Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1893
New Characters: Samson: distant neighbor to the Bundrens who lets them stay overnight at his barn when they are on their way to Jefferson
MacCallum: distant neighbor to the Bundrens
Rachel: Samson’s wife
Flem Snopes: man who brought a number of wild horses to town; Jewel’s horse is related to...
(The entire section contains 1893 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this As I Lay Dying study guide. You'll get access to all of the As I Lay Dying content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Chapter Summaries
- Critical Essays
- Short-Answer Quizzes
- Teaching Guide
Samson: distant neighbor to the Bundrens who lets them stay overnight at his barn when they are on their way to Jefferson
MacCallum: distant neighbor to the Bundrens
Rachel: Samson’s wife
Flem Snopes: man who brought a number of wild horses to town; Jewel’s horse is related to a Snopes’ horse
Some neighbors and townspeople, watching the Bundren wagon pass, believe that Addie has been buried already and that the Bundrens are just traveling. In attempting to notify them that the bridge is washed out, Quick notices the stench from the wagon and realizes it’s Addie’s corpse. When Quick and Samson both try to convince Anse to bury Addie in nearby New Hope, Dewey Dell becomes frightened that she will not be able to find the doctor or medicine she needs for an abortion. She convinces her father to stick to Addie’s request to be buried in Jefferson. The Bundrens decline Samson’s offer to let them sleep in the house and try to decline eating with their hosts. Samson’s wife, Rachel, is outraged that Anse has been toting Addie’s corpse around for four days. In the morning, after the Bundrens have left the barn, Samson says that he can still smell and sense that death has been there. As he turns to leave, he thinks he sees someone who has been left behind. However, it is a buzzard which slowly exits the barn while watching Samson over his shoulder.
Dewey Dell is afraid that Darl will convince Anse to bury Addie at New Hope. She fantasizes about killing him. Darl taunts both Dewey Dell and Jewel about his ability to convince Anse to stop in New Hope.
Tull finds the family at the river crossing. The bridge is half under water, and Anse sits in his wagon, staring at the situation as if he welcomes hardship. Dewey Dell is vexed. Tull asks Darl’s opinion about attempting to cross the river. He says that Darl looks at people as if he is inside of them and knows everything they are doing. Tull thinks this is why people consider Darl peculiar. When Tull suggests they wait another day to see if the river falls, Jewel tells him to go to hell. He is determined to cross the river. Vardaman, Dewey Dell, and Anse will walk across the bridge, and Tull and the three older boys will lead the wagon across. Tull refuses to use his mule to help cross.
Darl recalls when Jewel was fifteen. He says his brother was getting thinner and falling asleep while working. Addie worried about him, but Anse insisted that he had to help out with the work. Addie prepared extra food for him and sat up by his bed, worrying over him. Cash and Darl thought he was having an affair with some girl or married woman because Jewel began to stay out all night. Dewey Dell does Jewel’s milking and other chores. Five months later, they discovered that Jewel was working an extra job in order to buy a fancy, spotted horse from Quick. Anse was angry at Jewel and acted as if the horse cost the family money. Cash supported Jewel and said it cost them nothing. An angry Jewel told Anse that he would kill the horse rather than feed it from Anse’s store of grain. That night, Addie cried by Jewel’s bed as he slept, and Darl indicates that it was then he knew something about Addie’s relationship to Jewel.
Tull helps Vardaman, Anse, and Dewey Dell across the bridge. He warns them that it would be better to wait another day before crossing; the river might fall enough to make crossing easier. Anse just repeats that he gave Addie his word that he would take her to Jefferson. He will not be swayed. Tull is angry and cannot understand why one more day would matter. He thinks they are more concerned with getting to Jefferson to eat a sack of bananas.
Darl and Cash are on the wagon when they cross the river, while Jewel crosses on his horse. The oaks which used to mark the fording place in the river have been cut down. Jewel goes ahead, on horseback, to feel out the shallowest part for crossing. Vernon Tull, on the bank, waves them farther downstream. They find the ford, but Cash warns them that the coffin is not properly balanced in the wagon. As they attempt to cross, a log rises up and disengages the rope Cash and Jewel were using to lead the wagon across. It overturns the mules and hits the wagon, causing it to rise perpendicular to the current. One mule is hit and dragged under water. Cash tells Darl to jump clear and head for shore. The wagon turns again, and the last thing Darl sees are the mules turning over in the water.
The coffin floats free of the wagon, and those on the bank shout to Darl to catch it. Vardaman believes Darl can get it because he is a good “grabbler.” However, he is surprised to see Darl come up empty-handed from the river.
Cora Tull tells her husband that it was “the hand of God” which overturned the Bundren’s wagon, not a log. Tull describes how Jewel and his horse, Cash and his toolbox, and Addie all went spilling into the river. He is angry at Anse and holds him responsible for putting everyone at risk. Cash, who cannot swim, hangs on to the side of Jewel’s horse and is kicked by the animal and injured. As they pull him out of the water, they can see where the rope is taut, still connected to the wagon under water. A dead and bloated pig floats by them.
Cash is sick from his injury. The others, including Tull, go diving into the river to retrieve his tools. Anse looks on, bemoaning his own misfortune. Anse says it is lucky that Cash has broken the same leg which had been broken from his fall, long ago. Cash says he told them the coffin was not balanced properly.
It becomes more apparent that Anse seems to enjoy all the misfortunes which befall the family while on this trip. He treats each setback or accident as if it were a personal test of his faith or will. Nonetheless, of all the characters, he is the one who does the least amount of work or actual suffering.
It is nearly five days since Addie died. Adding to the indignity of her decomposing body are: the holes in her face; being placed reverse in the coffin; being jumbled up inside from coasting downhill and falling into the river; and being drenched from her fall into the river. She is becoming ghoulish, in a sense. She now has an escort of buzzards following the family on its progress, and the smell of rotting flesh seems to affect everyone except for the Bundrens themselves.
Darl seems determined to prevent Addie from reaching Jefferson. He taunts Jewel and threatens Dewey Dell by making her realize that he can get Anse to bury Addie in New Hope if he suggests it. Darl realizes that Anse’s “sacred” promise to his wife is kept only because it means he will get a new set of teeth. Darl is able to see everyone for what they are. As others have suggested, he is considered peculiar by most folk because of this ability.
It is important, again, to note the language that the characters use. Anse repeats the same phrase or ideas—concerning his misfortunes—over and over. Though he may vary his words somewhat, he never actually says anything else. Anse’s words are empty of meaning. Whereas Cora Tull may believe that she understands what her religious phrases mean, Anse is content to speak without imparting any meaning to his words. When the family arrives at the washed-out bridge, Tull notes that Anse sits in the wagon saying, “I give her my promised word in the presence of the Lord, I reckon it ain’t no need to worry.” However, Tull also notes that Anse does not start the mules. Typically, he waits for others to move to action.
As in an earlier chapter, in which Cash described the steps involved in designing his casket, Faulkner again demonstrates Cash’s single-mindedness by devoting an entire chapter to the casket. After it has toppled off the wagon and into the river, Cash’s chapter reads, “It wasn’t on a balance. I told them that if they wanted it to tote and ride on a balance, they would have to” This chapter is only one and a half sentences long. Faulkner cuts it off in mid-sentence to indicate that Cash has passed out because of his accident. It also shows how, in spite of his accident and the turmoil which everyone had just gone through, Cash remains preoccupied with his handiwork and generally oblivious to the other characters.
The background information on how Jewel purchased his horse, which Darl presents, provides insight on the unusual relationship between Addie and her husband and children. Though Cora had earlier claimed that Darl and his mother shared a special bond, it is clear that Addie has favored Jewel above her other children. She had them cover for him when he was unable to perform his chores, and she has sat by his bed, cooked especially for him, and cried for him. In following these narratives, it is easy to see how people’s perceptions might be incorrect, colored by their own beliefs, or presented according to their own interests. For example, Cash is most concerned with his handiwork. He views Addie’s death in terms of carpentry. Cora’s perceptions are based, in large part, on her religion and beliefs. She assumes that others must view things the same way. Faulkner wants readers to read carefully and to examine the motives and bases for people’s ideas and thoughts.
Darl’s relationship with Jewel is clearly colored by each boy’s relationship with his mother. Darl does not seem to consider Addie his mother, at least not in the usual sense. He is intent on examining the relationships between family members. Darl says that there is some deceitfulness associated with Addie. He is able to see past the superficial and have insight into her character. He is the only one who can look beyond a person’s words or actions and know something about the people around him.
Vardaman’s mother finally does “become a fish” as her coffin floats in the river. The little boy is surprised, however, that Darl has not been able to rescue Addie’s coffin. It is obvious that Darl is as intent to prevent Addie from reaching Jefferson as Jewel is that she get there. The struggle over Addie’s body becomes a metaphor for the struggle over her soul. The struggle between Darl and Jewel can be interpreted as the fight between good and evil. However, it is not entirely clear who is right or wrong or how right or wrong either one might be. Again, Faulkner requires the reader to examine each narrative juxtaposed against one another before arriving at any conclusion.