As I Lay Dying
From the night at Samson’s to the bridge-crossing
On a farmstead some distance away from the Bundren household, Samson is sitting on his porch with two friends, MacCallum and Quick, when he sees the Bundrens pass by. Quick catches up to them to inform them that the bridge has washed away. The Bundrens return to Samson’s, and Samson offers to put them up for the evening. The Bundrens accept, but refuse an offer of supper and sleep in the barn. Samson’s wife, Rachel, considers it an “outrage” that the Bundrens are dragging Addie’s coffin through the countryside and tearfully berates Samson. In the morning, Samson purposefully stays in bed until the Bundrens have gone on.
As the family turns back to find a new way of crossing the river, Dewey Dell thinks of her dead mother and of her relationships with the men in her family. She recalls a nightmare she had when she used to share a bed with Vardaman. In the nightmare, she was neither able to see nor to feel, then she suddenly felt an unidentified “them” beneath her, “like a piece of cool silk dragged across my legs.” Instead of turning into the town of New Hope, the family goes back past Tull’s lane again, and again Tull waves at the passing Bundrens.
Tull takes his mule out to follow the wagon, and catches up with it down by the levee. The Bundrens stand at the river’s edge, staring at the washed-out bridge and contemplating a crossing. Tull feels them all looking at him with varying degrees of hostility: Dewey Dell as if Tull had tried to touch her, Darl with his curious coolness, Cash with the appraising eyes of a carpenter, and Jewel with an overt glare. Jewel lashes out at Tull for following them down to the river, but Cash hushes him, and says some of them should use the bridge to wade across while the others drive the wagon through the shallower part of the river. Tull refuses to let them use his mule, and though both Jewel and Darl reproach him for it, Tull stands by this decision.
Darl sees Jewel glare at Tull. Darl recalls a time during Jewel’s teenage years when Jewel began falling asleep regularly during the day. He remembers how Addie used to cover up Jewel’s mistakes, and how his siblings quietly took over his chores. Initially, Cash and Darl suspected that Jewel was spending his nights with a married woman. One night, Cash trailed Jewel on his midnight run, but refused to reveal Jewel’s secret. A few months later, when Jewel came home on a new horse that he had purchased from Quick, it was revealed that he had been spending his nights clearing land by the light of a lantern in order to get the money. Anse became angry with Jewel, but Jewel countered that his horse would not eat a single grain of Anse’s food. Later that night, Darl remembers, he found Addie crying beside Jewel, who was asleep in bed.
Tull accompanies Anse, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman on a treacherous crossing of the sunken bridge. They get to the other side, with Tull holding on to Vardaman’s hand to make sure he gets across safely. Once they are across, Anse explains to Tull that he is trying to fulfill Addie’s promise. They go to meet the wagon, which is crossing farther down the river.
This section uses gestures, particularly looks, to chronicle the interactions between the different characters. The most obvious example occurs with Tull’s arrival at the river’s edge, where he finds himself being stared at in very different ways by the various Bundren children. In these stares, we find a confirmation of the character traits we have seen before, and it is interesting that Tull should see sexual resentment in Dewey Dell’s eyes. Clearly, Dewey Dell’s suspicions are, to a certain extent, groundless, as Tull never even mentions her appearance, let alone any sexual desire for her. Dewey Dell’s fixation with sex, however, may come not only from her experience with Lafe or her fierce reliance on Peabody, but also from her stifling existence as the sole woman in an all-male family after Addie’s death. Dewey Dell’s dream as she lies next to Vardaman certainly demonstrates a sense of repression, as she finds herself unable to see or feel, but then gives way to an explosive sexuality as she finds an unnamed tangle of men beneath her. There is no real indication that the Bundren household is incestuous, and Dewey Dell’s “they” might well be Lafe and Peabody, but this episode, and her glaring at Tull, certainly indicate that Dewey Dell cannot help but feel sexuality all around her.
Jewel’s character is likewise further revealed, and his fierce independence confirmed, through his stare. We see Jewel rant earlier in the novel about the interference of the Tull women, but his rants against Tull show how strongly he believes that Addie’s death is a private affair. This autonomy is called into question when it appears necessary for the family to use Tull’s mule to cross the river. But Jewel transforms this apparent need to depend on Tull into an act of independence, as he offers to buy the beast on the spot. Tull’s observes that Jewel’s eyes “look like pieces of a broken plate” as he offers to buy the mule, and this angry glare is as indicative of Jewel’s torn and grieving state as it is of his hatred for Tull.
Darl, on the other hand, is enigmatic, and his gaze supports this air of mystery. Dewey Dell, so good at spotting sexual desire in everyone else’s eyes, feels threatened by Darl because his stare is completely lacking in lust, and she cannot understand him. She remarks that “the land runs out of Darl’s eyes,” suggesting that Darl has an overarching power to observe, process, and explain the environment around him. As Tull arrives at the river’s edge to help the Bundrens with the crossing, he too is paralyzed by Darl. Tull remarks that the intensity of Darl’s gaze makes it seem “[l]ike somehow you was looking at yourself and your doings outen his eyes.” In this fictional world, where characters are wrapped up in their own thoughts and communicate very little with each other, Darl’s ability to look inside others’ hearts is perceived as a powerful threat. Each character treasures his or her secrets and hidden desires, and is troubled by, and resentful of, this glance that seems to lay them all bare.
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