Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2328
Lula: Armstid’s wife
Snopes: a horsetrader; nephew to Flem; sold new mules to the Bundrens after theirs drown
Eustace Grimm: a man who works for Snopes
Moseley: pharmacist in the town of Mottson
Albert: Moseley’s assistant
The Marshal: nameless marshal for the town of Mottson
Suratt: a man who had a talking machine to sell
Grummet: owner of the hardware store in Mottson
Cora relates discussions she had with Addie about sin and salvation. Cora says Addie was never really religious, not even after Brother Whitfield tried so hard to save her soul. Though Addie insists that she has sinned and suffered for it, Cora tells her that she cannot know what sin is. Cora believes Addie’s biggest sin was in preferring Jewel (whom she says never loved her) over Darl (who was touched by God and did love her). When Cora asks her what her salvation will be, Addie responds “He will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me.” Cora realizes Addie does not mean God, but Jewel. She prays for Addie’s soul because she says she has committed sacrilege.
Addie’s narrative informs us that she used to be a schoolteacher. She despised the schoolchildren and looked forward to whipping them so they would be aware of her. She says her father taught her that the reason for living was to prepare to stay dead for a long time.
She says she “took Anse.” She noticed him loitering around the school where she taught, trying to get up the nerve to speak to her. He proposed to her and said he had no relatives. She said she had relatives in Jefferson but that they were all dead. She has never had any other kind.
After they married and she gave birth to Cash, she felt violated and alone. She was angry with Anse and herself for getting pregnant with Darl and made Anse promise to take her back to Jefferson when she died. Addie is preoccupied with the meaninglessness of words. She is disappointed in her marriage, because she does not communicate with Anse. She says that he is dead to her. She has an affair with the preacher, whom she meets in the woods. However, when it is over, she does not miss him. While having the affair, she does not give herself to Anse. When the affair has been over two months, she realizes that she is pregnant with the preacher’s child, Jewel. She says she gave Anse Dewey Dell as a way of negating Jewel. She gave him Vardaman to make up for the child which should have been his. She says that now that Anse has three children which are his, not hers, she can prepare to die. She criticizes people like Cora Tull and says that prayer and salvation are just words to them. They do not understand what the words mean.
Whitfield, in his narrative, reveals that he confessed his sin (adultery) to God on discovering that Addie was dying. He says that God commanded him to correct the sin by asking Anse to forgive him. He journeys to the Bundren house considering how he will confess to Anse and ask his forgiveness. He wants to confess to Anse, because he is afraid Addie might make the confession first, on her deathbed. Whitfield considers the floods and dangers he encounters on the way there to be a test of his intention. Because he forges ahead in the storm, he believes he is in earnest. When Tull’s youngest girl informs him that Addie is already dead, Whitfield praises God and says that her death is proof that God accepted the will for the deed. He no longer believes it is incumbent upon him to confess, especially since Addie did not tell anyone. He enters the house and gives it God’s blessing.
Darl tells us that, in addition to injuring his leg again, Cash also might have been kicked in the stomach by the horse. Armstid offers to put the family up overnight. The soaking of the coffin helped take away some of the stench which had been making people avoid them. Cash is taken into the house to be looked after by the women. Uncle Billy tries to set Cash’s leg until they can get to a doctor.
Anse talks with Armstid about getting another team of mules. Armstid says he is being picky and should think about buying mules from Snopes. Anse has a few drinks of whiskey with Armstid and becomes talkative. Later on, Jewel and Anse plan to strike a deal with Snopes for some mules. Jewel stays behind and lets Anse ride the horse, but he is worried about the animal. The sun has dried the coffin, and the smell becomes unbearable. Armstid sees Vardaman chasing 12 buzzards off the coffin. Jewel, angered by Armstid’s implication that the coffin stinks, insists on moving it. Darl prefers to wait until Anse returns so they can leave. Because Anse is taking so long to strike a deal, and because he has no money or property to trade with, Armstid thinks he may have to offer his own mules to the Bundrens, just to get them to leave. Anse returns, looking both pleased with himself and “hang-dog.” He says he got a team by mortgaging some of his farm implements. However, the family knows they aren’t worth enough for a team. Darl realizes that Anse has stolen eight dollars from Cash’s pocket which Cash had been saving to buy a record player. When the sum is still short, Anse admits to having traded Jewel’s horse. When Jewel bristles at his news, Anse replies that he’s been saving 15 years to buy some teeth. Jewel jumps on his horse and tears off down the road. Armstid thinks he ran away, but they learn he brought the horse to Snopes to seal the trade.
Cash’s leg is in very bad shape. Nevertheless, he insists that they go on. Jewel has not returned to join the family. They hitch up the Snopes’ mules to Armstid’s borrowed wagon and drive on. The buzzards continue to follow.
Dewey Dell visits Moseley’s pharmacy in Mottson. She does not really know what to ask for. Moseley thinks she may be younger than she looks and is suffering menstrual problems for the first time. He thinks she is simply too shy to ask for help. When he finally discovers what she wants from him, he is outraged. He advises her to get her father to get Lafe to marry her. When she tells him that Lafe said ten dollars would be enough to buy the abortion medicine, Moseley becomes angry and says that no one ever said that his drugstore would sell it. After she leaves, Moseley’s assistant, Albert, tells the druggist about the scene the rest of the family made in town that afternoon. He said they stopped to buy cement to fix Cash’s leg. However, the smell from the wagon was so bad that the townsfolk called the marshal. He ordered them to leave before they were charged with violating the public health law. He advises them to get proper care for Cash’s leg. The people are relieved when the wagon finally pulls out of Mottson.
The Bundrens stop to make a cement cast for Cash’s leg. Darl taunts Dewey Dell by mentioning that she must have had more trouble than she expected selling her cakes in Mottson. As they adjust the ropes, splints, and cement on Cash’s leg, they see Jewel come walking up the road. He gets into the wagon, silent.
Vardaman seems glad Jewel has returned. The wagon continues on. Vardaman asks Darl where the buzzards go at night. He plans to stay up that night to watch where they go when the family is in the barn.
Darl asks Jewel, “ . . . whose son are you?” He taunts him about his parents, saying his mother was a horse, but he does not know who his father was. Cash appears feverish. Below the cement cast, his leg and foot are turning bright red. Cash says it feels very hot, so they pour water over the cast to cool his leg. Darl and Vardaman go out to the apple tree where they have put Addie’s coffin for the night. There is a cat lying on the coffin. Darl brings Vardaman to hear Addie talking inside the box, to hear her “little trickling bursts of secret and murmurous bubbling.”
This section gives some background on the relationships in the Bundren family. It is the only chance we get to hear Addie speak and it is interesting that her narrative appears after she has been dead. Its appearance later in the novel reinforces the image of Addie being alive in her coffin, the image of being one of the “living dead.” Addie’s narrative, being sandwiched between the narratives of two “religious” characters, also is significant. From her previous narratives and lines of dialogue, we know that Cora Tull is an unreliable narrator. Her long narrative here proves her to be a shallow and uncomprehending person who merely parrots the religious sentiments she has learned. Cora has no understanding, profound or otherwise, of the words she uses. Whitfield is an even better example. As a preacher, he should definitely practice what he preaches. Whitfield, however, conducts an adulterous affair with a married member of his church, does not recognize their child, and fails to confess and ask forgiveness for his sin. He is both a hypocrite and a coward.
Addie, like her favorite son, seems to be a violent person. She whips her schoolchildren in the same way Jewel whips his horse. It is their way of getting recognition, of making a physical connection with another being. Clearly, Addie and Jewel need the connection to be physical because they both realize that language will not work. Jewel’s language is limited to curses. In beating his horse, he is cruel and loving at the same time. He is trying to get recognition from the animal by using physical feelings instead of words. Addie understands, from her experience with Cora, Whitfield, Anse, and others, that words are not the same as deeds or acts. She says that words “go straight up in a thin line, quick and harmless,” but “doing goes long the earth, clinging to it.” In figurative language, Faulkner has Addie express the inability of words to communicate. She says, “ . . . We had had to use one another by words like spiders dangling by their mouths from a beam, swinging and twisting and never touching, and that only through the blows of the switch could my blood and their blood flow as one stream.” The torturous image of a desperate spider struggling for connection describes Addie’s feeling about language and about relationships. The spider is both vulnerable and horrible, hanging by his thread. Denied that connection, Addie must make others aware of her through the violence of the switch, through a physical joining. Her sinful union with Whitfield is another attempt at communication. However, she sees that has failed her, too.
What is most interesting is that Addie’s narrative, like Darl’s, is thoughtful and philosophical. She has been a teacher, someone whose business is communicating meanings to others. In her narrative, Addie says that even though she is married to Anse, and a mother many times, she is alone. She echoes Darl who also feels out of place, as if he does not have a home.
Addie says that she gave Anse three children, although there are four born to her and Anse. She may not be counting Dewey Dell, whom she said was born to “negative” the illegitimate Jewel. She might also be referring to Darl, whose birth angered her. She says, “Then I found that I had Darl. At first I would not believe it. Then I believed I would kill Anse. It was as though he had tricked me . . ..” Addie’s narrative makes clear that her connection with her children is peculiar. She does not share the typical attributes of motherhood which other characters want to apply to her.
By stealing Cash’s money and Jewel’s horse, Anse avoids using the money he has brought to buy teeth. He claims, as usual, that he suffers most, but as Addie would point out, the words and the actual physical reality do not correspond. When Cash appears worried about having his leg encased in cement, Anse is the one who coerces him into letting them “fix” it. His concern is not so much that Cash is injured, rather, he keeps repeating “we done bought it,” making Cash feel as if his refusing would make him an ingrate. Though Anse says it will be easier on Cash, the fact is that it will be easier on Anse by saving the time and money which he would otherwise have to “waste” by bringing his son to a doctor.
Darl provokes Dewey Dell. Speaking in double entendres, phrases that can be taken two ways, he remarks: “Those cakes will be in fine shape by the time we get to Jefferson.” The implication is that her pregnancy will have advanced. He also knows that she has not secured the medicine from Mottson’s druggist and says, “You had more trouble than you expected, selling those cakes in Mottson.” “Cakes” becomes a metaphor for Dewey Dell’s pregnancy. He repeatedly asks Jewel, “Whose son are you?” It is as if Darl knows about Whitfield and Addie, and he also knows the words which will have the strongest effect on Jewel. Darl uses language in a way that touches others physically. Whereas Anse, Cora, and Cash speak words, Darl speaks meanings.