Addie Bundren is dying. She lies in a bed in the Bundren farmhouse, looking out the window at her son Cash as he builds the coffin in which she is to be buried. Obsessed with perfection in carpentry, Cash holds up each board for her approval before nailing it in place. Dewey Dell, Addie’s daughter, stands beside the bed, fanning her mother. In another room, Addie’s husband, Anse, and two sons, Darl and Jewel, discuss the boys’ plans to make a trip to sell a wagonload of lumber. Addie wishes to be buried in Jefferson, the town where her relatives lie, and Anse is afraid that the boys might not get back in time to carry her body to the Jefferson graveyard. He finally approves the trip, however, and the boys set out.
Addie dies while the two brothers are gone and before Cash can finish the coffin. When it is obvious that she is dying, Dr. Peabody is summoned, but he comes too late to help the sick woman. Vardaman, the youngest boy, arrives home with a fish he caught, and his mother’s death somehow becomes entangled in his mind with the death of the fish. Because Peabody is there when she dies, Vardaman thinks the doctor killed her.
Meanwhile, a great rainstorm arises. Jewel and Darl are delayed on the road by a broken wagon wheel. Cash works through the rain to finish the coffin. At last it is complete, and Addie is placed in it, but the crazed Vardaman, who once almost smothered in his crib, tries to let his mother out by boring holes through the top of the coffin.
After Jewel and Darl return, neighbors gather at the Bundren house for a funeral service conducted by Whitfield, the minister. Whitfield was once Addie’s lover and fathered Jewel, the son she seemed to favor.
Following the service, the family starts out for Jefferson, but the rainstorm so swells the river that the bridge is damaged and it cannot be crossed by wagon. After trying another bridge, which is also washed out, they drive to an old ford near the first bridge. Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman get across the river on the ruins of the bridge. Darl and...
(The entire section is 848 words.)