Unit 5 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2432

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

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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


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Latest answer posted May 28, 2012, 1:23 am (UTC)

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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 burned someone’s barn.

Darl wants to bring Cash to the doctor’s immediately. Though Anse wants to bury Addie first, he says they have no spade to dig with. When Anse says it will cost money to buy one, Darl asks, “Do you begrudge her it?” Anse wants to borrow a spade and randomly suggests a house at which to stop and ask for one. The sound of a gramophone is coming from the house. Cash feels that Anse has selected this house on purpose. When Darl suggests that he or Jewel could go to the door, Anse says he will go himself. He is in the house a long time, and as he leaves, he waves to a woman at the window.

When they leave the cemetery after Addie’s burial, the men from Jackson jump onto the wagon to subdue Darl. Cash is surprised to see Dewey Dell scratching and beating Darl and to hear Jewel yelling, “Kill him. Kill the son of a bitch.” When Cash realizes that Dewey Dell turned Darl in as the barn burner, he is perplexed. He had always believed that there was a strong bond between the two. Darl looks at Cash and says that he thought he would have told him what they had planned to do. He begins to laugh. Then, he becomes quiet and asks if Cash wants him to go. When Cash replies that it might be better for him, Darl starts laughing uncontrollably.

Peabody, annoyed at what the family has done to Cash’s leg, tells him he will be lucky if he ever walks again. He says they could have fixed him better by sawing off his leg at the local mill. He warns Cash that he will have a limp, if he ever is able to walk again. Cash, stoic as ever, responds that it does not hurt much and that, as his father said, it is lucky he broke the same leg which was broken before.

Dewey Dell, in her best clothes, tries to find help from a Jefferson druggist. In the drugstore, she is fooled into thinking that the clerk is a doctor. MacGowan tells his friend, Jody, to watch out for the real druggist while he tries to wheedle Dewey Dell into having sex with him. MacGowan realizes she is inexperienced and naive. He gives her some innocuous mixture to drink and tells her to come back that night for the rest of the cure. In the evening, he gives her some capsules filled with talcum powder and then tells her that to reverse the pregnancy she must have sex again. He leads her to the cellar for her “cure.” On her way back to the hotel, Dewey Dell begins to realize she has been duped. She tells Vardaman, who has accompanied her, that they will have to slip back into their hotel so no one will notice that they were gone.

In his last narrative, Darl speaks of himself in the third person. He describes sitting on the train to Jackson, between the two attendants who have taken him away. Darl has become incoherent and either laughs or repeatedly mumbles aloud “Yes, yes, yes, . . ..”

After stealing Cash’s eight dollars and selling Jewel’s horse, Anse is still in need of money. Finding the ten dollars Lafe gave Dewey Dell for the abortion, he takes it from her. She tells him it is not hers to give. She says it belongs to Cora Tull, that it was loaned to her to buy something. Anse, crying ingratitude and misfortune, takes the money from Dewey Dell.

Before they return the borrowed spades, Jewel wants to take Cash to Peabody’s. Anse wants to return the spades first. Jewel says he or Vardaman could do it quicker, but Anse wants to return them in person. When the spades are returned, Cash goes to the doctor. Anse says he has errands to run and returns clean-shaven and spruced up. He asks if there is any more money and tells them to wait at the corner for him. When he returns, he is carrying a suitcase and looks different to them. Then they realize that he has bought his teeth and is wearing them. He is accompanied by the “duck-shaped woman” with the “hard-looking pop eyes.” It is her gramophone he carries. Cash thinks that Darl would have enjoyed the music. However, he knows that it is best for Darl to be in Jackson since “this world is not his world.” The family is shocked when Anse introduces this woman as the new Mrs. Bundren.

Darl’s attempts to prevent the family from carrying Addie to Jefferson have failed. He tries to explain to Vardaman that Addie should rest in peace and, when he says she wishes to “lay down her life,” Darl implies that she wants to die. He treats her as if she is still alive. When he and Vardaman listen to her moving and mumbling in her coffin, he tells Vardaman, “She’s talking to God. She is calling on Him to help her.” Darl appears to believe that Addie needs to be saved. Returning to the gothic theme, it is as if she is possessed and that stopping the trip to Jefferson would somehow save her soul. He says to Vardaman that she wants to hide from the sight of man “so she can lay down her life.” The theme of the vampire, desperate to return to rest in its own earth lest it die, is reflected here. If Darl can prevent Addie’s burial in her family plot, she finally will be able to rest in peace,“lay down her life.”

Darl does not try to help Jewel rescue Addie’s coffin from the fire. It is obvious that he wants her to burn in the barn. Jewel knows this and risks his own life to get Addie out of the barn. When Jewel first enters the burning building, he stops at the coffin and Darl tells him to go save the horses. Jewel realizes that Darl knows the living animals will be everyone’s first priority and glares at his brother. Darl is thwarted, however, when Jewel escapes his grasp and runs back into the barn to rescue Addie after all the animals have been saved. The unsuccessful Darl cries on the scorched casket while the uncomprehending Vardaman consoles him, “You needn’t to cry. Jewel got her out. You needn’t to cry Darl.”

As Addie had indicated to Cora before her death, “He [Jewel] is my cross and he will be my salvation. He will save me from the water and from the fire. Even though I have laid down my life, he will save me.” Addie’s prophecy has come true. Darl, the child Cora says was “Touched by God Himself,” has been defeated by Addie and Jewel. The child whose language refers to Hell and damnation has been the one to win his mother’s soul for her. The child who was touched by God has lost his reason and has been condemned to live his life in an asylum.

In order to prevent Darl from telling what he knows about her, Dewey Dell has turned her brother in to the authorities for burning the Gillespie barn. Because people consider him strange anyway, the family arranges to have him taken to an asylum rather than a jail. Jewel, watching Dewey Dell and the officials wrestle Darl to the ground, shouts to them to kill Darl. It is as if Jewel wants to exact some personal revenge for the obstacles which Darl had presented along the journey. The conflict between the brothers has come to a head and Jewel has won. Darl, restrained by the authorities, is reduced to uncontrolled laughter or idiotic ramblings. His uncanny ability to see into people has left him. He can no longer recognize even himself, and he speaks of “Darl” as if he were a separate person.

Though the story has these highly tragic and horrific aspects, the dark comic potential of Anse cannot be overlooked. In many ways, Anse is similar to the kind of cartoon character who causes disaster wherever he goes, yet manages to come out of the situation unscathed. He is an exasperating, irritating, and annoyingly successful character.

Throughout the entire novel, Anse avoids pain, indignity, death, and sacrifice. His family members suffer death, mutilation, and physical and psychological pain. They surrender their money, their freedom, and their desires. They go through fires and floods. They do all this with little or no complaint. Anse, the chronic whiner, never lifts a finger to help, to work, to console, or to sweat. It is ironic that the man who said that working and sweating would make him die is able to accomplish so much in so little time once they get to Jefferson. They are there barely two days and Anse manages to get the money, the girl, and the teeth.

As I Lay Dying can be read a number of ways. Addie can be viewed as a malevolent force; or, she can be seen as one of the few admirable characters who are aware that deeds are more important than words. The novel is a tragedy, a comedy, a parable, a philosophical work, and a horror tale. It is no accident that it can fit so many interpretations. It follows Faulkner’s multiple narrative pattern by providing many ways of looking for truth. It also demonstrates the difficulty of filtering through all that we see and hear in order to arrive at truth. The novel moves back and forth in time allowing many of the narratives to overlap at points. This provides us with different views of the same situation. However, it also confuses the timeline. Faulkner’s novel is unsettling because it puts the reader off center. His jumbled historical (chronological) events, inaccurate language, and differing points of view are intentional. These are designed to raise questions, to make people think, and to indicate the difficulty in knowing what is true.

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Unit 4 Summary and Analysis