—is his mother; in his eyes, she is an imposter.
Dewey Dell attempts to soothe her upset younger brother by telling him about all the lovely things he might see in Jefferson, including bananas and a fire-engine-red train set in a shop window. His mother’s body still reminds him of the fish he caught, chopped up and laying in a pan in the kitchen, waiting to be cooked, but he grows to see the journey as an exciting adventure.
Near midnight, with a storm brewing, Vernon and Cora find Peabody’s runaway horses outside their house. Cora says that Addie Bundren must be dead at last, though Vernon retorts that Peabody could have been visiting any one of a dozen houses in the neighborhood. Later, Vardaman turns up on their doorstep, looking “like a drowned puppy.” Vernon thinks of the misfortunes of the Bundren family and is thankful that he has a good Christian wife in Cora.
The Tulls take Vardaman back home, and Vernon helps to nail Addie’s coffin shut. Vardaman, who constantly worried that Addie was not getting enough fresh air and always opened the windows in her room to let in the breeze, bores breathing holes into the coffin. However, when they take the lid off to prepare Addie’s body, they notice that two of the holes have bored into Addie’s face, one of many indignities that her body will face in death.