Though she is dead for most of the novel, Addie is one of its most important characters, as her unorthodox wish to be buried near her blood relatives rather than with her own family is at the core of the story. Addie, whose voice is expressed through Cora Tull’s memories and through her own brief section in the narrative, appears to be a strong-willed and intelligent woman haunted by a sense of disillusionment. Unable to bring herself to love the coarse, helpless Anse or the children she bears him, Addie sees marital love and motherhood as empty concepts, words that exist solely to fill voids in people’s lives. After she bears a second child to Anse, Addie first expresses her wish to be buried far away, stating her belief that “the reason for living [is] to get ready to stay dead a long time.” The little value she does find in life, from her brief affair with Whitfield and her love for her son Jewel, ends on a morbid note. Jewel treats Addie harshly while she is alive, and only once she is dead does he “save [her] from the water and from the fire,” as she always believed he would. Addie invests her life and energy in a love that finds repayment and comes to fruition only after she is dead.
As a corpse, Addie is equally important to the novel, hindering and dividing her family as much as when she is alive. Many of the incidents after Addie’s death reflect this feeling that some part of Addie is still living. Vardaman drills holes in the coffin so that the dead Addie might have air to breathe, and when Darl and Vardaman listen to the noises of the decomposing body, Darl claims that these sounds are Addie speaking. Even the stench of Addie’s corpse captivates a large audience of strangers. The notion that there is continuity between the articulate human voice of the living Addie and the putrid biological mass that is the dead Addie is among the most emotionally powerful ideas presented in the novel.