Anse Bundren, an ignorant and poor white man. When his wife dies, he is determined to take her body to Jefferson, as he had promised, even though the town is forty miles away. In a rickety old wagon, he and his sons must get across a flooded river that has destroyed most of the nearby bridges. Ostensibly, the shiftless and unlucky man is burying his wife there because of the promise. After a long trip with her unembalmed corpse, now dead more than a week, he arrives in Jefferson, pursued by a flock of buzzards that, like a grim chorus, hang apparently motionless against a sultry Mississippi sky. On reaching Jefferson, his family learns Anse’s true reason for the trip: a set of false teeth and a “duck-shaped woman” whom he marries, to the surprise of his children.
Addie Bundren, Anse’s overworked wife. Though dying, she wants to see her coffin finished. Anse does not know it, but she has always thought him to be only a man of words, and words, she thinks, are useless. Feeling isolated from him and her children, she has always tried to break through the wall of isolation surrounding her, but despairing, she never finds any meaning in her grinding existence. To her, sexual relationship means only violation, whereas, to Anse, it means love. Before her death, she believes her father’s words to be true: “The reason for living was to get ready to stay dead a long time.”
Darl Bundren, Addie’s strange son, thought by his family to be feebleminded. Unlike the others, he seems to have the gift of second sight. Knowing the true reasons why Anse and the others are going to Jefferson, he tries to burn the barn that houses his mother’s body. For this act of attempted purification, his family declares him insane, and he is taken to the asylum at Jackson.
Jewel Bundren, Preacher Whitfield’s illegitimate son. A violent young man, he loves only his horse, which costs him many long hours of labor at night. Although devoted to the animal, he allows Anse to trade it to Snopes for a badly needed team of mules. Like the rest of the Bundrens, he tenaciously hauls his mother on the long, eventful trip, all the while cursing and raging at his brothers. When Darl tries to burn the corpse, it is Jewel who manages to save her body for burial.
Cash Bundren, Anse’s son, a carpenter. While his mother is dying, he busily saws and hammers away at her coffin, just outside her window. Carefully beveling the wood (he hates shoddy work) and showing his mother each board before nailing it in place, he finishes the job shortly after Addie’s death. At the flooded river, he desperately tries to save his treasured tools when the wagon overturns. His leg broken on the trip, he stoically endures the pain, even after his father uses cement to plaster the swollen and infected leg.
Vardaman Bundren, Anse’s son who constantly repeats to himself, “My mother is a fish.”
Dewey Dell Bundren
Dewey Dell Bundren, Anse’s daughter. A well-developed girl of seventeen, she has a reason for going to Jefferson: She is pregnant and wants to buy drugs that she hopes will cause a miscarriage.
Dr. Peabody, a fat, seventy-year-old country doctor. During his long practice, he has ministered to many poor families like the Bundrens. He intends to retire when his unpaid bills reach fifty thousand dollars.
Vernon Tull, Anse’s helpful neighbor. He does what he can to help Bundren on his ghoulish journey.
Cora Tull, Vernon’s fundamentalist wife. Constantly praying and singing hymns, she tries to make Addie repent.
Preacher Whitfield, Addie’s former lover, the father of Jewel.
Much like the Compsons of The Sound and the Fury or the Sutpens of Absalom, Absalom, As I Lay Dying presents a family portrait of the Bundrens. Unlike the multigenerational families in the other novels, the Bundrens are not an aristocratic...
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