As I Lay Dying Unit 5 Summary and Analysis
by William Faulkner

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Unit 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Gillespie: farmer who lets the Bundrens stay over at his place

Mack: Gillespie’s son

Three negroes: these people who are passed by the Bundren wagon

A white man: person passed by the Bundren wagon; he nearly fights with Jewel

Two officials: lawmen who come to take Darl to the asylum in Jackson because of his burning down Gillespie’s barn

Skeet MacGowan: drugstore clerk in Jefferson

Jody: MacGowan’s friend; another drugstore clerk

Alford: doctor or lawyer mentioned by MacGowan; suggested as someone to whom Dewey Dell might go for help

“The old man”: Jefferson druggist and Skeet’s and Jody’s boss

Mrs. Bundren: a new wife Anse Bundren finds in Jefferson


Darl brings Vardaman out to the apple tree under which Addie’s coffin rests. Darl tells the boy that Addie is talking to God and that she wants Him to hide her from the sight of man so she can “lay down her life.” They hear Addie turn in her coffin. Vardaman keeps repeating that he saw something which Dewey Dell told him not to tell anyone else about. Vardaman and Dewey Dell sleep on the Gillespie porch. The boy is waiting to discover where the buzzards go at night. Darl, Jewel, Gillespie, and his son carry Addie into the barn at night. After they leave, Vardaman goes down by the barn to find the buzzards.

The barn is on fire. The coffin can be seen through the open door of the barn. Jewel, Gillespie, Mack, Anse, Vardaman, and Dewey Dell rush from the house to the fire. Darl is already there. The men pass the coffin and rush to get the cows, mules, and horses out of the barn. Frightened by the flames, the animals must have their heads wrapped in the men’s nightshirts before they will dare to pass through the flames. Once the animals are out, Jewel rushes to go back and rescue Addie’s coffin. Darl tries to stop him, but he is determined to save his mother. Jewel upends the coffin and tumbles it, one end over the other until, covered with flaming embers and smelling of scorched flesh, he and the coffin crash through the barn’s doorway to safety.

They bring Addie’s body back under the apple tree. Cash’s leg is turning black. They have to crack the cast off with a flat iron and a hammer. Gillespie berates them for being so foolish and encasing the leg in concrete. In removing it, Cash loses skin, and the leg bleeds. Jewel’s back has been badly burned, and Dewey Dell puts some medicine on it. Darl is out by the apple tree, lying on his mother’s coffin and crying. Vardaman tells him he need not cry since Jewel got her out of the fire.

Just outside of Jefferson, Dewey Dell asks Anse to stop the wagon so she can go into the bushes. She takes with her the newspaper wrapped package which is supposed to be Cora Tull’s cakes. When she comes out, she is wearing her Sunday best. On the outskirts of Jefferson they pass rows of negro cabins. The wagon passes three black men on the road who recoil in horror and disgust when met with the stench from the wagon. Jewel, angered by their exclamation, curses at them. A white man, ahead of them on the road, thinks Jewel has cursed at him. Darl tries to restrain Jewel, and he notices the man has an open knife in his hand. Darl tells the man Jewel is not himself and gets Jewel to apologize. The wagon drives into Jefferson with Jewel, like a guardian gargoyle, riding the hub of the wheel. As they ride to the town square, citizens are aghast at both the sight and the smell.

It is revealed that Darl set Gillespie’s barn on fire in order to burn Addie’s body. In order to avoid being sued by Gillespie, they plan to have Darl taken away to an insane asylum in Jackson. Jewel suggests that they tie him up so that he will not burn the wagon or the horses. Cash wonders whether Darl is entirely crazy and thinks that it might have been better had Jewel not retrieved Addie’s body from the river. He thinks burning the body might have been a clean way to get it off their hands. Nonetheless, he thinks Darl should not have...

(The entire section is 2,432 words.)