As I Lay Dying
From Addie’s funeral to Anse’s complaint
“Why?” Darl said. “If pa is your pa, why does your ma have to be a horse just because Jewel’s is?”
Tull returns to the Bundren household with Peabody’s team at ten the next morning. He discusses the high level of the river with two local farmers, Quick and Armstid. Anse comes to the door and greets them. The women go into the house while the men talk on the porch. Tull goes behind the house, where Cash is plugging up the holes Vardaman made in the coffin. The family has laid Addie into the coffin backward to accommodate the flared bottom of her wedding dress, with her feet in place at the head end, and there is a mosquito net over her face to mask the drilled holes.
Whitfield, the minister, arrives to perform the funeral as Tull is about to leave, and announces that the bridge has been washed away. The group discusses Addie’s desire to be buried in Jefferson, and notes Anse’s dedication to getting her body there. Cash and Tull talk about how Cash broke his leg falling from the top of a church on which he was working. Inside, the women begin to sing, and Whitfield starts the service. The men stay outside on the porch throughout the service. As they leave, Cora is still singing. On the way home, she and Tull see Vardaman fishing in a bog. When Tull tells him there are no fish in the bog, Vardaman insists that Dewey Dell has seen one.
An accident has caused Darl and Jewel to be delayed for a few days, and as they approach the house, Darl sardonically reassures Jewel that the buzzards flying overhead do not mean that Jewel’s horse is dead. Jewel curses Darl furiously, and Darl reflects that although he cannot be upset by his mother’s death, as she no longer exists, Jewel’s mother is a horse.
In a short burst of dialogue that is not actually credited to either speaker, Cash tries to explain to Jewel why the coffin will not balance, while Jewel curses at him to pick up the coffin regardless.
Anse, Cash, Darl, and Jewel lift the coffin and carry it out of the house, while Jewel curses them all. Cash reiterates his reservation about the coffin being unbalanced, but Jewel continues to push forward, leaving Cash to hobble after the rest of the group. Jewel almost single-handedly muscles the coffin into the wagon bed, and then curses again out loud.
Vardaman is preparing to go to Jefferson with the rest of the family. Jewel heads for the barn, and when Anse calls after him, Jewel does not respond. After Darl states that Jewel’s mother is a horse, Vardaman wonders if that means his mother is a horse too, but Darl assures him otherwise. Cash brings his toolbox so he can work on Tull’s place on the way back, which Anse says is disrespectful. Anse becomes even more indignant when Dewey Dell brings a package of Mrs. Tull’s cakes to deliver to town.
Darl is standing with Anse when Jewel passes them, heading for the barn. Anse remarks to Darl that Jewel is disrespectful for not coming with them to bury the body. Cash proposes that they leave Jewel behind. Darl says that Jewel will catch up to them, and he sets out with the rest of the family in the wagon, which bears the coffin.
Anse frets that Jewel lacks respect, even for his dead mother, and Darl begins to laugh in response. The wagon has just passed Tull’s lane, and, just as Darl has predicted, Jewel approaches swiftly behind them on the back of his horse.
Darl sees Jewel approaching. The group passes Tull, who waves at them. Cash notes that the corpse will begin to smell in a few days, and that the coffin is still unbalanced. Darl proposes that Cash mention these observations to Jewel. A mile later, Jewel passes the wagon without acknowledgment. As Jewel passes them, his horse’s hooves kick up a spot of mud on the coffin, which Cash diligently scours off.
Anse reflects on how unfair the life of the farmer is, and reflects on the reward he expects in heaven. The family drives all day and reaches the farm of a man named Samson just before dark, only to find that torrential rains have caused the rivers to swell and flood the bridges. Anse takes comfort in the fact that he will be getting a new set of teeth.
The Bundren children show their grief in quite disparate ways, but these reactions can be broken into two rudimentary categories: physical and mental. Darl lives entirely in the realm of the mind, and almost never expresses emotion. He is so bent on rationalizing events that he refuses to acknowledge that his mother even exists anymore. Dewey Dell finds herself similarly lost in thought, although she appears to place the loss of her mother completely second to her own fears and sexual longings. In fact, for Dewey Dell, the possibility that a life is lurking inside her is more frightening than the idea of death. Cash, on the other hand, lives in a world that is entirely physical. He copes with, or ignores, the death of his mother by absorbing himself in the construction of her coffin. This fixation with building does not stop when the coffin is finished, and we see Cash fretting over the imbalance of the coffin and bringing his toolbox to the funeral. Cash’s manner throughout the turmoil of Addie’s death is incredibly deliberate, and it seems fitting that he acquires a limp, the perfect physical complement to his slow, stunted approach to all things emotional.
Vardaman and Jewel, however, come close to finding a middle ground between these extremes. Jewel’s reaction to Addie’s death is highly emotional. He almost single-handedly muscles the coffin into the wagon, and loudly curses his various siblings—actions that indicate a very strong physical and mental reaction. Moreover, Jewel displays great determination in refusing to ride with his family and in the speed with which he rushes by the rest of the Bundrens on his horse. Darl’s equation of Jewel’s mother with a horse certainly parallels the thinking of Vardaman, who tries to cope with the complexities of what his mother’s death means to him. Vardaman’s reactions are largely mental efforts, but his earlier beating of Peabody’s horses, and the fact that he returns to the bog to catch another fish, demonstrate that he too reacts to things on a physical level. If the siblings’ reactions do find common ground, it is because each singles out one object or issue through which to filter Addie’s death: Darl with questions of existence, Jewel with horses, Vardaman with fish, Cash with his carpentry, and Dewey Dell with her sexuality.
The Bundrens’ tendency to translate Addie’s death into a different preoccupation reflects the work of the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud and his theory of sublimation. At the end of the 1920s, as Faulkner composed As I Lay Dying, Freud’s ideas about the subconscious anxieties of man were becoming quite popular. One of Freud’s most pivotal theories is that a great deal of the psyche is unconscious, and that much of what goes on in the human mind cannot be accessed simply by thinking about it. According to Freud, a severe emotional trauma, such as the death of a loved one, affects the unconscious part of one’s mind in ways that are not immediately apparent to the conscious part. Equally relevant to interpreting As I Lay Dying is Freud’s theory of sublimation, which he described as the process by which frustrated sexual energies are transformed into more socially acceptable behaviors. Though the Bundrens, with the exception of Dewey Dell, are not trying to cope with sexuality, they are trying to cope with their grief, and they deal with it by voicing strong opinions on other matters—a clear example of sublimation.
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