As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Jewel Bundren

Because Jewel speaks very few words of his own throughout the novel, he is defined by his actions, as filtered through the eyes of other characters. Jewel’s uncommunicative nature creates a great distance between him and us, and a great deal of room exists for debating the meaning of Jewel’s actions. Darl’s frequent descriptions of Jewel as “wooden” reinforce the image of Jewel as impenetrable to others, and also establish a relationship between Jewel and the wooden coffin that comes to symbolize his mother. Whether or not Jewel returns his mother’s devotion is also debatable—his behavior toward her while she is alive seems callous. Even as Addie lies on her deathbed, Jewel refuses to say good-bye to her, and harshly asserts his independence from her earlier on with his purchase of a horse. Jewel’s actions after Addie’s death show, however, that Jewel does care deeply about her, as he makes great sacrifices to assure the safe passage of her body to her chosen resting place, agreeing even to the sale of his beloved horse. Similarly, Jewel’s cold, rough-spoken behavior toward the rest of his family contrasts sharply with the heroic devotion he demonstrates in his deeds, such as when he searches valiantly for Cash’s tools after the river-crossing and nearly comes to blows with a stranger whom he believes has insulted the family. In general, Jewel is an independent, solitary man of action, and these traits put him in an antagonistic relationship with the introspective Darl.


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