Darl, who speaks in nineteen of the novel’s fifty-nine sections, is in many ways its most cerebral character. Darl’s knack for probing analysis and poetic descriptions mean that his voice becomes the closest thing the story offers to a guiding, subjective narrator. Yet it is this same intellectual nature that prevents him from achieving either the flashy heroism of his brother Jewel or the self-sacrificing loyalty of his brother Cash. In fact, it prevents Darl from believing wholeheartedly in the family’s mission. Darl registers his objection to the entire burial outing by apparently abandoning his mother’s coffin during the botched river-crossing, and by setting fire to Gillespie’s barn with the eight-day-old corpse inside.
Another consequence of Darl’s philosophical nature is his alienation from the community around him. According to Cora Tull, people find Darl strange and unsettling. He is also able to understand private things about the lives of the people around him, as he does when he guesses at Dewey Dell’s fling with Lafe or perceives that Anse is not Jewel’s real father. At times, Darl is almost clairvoyant, as evidenced by the scene in which he is able to describe vividly the scene at his mother’s death, even though he and Jewel are far away from the scene when she dies. Other characters alienate Darl for fear that he will get too close to them and their secrets. It is perhaps this fear, more than Darl’s act of arson, that leads his family to have him committed to an insane asylum at the end of the novel—after all, Dewey Dell, who realizes that Darl knows her sordid secret, is the first to restrain him when the officers from the asylum arrive.