“Jewel’s mother is a horse,” Darl said.
“Then mine can be a fish, can’t it, Darl?” I said.
. . .
“Then what is your ma, Darl?” I said.
“I haven’t got ere one,” Darl said. “Because if I had one, it is was. And if it was, it cant be is. Can it?”
Vardaman’s equation, in Section 24, of his mother’s death with the fish’s death at first seems a childish, illogical connection. This association, however, along with Darl’s linking of the question of existence to a matter of “was” versus “is,” allows these two uneducated characters to tackle the highly complex matters of death and existence. The bizarre nature of this exchange epitomizes the Bundrens’ inability to deal with Addie’s death in a rational way. For Darl, language has a peculiar control over Addie’s existence: he believes that she cannot be an “is,” or a thing that continues to exist, because she is a “was,” or a thing that no longer exists. For Vardaman, objects that are similar to each other become interchangeable: he assigns the role of his mother to the fish, for example, because the fish is dead like Addie. These somewhat systematic responses to Addie’s death demonstrate that Darl and Vardaman, like the rest of their family, are unable to have a healthy emotional response to death.