As I Lay Dying Unit 2 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Download As I Lay Dying Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Unit 2 Summary and Analysis

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

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

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1,534 words.)