Last Updated March 24, 2023.
Angered by his brothers’ words and his father’s judgment, Jewel storms away, disappearing into the barn. Dewey Dell gets into the wagon carrying a basket and a square parcel wrapped in newspaper. Anse complains about Jewel’s stubbornness; Cash says that he should be allowed to stay behind if he wants; and Darl thinks he will soon catch up with them. Finally, the wagon begins to move, and the Bundrens set off on their journey, though sans Jewel.
Anse continues to brood over Jewel’s lack of respect for his dead mother, saying that it would not look right for him to be “prancing along on a durn circus animal” while the rest of the family traveled in the wagon. He is even more incensed when Darl begins to laugh, saying that it is actions like this that make people wonder about Darl’s state of mind. He says that although he does not expect his children to show any respect for him, they should think about their mother, whose body is not yet cold. From behind, Jewel approaches the wagon on his horse, and Darl continues laughing.
Vernon Tull watches and waves to the Bundren family, and the wagon creaks slowly onward. Cash says that their mother’s corpse will start to smell in a couple of days and worries that the coffin is not well balanced for a long ride. Darl sarcastically suggests that Cash should tell Jewel both these pieces of information. Jewel passes the wagon after a mile, and his horse kicks mud on the coffin. Cash carefully cleans the mud off.
Anse complains about how hard he has to work and says honest men never profit from their labor. He hopes he will have his reward in heaven, where all men will be equal in the sight of the Lord, though he is upset because it seems like a long time to wait, and he feels deserving of his reward now. At dusk, the Bundrens reach the home of a local farmer named Samson and his wife, Rachel. There was once a bridge near Samson’s house, but the heavy rains and overflowing river have destroyed it as well. Conditions are worsening, but Anse consoles his frustration at their situation with the thought of the new teeth he will get in Jefferson.
Just before sundown, Samson is sitting on his porch with some friends. As they idly watch the rain fall, he sees the Bundren family approaching in their wagon, with Jewel on his horse not far behind. Quick, who attended Addie’s funeral three days before, leaves the porch to talk to the Bundrens and tell them that the bridge has collapsed. The Bundrens deflate, as their journey is once more delayed.
Samson kindly offers the family shelter for the night, and the Bundrens quickly accept his offer to stay in the barn, though Rachel is annoyed by their presence and outraged at how the Bundrens are treating Addie’s body. However, Samson soon regrets his kindness, feeling affronted when Anse refuses to eat supper at his table and wants to pay for the horse’s hay, saying that he has “never been beholden to no man.”
Samson, Rachel, and his friends all think it is an absurd idea to take Addie’s body to Jefferson for burial, and the next morning, Samson does not go downstairs to see the Bundrens before they leave. After the Bundrens leave the barn the next morning, Samson comments that he can still smell that death has been there. As he turns to leave, he imagines he sees someone out of the...
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corner of his eye. The presence he senses is a buzzard, which slowly exits the barn while watching Samson over his shoulder.
The Bundrens are three miles from New Hope, and Dewey Dell finds herself feeling horribly anxious, worried that her father might decide to bury Addie there rather than Jefferson. Moreover, she fears that Darl—who knows her secret—might try to convince Anse to bury Addie there simply to spite her. As she thinks this, her anger builds, and she begins to fantasize about killing him, a sentiment which is only exacerbated when Darl taunts her and Jewel about his ability to convince Anse to stop in New Hope.
Dewey Dell also thinks about Vardaman killing the fish and remembers when she used to sleep in the same bed as her younger brother. Once, she had a nightmare in which she could feel nothing until, finally, she felt the wind blowing over her. The wagon passes the sign for New Hope, and Vardaman asks why they are not going there. Dewey Dell keeps repeating to herself: “I believe in God,” hoping against hope that the doctors in Jefferson can help her.
When he sees the Bundrens in their wagon, Vernon Tull decides to follow them on his mule. They reach the river and see that the bridge has sunk into the water. Dewey Dell says that Whitfield, the minister, managed to cross, but Tull points out that he was on a horse, not in a wagon, and the river has risen five feet since then. Cash thinks they might be able to cross on some floating planks and logs, but Vernon objects that, even if they could, they would not be able to carry anything. He suggests that they should wait for the flood to subside, but the Bundrens are adamant that they will cross the river.
His attempts at pragmatism are ignored entirely, so Vernon asks Darl his opinion about how to move forward, commenting that Darl has a strange way of looking at people; it is as if he is inside of them and knows everything about them. This, Vernon explains, is why people find him peculiar. Darl has no suggestions, so Vernon reiterates his belief that the Bundrens should wait another day to see if the river falls.
Jewel, who is angry with Vernon for following them, sets aside his feelings and asks him if they can use his mule to help draw the wagon through the water, but Vernon flatly refuses to permit this absurd suggestion.
As Jewel sits on his horse, glaring at Vernon, Darl remembers the summer when Jewel was fifteen. He would spend the whole day sleeping, he grew ever thinner, and his work faltered. His siblings were forced to pick up his chores and look after all the animals, and Addie worried daily that her son was ill. She paid the other children to do Jewel’s chores and made him special things to eat, hiding his idleness from Anse as much as she could.
One night, Cash and Darl noticed that Jewel had been out all night and assumed that he was with a girl. However, when Jewel bought a horse from Quick that November, it became clear that he had been working at night to earn money. 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 with Jewel. Anse reproached him for working to buy a horse when there was so much to do on the farm, but Cash argued that it cost the family nothing. Unlike the rest of the family, Vardaman had no opinion and just wanted to ride the horse.