Jewel, fifteen feet behind me, looking straight ahead, steps in a single stride through the window. Still staring straight ahead, his pale eyes like wood set into his wooden face, he crosses the floor in four strides with the rigid gravity of a cigar store Indian dressed in patched overalls and endued with life from the hips down[.]
Darl Bundren narrates the first chapter of the novel and immediately gives a vivid description of his brother, Jewel. Through these lines, Darl describes Jewel’s features as pale, wooden, and rigid as he walks clearly separated from Darl. Not only does this description identify Jewel as lacking emotion or obvious feelings, but it also shows Jewel’s division from Darl.
With tossing mane and tail and rolling eye the horse makes another short curvetting rush and stops again, feet bunched, watching Jewel. Jewel walks steadily toward him, his hands at his sides. Save for Jewel’s legs they are like two figures carved for a tableau savage in the sun.
Early in the novel, Darl connects Jewel’s character to his obsession with his horse. In this quote, Darl describes Jewel’s strange relationship with the horse as if the wild nature of the horse and Jewel’s hard, unemotional character seem to balance each other. In this visual image, Darl even goes as far as to compare Jewel and his horse as one connected carved figure or image. Clearly, the horse holds great importance to Jewel.
Jewel’s eyes look like pale wood in his high-blooded face. He is a head taller than any of the rest of us, always was. I told them that’s why ma always whipped him and petted him more. Because he was peakling around the house more. That’s why she named him Jewel I told them.
Darl describes Jewel, pinpointing his hard demeanor and describing the favoritism he gets from their mother. Darl describes Jewel’s physical features in a way that seems to match his character. For example, Jewel’s eyes are “like pale wood,” and he is “a head taller” than the others just as he is emotionless but stands above the rest of them in Addie’s eyes. Darl even connects the name Jewel to the way Addie treasures him.
He sits erect on the seat, leaning a little forward, wooden-backed. The brim of his hat has soaked free of the crown in two places, drooping across his wooden face . . . looking long across the valley to where the barn leans against the bluff, shaping the invisible horse. . . . From here they are no more than specks, implacable, patient, portentous. “But it’s not your horse that’s dead.” “Goddamn you,” he says. “Goddamn you.” I cannot love my mother because I have no mother. Jewel’s mother is a horse.
Darl and Jewel have been delayed getting home from the delivery and realize that Addie has died while they were out. Darl describes Jewel’s reaction when he mockingly reassures Jewel that the buzzards flying overhead do not mean that Jewel’s horse is dead, implying Jewel cares more about his horse than their mother. At first, Jewel maintains his typical wooden stare, but then his angry verbalization actually contradicts his normally cold character.
He is almost running now and Cash is left behind. It seems to me that the end which I now carry alone has no weight, as though it coasts like a rushing straw upon the furious tide of Jewel’s despair. I am not touching it when, turning, he lets it overshoot him, swinging, and stops it and sloughs it into the wagon bed in the same motion and looks back at me, his face suffused with fury and despair.
As Darl describes the scene where Darl, Cash, and Jewel try to bring Addie’s coffin to the wagon, Jewel’s emotional reaction to Addie’s death becomes obvious. After appearing stoic prior to his mother’s death, Jewel physically and emotionally reacts, pulling away from the others as he muscles the coffin in the wagon on his own. Then his angry cursing at his siblings further displays his despair and sense of division from the others.
A mile further along he passes us, the horse, archnecked, reined back to a swift singlefoot. He sits lightly, poised, upright, wooden-faced in the saddle, the broken hat raked at a swaggering angle. He passes us swiftly, without looking at us, the horse driving, its hooves hissing in the mud. A gout of mud, backflung, plops onto the box.
Darl narrates again as the Bundrens begin their journey to Jefferson to bury Addie. Here, he describes how Jewel decides to ride separately from the others on his horse, passing quickly with little regard for them or his mother’s coffin. When his horse flings mud onto the coffin, Jewel does not even notice, a moment that seems to symbolize his discord with the whole family and their decision to bring Addie’s coffin to Jefferson.
“It’s all right,” Cash said. “He earned the money. He cleaned up that forty acres of new ground Quick laid out last spring. He did it single handed, working at night by lantern. I saw him. So I dont reckon that horse cost anybody anything except Jewel. I dont reckon we need worry.”
In another Darl narration, he explains the story behind Jewel’s horse and how Jewel secretly worked at night to earn the money to buy the horse. Through the dialogue, Cash reveals Jewel’s strong work ethic and desire to own this horse. However, the secret work also shows Jewel’s deceitful side as he shrugs off any remorse for keeping his plan undisclosed.
He is down there in the barn, sliding fluidly past the gaudy lunging swirl, into the stall with it. . . . Then he returns and slips quickly past the single crashing thump and up against the horse, where it cannot overreach. He applies the curry-comb, holding himself within the horse’s striking radius with the agility of an acrobat, cursing the horse in a whisper of obscene caress.
After the wild river crossing, Darl narrates the results with Cash being injured and the family relying on Armstid for shelter and aid. In these descriptions, Darl delineates Jewel’s separation from the family as the italicized sections highlight Jewel’s focus on his horse away from the rest of the Bundrens. Again, Jewel appears physically divided from the others just as he is in blood and personality. Jewel’s only connection seems to be with his horse.
Jewel stands with his hands on his hips, looking at Anse. . . . He looked out across the field, his face still as a rock, like it was somebody else talking about somebody else’s horse and him not even listening. Then he spit, slow, and said “Hell” and he turned and went on to the gate and unhitched the horse and got on it.
Toward the end of the novel, Armstid describes the dysfunction of the Bundrens as they continue their journey after the river crossing incident. Here, Armstid describes Jewel’s astonished reaction to hearing that Anse has selfishly traded Jewel’s horse to buy a team of mules. Armstid portrays Jewel’s feelings of complete despair as he rides away, reluctantly accepting that Anse will always get what he wants.
We see his shoulders strain as he upends the coffin and slides it single-handed from the saw-horses. It looms unbelievably tall, hiding him. . . . Then it topples forward, gaining momentum, revealing Jewel and the sparks raining on him too in engendering gusts, so that he appears to be enclosed in a thin nimbus of fire.
Darl describes the scene after he lights Gillespie’s barn on fire, clearly identifying Jewel as the hero who saves the animals and Addie’s coffin. In these lines, Darl’s imagery details Jewel as he’s surrounded by sparks of fire, doing the impossible as he literally sacrifices his own body to save Addie’s coffin from burning. Despite Jewel’s often detached personality, his actions in this scene demonstrate his true devotion to his mother.