As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Addie Bundren

Maybe it will reveal her blindness to her, laying there at the mercy and the ministration of four men and a tom-boy girl. “There’s not a women in this section could ever bake with Addie Bundren,” I say. . . . Under the quilt she makes no more than a hump than a rail would, and the only way you can tell she is breathing is by the sound of the mattress shucks.

In the first section of the novel, Cora provides several details about Addie Bundren. Here, Cora comments on Addie’s strong baking ability prior to getting sick, symbolizing Addie’s wifely skills. She continues on to describe Addie’s deteriorated physical state, making clear that Addie is dying. At the same time, Cora judges the poor care that Addie gets from her family, setting up the family’s dysfunction.

She lived, a lonely woman, lonely with her pride, trying to make folks believe different, hiding the fact that they just suffered her, because she was not cold in her coffin before they were carting her forty miles away to bury her, flouting the will of God to do it. Refusing to let her lie in the same earth with those Bundrens. “But she wanted to go,” Mr. Tull said. “It was her own wish to lie among her people.”

Cora gives her impressions of Addie Bundren’s true character as a lonely woman whose family only brought her suffering. Cora recognizes how Addie truly felt during life, alone and trapped in her situation. Cora also gives her view of the Bundrens’ decision to bring Addie’s coffin to Jefferson so quickly and despite the challenges they faced. Despite Mr. Tull’s explanation, Cora clearly questions the idea that Addie actually requested such a move.

She would fix him special things to eat and hide them for him. And that may have been when I first found it out, that Addie Bundren should be hiding anything she did, who had tried to teach us that deceit was such that, in a world where it was, nothing else could be very bad or very important, not even poverty. And at times when I went in to go to bed she would be sitting in the dark by Jewel where he was asleep . . . hating herself for that deceit and hating Jewel because she had to love him so that she had to act the deceit.

As the Bundrens prepare for the river crossing, Darl’s narration flashes back to an earlier time. Here, Darl describes how Addie Bundren favored Jewel, often giving him special treatment. He also explains how this special treatment signified her deceit as she displayed an inner struggle regarding Jewel and how he came to be. While Addie favored Jewel, Darl’s narration displays his strong connection with his mother as he seems to intrinsically understand her thinking.

That night I found ma sitting beside the bed where he was sleeping, in the dark. She cried hard, maybe because she had to cry so quiet; maybe because she felt the same way about tears she did about deceit, hating herself for doing it, hating him because she had to. And then I knew that I knew.

Darl’s narration describing how Jewel deceptively worked to buy his horse reveals a great deal about Addie Bundren. In these lines, Darl describes Addie’s reaction upon finding out about Jewel’s deceit. Darl explains how he found her crying looking over a sleeping Jewel. Once again, he is able to understand her emotions and explains how Addie Bundren blames her own treachery for causing Jewel’s deceptive ways.

She had never been pure religious . . . She has had a hard life, but so does every woman. But you’d think from the way she talked that she knew more about sin and salvation than the Lord God Himself . . . When the only sin she ever committed was being partial to Jewel that never loved her and was its own punishment, in preference to Darl that was touched by God Himself and considered queer by us mortals and that did love her.

Cora remembers a conversation that she had with Addie Bundren about religion in which she criticized Addie for the way she approaches God and judgment. In these lines, Cora reveals Addie’s individual approach to religion, infuriating Cora as Addie seems more driven by her love for Jewel than her love for God. Again, Cora’s judgments of Addie Bundren reveal Addie as a tough, independent character.

In the afternoon when school was out and the last one had left with his little dirty snuffling nose, instead of going home I would go down the hill to the spring where I could be quiet and hate them. . . . And when I would have to look at them day after day, each with his and her secret and selfish thought . . . and think that this seemed to be the only way I could get ready to stay dead, I would hate my father for having ever planted me.

When Addie finally narrates a chapter, she describes her hateful feelings toward the children she taught before getting married. Through this description, Addie reveals her obvious frustration with the few life choices that women have in her society. Additionally, Addie exposes her basic dislike of children in general as she uses words like hate, dirty, and selfish to describe her former students.

When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not. I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride . . . I knew that it had been, not that my aloneness had to be violated over and over each day, but that it had never been violated until Cash came. Not even by Anse in the nights.

In Addie’s narration, she discusses the use of language or words to describe experiences and emotions that only those who have had them can truly understand. Addie questions this language, saying that the words appear to be inadequate for what they actually mean. She continues to share how Cash’s birth violated her independence more than anything she had ever experienced, clarifying that the word motherhood inadequately defines its reality.

Then I found that I had Darl. At first I would not believe it. Then I believed that I would kill Anse. It was as though he had tricked me . . . But then I realized that I had been tricked by words older than Anse or love, and that the same word had tricked Anse too, and that my revenge would be that he would never know I was taking revenge. And when Darl was born I asked Anse to promise to take me back to Jefferson when I died, because I knew that father had been right[.]

In Addie Bundren’s narration, she outlines her relationship with Anse and how her role as wife and mother only made her feel trapped in a life she never desired. She even declares that her request to be buried in Jefferson serves as her way of getting revenge. Addie also examines her feelings toward the role of women in her society, connecting her understanding and experience all to what her father said about living to prepare for her coming death.

He did not know that he was dead, then. Sometimes I would lie by him in the dark, hearing the land that was now of my blood and flesh, and I would think: Anse. Why Anse. Why are you Anse. I would think about his name until after a while I could see the word as a shape, a vessel, and I would watch him liquefy and flow into it like cold molasses flowing motionless . . .

As Addie Bundren describes her own sense of mortality during life, she describes how she questioned the idea of existence. These lines show how Addie viewed Anse as their dysfunctional marriage continued, seeing him as “dead” and as a shape without meaning. The raw honesty of these descriptions defines Addie’s obvious disdain for her life and how she felt nothing toward Anse, as if he didn’t exist to her.

While I waited for him in the woods, waiting for him before he saw me, I would think of him as dressed in sin. I would think of him as thinking of me as dressed also in sin, he the more beautiful since the garment which he had exchanged for sin was sanctified. I would think of the sin as garments which we would remove in order to shape and coerce the terrible blood to the forlorn echo of the dead word high in the air.

As Addie Bundren’s section ends, she reveals the affair she had with an ordained minister, Whitfield, and how the experience only furthered her disillusionment of religion. Here she describes waiting for Whitfield, the passion she felt but also a recognition of the greater sin he was committing because of his supposed virtuousness. Addie’s details of the affair explain a lot about her character, why she favors Jewel, and her feelings toward religion.