The wife of Anse Bundren and mother to Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman. Addie is a mostly absent protagonist, and her death triggers the novel’s action. She is a former schoolteacher whose bitter, loveless life causes her to despise her husband and to invest all of her love in her favorite child, Jewel, rather than in the rest of her family or God.
The head of the Bundren family. Anse is a poor farmer afflicted with a hunchback, whose instincts are overwhelmingly selfish. His poor childrearing skills seem to be largely responsible for his children’s various predicaments. Alternately hated and disrespected by his children, Anse nonetheless succeeds in achieving his two greatest goals in one fell swoop: burying his dead wife in her hometown of Jefferson, and acquiring a new set of false teeth.
The second Bundren child. Darl is the most sensitive and articulate of the surviving Bundrens and delivers the greatest number of interior monologues in the novel. As the family encounters disaster upon disaster during the trip, Darl’s frustration with the whole process leads him to try to end things decisively by incinerating his dead mother’s coffin.
The bastard child of Addie and Whitfield, the minister. Though Darl seems to understand him, Jewel remains the novel’s greatest mystery, and is the least represented in its many sections. Jewel has a proud, fiercely independent nature that most of his family and neighbors confuse for selfishness. His passionate, brooding nature, however, reveals a real love and dedication to his mother, and he becomes a fierce protector of her coffin.
Read an in-depth analysis of Jewel.
The eldest Bundren child and a skilled carpenter. Cash is the paragon of patience and selflessness, almost to the point of absurdity. He refuses ever to complain about his broken, festering leg, allowing the injury to degenerate to the point that he may never walk again. Cash emerges as one of the novel’s few consistently stable characters.
The only Bundren daughter. Dewey Dell is seventeen, and a recent sexual experience has left her pregnant. Increasingly desperate, she finds her mind occupied exclusively with her pregnancy, and views all men with varying degrees of suspicion.
The youngest of the Bundren children. Vardaman has a lively imagination, and he views his mother’s death through the same lens with which he views a fish he has recently caught and cleaned. Although his ramblings at the beginning of the novel border on the maniacal, Vardaman proves to be a thoughtful and innocent child.
The Bundrens’ wealthier neighbor. Tull is both a critic of and an unappreciated help to the Bundrens. He hires Darl, Jewel, and Cash for odd jobs, and helps the family cross the river in spite of its overt hostility toward him. Tull and his wife Cora, however, are critical of the Bundrens’ decision to bury Addie’s body in Jefferson.
Vernon Tull’s wife. Cora stays with Addie during Addie’s final hours. A deeply religious woman and pious to a fault, Cora frequently and vocally disapproves of Addie’s impiety and behavior.
The father of Dewey Dell’s child. While he never appears in person in the novel, Lafe is certainly a driving force behind many of Dewey Dell’s thoughts and much of her behavior. In a supreme effort to disassociate himself from her problems, Lafe gives Dewey Dell ten dollars with which to pay for an abortion.
The local minister. Held up by Cora Tull as the pinnacle of piety, Whitfield is in fact a hypocrite. His affair with Addie results in Jewel’s conception, and, though Whitfield resolves to confess the affair to Anse, he ends up deciding that the mere intention to confess will do just as well.
The severely overweight rural doctor who attends to Addie and later to Cash. Peabody is extremely critical of the way Anse treats his children.
The local farmer who puts up the Bundrens on the first evening of their disastrous funeral journey. Samson sees the Bundrens’ problems as a judgment on the family’s uncouth manners and on Addie and Anse’s disregard for God and their own children.
A local farmer who puts up the Bundrens on the second evening of their funeral journey. Anse repeatedly and rigidly refuses Armstid’s offer to lend Anse a team of mules.
A farmer who puts up the Bundrens later in their journey.
The Mottson druggist who indignantly refuses Dewey Dell’s request for an abortion. Moseley’s stern lecture to Dewey Dell is both the embodiment of sanctimoniousness and, some might say, of fatherly caring.
A rather despicable young employee at a Jefferson drugstore. MacGowan extorts a sexual favor from Dewey Dell in return for a fake abortion treatment.
Gillespie’s son, who helps Jewel save the animals from the burning barn.