Last Updated March 24, 2023.
Still far from the Bundren home, Darl continues to describe his family’s reaction to Addie’s death. He explains that the family is up all night finishing the coffin, adding that Cash worked feverishly through rain and darkness. Undeterred by the stormy conditions, Cash asks Anse to get something to cover the lantern and continues to work even though he is soaked through. Despite the cold, he continues sawing, working tranquilly, as though the rain were an illusion.
Anse brings Cash Dewey Dell’s raincoat, but Cash only covers the lantern with it and continues work. The Tulls arrive, dropping off the runaway Vardaman, and Vernon Tull helps Cash finish the coffin. Finally, Cash drives in the last nail, and Anse, Vernon, and Peabody help him carry the coffin inside. Peabody then suggests eating something, but Cash has already gone outside again to clean and put away his tools. Darl thinks about sleep, and the practice of “emptying” yourself to sleep in a strange room.
Cash describes how he made the coffin on the bevel. He did this so that there would be more surface for the nails to grip and so that it would be more difficult for water to seep in. When building a house, the joints are made up-and-down, because people are upright most of the time, but in a bed, the joints are made sideways because a body lying down stresses them sideways. However, the human body is not square. Its “animal magnetism” causes it to slant, meaning that it is neater to make coffins on the bevel.
At ten in the morning, Vernon Tull brings Dr. Peabody’s horses back to the Bundrens’ house. A local farmer called Quick visits, bringing news that the river is high and still rising. Worse, the bridge the Bundrens must take to get to Jefferson has washed out. Anse seems to ignore the news, but Vernon reiterates the unlikelihood of the Bundrens crossing the bridge in time to bury Addie’s body in Jefferson. Another neighbor, Armstid, suggests burying Addie at New Hope instead.
Vernon goes round to the back of the house to find Cash filling up the holes in the lid of Addie’s coffin. When Cash has finished his work, which Vernon says is perfectly tight and neat, they put Addie in the coffin reversed, with her head at the narrow end to avoid crushing her dress. Whitfield, the minister, comes to conduct the funeral. He is covered in mud because the bridge has been destroyed, and he had to cross the river by a ford.
The men discuss the destruction of the bridge, which was built in 1888, and has served the community well ever since. Cash joins the conversation, and they talk about when he broke his leg, which still has not fully healed. The women inside the house start to sing, and Whitfield begins the funeral. On the way home, Cora is still singing; however, she stops singing when she and Vernon see Vardaman fishing in a slough a mile from the Bundrens’ house. Tull tells Vardaman that this is not a good day for fishing, but Vardaman argues that there is a fish in the slough, as Dewey Dell has seen it and told him so.
Looking across the valley, Darl sees buzzards circling. He points them out to Jewel, telling his brother that it is not his horse that is drawing the scavengers. As Darl considers his mother’s death, he tells himself that he cannot love her and rationalizes his thoughts with absurd, stream-of-consciousness ideas about parentage. Eventually, the two brothers return...
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home and learn of Addie’s death. Jewel walks, wooden-faced, into the barn to see his horse, who kicks at him.
The brothers begin to move the coffin, attempting to load it into the family’s wagon. Jewel moves angrily, but Cash asks him to calm down, as the coffin will not balance properly. He attempts to tell Jewel how to functionally move the coffin so that it will balance, but Jewel interrupts him, impatiently demanding he pick it up and stop dilly-dallying.
Jewel is trying to lift the coffin with Cash, Darl, and Anse. He curses at Cash and lifts his side so suddenly that he almost turns it over. His face turns green and he grinds his teeth as they carry the coffin along the hall and down the steps. Cash repeats that the coffin is not balanced and says they will need someone else to help, but Jewel keeps going, leaving Cash behind. Darl tells him to wait, but Jewel rushes on and tries to swing the coffin into the wagon, but he loses his grip, and the coffin goes careening down the hillside.
Eventually, the coffin is loaded into the wagon, and the family prepares to leave. Anse, clean-shaven and uncharacteristically in charge, complains that his children are selfish and lack respect for the dead. Each child, he argues, acts in their own interests alone, a claim that is not especially far from the truth: Cash is worried about his tools and insists on bringing them with him in the wagon; Dewey Dell says she must bring cakes to town for Cora; Vardaman is excited about the toy train; and Jewel refuses to ride in the wagon and instead rides his high-spirited horse. Moreover, Darl is laughing at the absurdity of his surroundings.
However, Anse’s complaints are equally hypocritical; he is excited to go to Jefferson, as he plans to purchase false teeth there, which will considerably improve his quality of life. He asks Jewel to leave the horse in the barn, but Jewel refuses; Darl comments that Jewel’s mother is a horse, and Vardaman adds that his mother is a fish. Confused, the two brothers discuss the nature of being and philosophize on life.