Vardaman Bundren is the youngest child of the Bundren family, and the ten sections that he narrates reflect the impact that his age has on his ability to understand the series of tragic events that unfold around him. While he does not necessarily have a selfish, ulterior motive regarding their journey to Jefferson, Vardaman does aim to make sense of his mother’s death and the circumstances surrounding it. This innate curiosity about what it means to be alive has similarities to Darl’s intellectual discussions about existence, a connection which Faulkner emphasizes by placing a number of their chapters next to each other. The age difference between these two brothers, however, is rather significant and impacts the way in which Vardaman expresses his ideas about the world around him. His narrative sections are rather disjointed and sometimes incoherent, qualities which reflect his youthful innocence. While Vardaman does attempt to tackle some significant existential questions throughout the novel, his often shortsighted behavior emphasizes to the reader that, above all else, he is a helpless child.
One of the most notable ways in which Vardaman attempts to process Addie’s death involves comparing her to a fish, an approach which enables him to connect the broad concept of existence to something real and tangible. At the beginning of the novel, Vardaman proudly returns home with a large fish that he wants to show to his mother, but Anse instructs him to clean the fish so the family can eat it. This process of transforming the fish from a live creature into a home-cooked meal, or a “not-fish,” becomes the lens through which he understands Addie’s death. Like the fish, she is alive one moment and gone the next, and Vardaman comes to believe that Addie’s corpse is not her at all but rather a completely different figure. Making this distinction allows Vardaman to cope with his mother’s death and the chaotic events that occur on their way to Jefferson, the mantra “My mother is a fish” appearing repeatedly throughout.
Despite the conceptual nature of his attempts to understand his mother’s death, Vardaman’s perspective and behaviors are otherwise very surface-level and highlight the intellectual limits of his youth. He sees Peabody arrive at the house right before Addie’s death, for example, and assumes that his presence is related to his mother’s passing. The way in which Vardaman beats Peabody’s horses in a tantrum-like manner not only reflects his struggle to regulate his emotions but reveals a logic purely based on what he sees. Similarly, he watches the grownups put Addie’s body in the coffin and nail it shut, an act which prompts him to drill air holes into it assuming that the body needs to breathe. Vardaman’s tendency to let visual cues drive his behavior, along with his frequent reiterations of facts about his family, reveal his overall innocent and simplistic worldview.