Dewey Dell is the fourth child and only daughter in the Bundren family, and just like the rest of her siblings, she has her own set of preoccupations which take away from her ability to meaningfully mourn her mother’s death. Through the four sections that Dewey Dell narrates as well as the hints offered in others, the reader learns that she became pregnant at seventeen years old after a brief, secret relationship and, at the time of her mother’s death, desperately wants an abortion. She essentially uses the family’s trip to Jefferson as an opportunity to find a way out of her socially-unacceptable situation, stopping at multiple drugstores along the way. The general lack of responsibility and ignorance that Dewey Dell displays throughout the novel are essentially the result of a subconscious obsession with her newfound sexuality, and losing the only female figure in her life exacerbates the overwhelming nature of her maturation. Without anyone to guide her, Dewey Dell continues to let impulse control her decision making, and she suffers greatly as a result.
While Dewey Dell’s initial description of her interaction with Lafe is rather vague, later sections hint at the naïve and curiosity-driven motivations behind her misguided choices. The third section that Dewey Dell narrates features different visions and dreams that she has, and these images collectively point to her struggle to feel in control of her body. Wondering if she could convince Darl to travel toward New Hope, she first imagines herself sitting naked on the wagon before envisioning herself killing Darl with Vardaman’s fish knife. These visions reflect Dewey Dell’s concerns about power while the nightmare she describes, which includes the sensual image of wind moving “like a piece of cool silk dragging across [her] naked legs,” emphasizes her fear of her developing sexuality. Both of these psychological uncertainties underlie Dewey Dell’s brief and meaningless encounter with Lafe as she allows an old superstition to determine what happens to her body. Her desire to understand her newfound sexuality takes over her decision-making and ultimately causes her more misery through her pregnancy.
The substantial consequences of Dewey Dell’s affair with Lafe, however, fail to make her wiser and instead perpetuate her ignorance. She becomes so preoccupied with the idea of getting an abortion that she cannot cry over her mother’s death, and she lies to everyone about her plans in Jefferson. Most notably, Dewey Dell fails to suspect that MacGowan, the pharmacy boy, is taking advantage of her when he offers her fake abortion pills and lures her into the store basement presumably to rape her. All of these behaviors reflect the tight grip that her sexuality and its consequences have on her frame of mind. By the end of the novel, Dewey Dell’s internal conflict remains unsolved and she remains just as naïve as she was at the start.