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As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

Sections 1–6

Summary Sections 1–6
From Darl and Jewel’s arrival at home to Darl’s departure


Darl Bundren describes walking with his brother Jewel across a field toward their house. They pass a dilapidated cotton house, which Darl walks around but Jewel walks straight through, entering and leaving through the building’s large, open windows. They then reach the foot of a bluff, where Vernon Tull, the Bundrens’ wealthier neighbor, has stacked two chairs on his wagon. At the top of the bluff, Darl and Jewel’s older brother, Cash, is dutifully fitting boards together for a coffin for their mother, Addie. Darl walks past Cash and enters the house.


The narrative perspective shifts to that of Tull’s wife, Cora, who is thinking about some cakes that she was recently hired to make, only to see the order cancelled after she had baked them. Cora’s daughter, Kate, rails against the injustice of this turn of events, while Cora takes it in stride. Addie lies nearby, frail and silent, hardly breathing, as Cora’s other daughter, Eula, watches over her. Outside, the sound of Cash’s sawing continues. Cora recalls Addie’s talent for baking cakes. Addie appears to be either asleep or watching Cash’s efforts through the window. Darl passes through the hall without a word and heads for the back of the house.


Darl encounters his father, Anse, and their neighbor, Vernon Tull, sitting on the back porch. Anse asks after Jewel. Darl takes a drink of water, thinking about what a simple pleasure it is to do so, and remembers sneaking out at night to drink water as a child. Darl answers Anse’s question, informing his father that Jewel is attending to the horses. In the barn, Jewel struggles violently to mount a horse, before finally leaping onto its back and riding it down and up a hill. When he gets back to the barn, Jewel dismounts and feeds the horse.


Jewel thinks with bitterness and resentment about Cash’s insistence on constructing Addie’s coffin right outside her window. He is angry with the other members of his family for allowing Cash to proceed in this way. He expresses a wish to be alone with his mother in her final days.


Darl talks about how he and Jewel are making preparations for a delivery trip they are running for Tull, who is going to pay them three dollars. Anse is hesitant to let them go, as he is worried that Addie will die before Darl and Jewel return with the team of horses. Tull reassures them about Addie, and Jewel lashes out at him for his intrusiveness. Jewel then proceeds to voice his anger toward Cash and the rest of the family for their seeming eagerness to hurry Addie to her end. Anse responds by applauding the family’s fortitude in following Addie’s last wishes. Finally, Anse agrees to let the boys make the trip, on the condition that they return by the next day at sundown. As Darl enters the house, he reflects on how voices travel in the hallway: “they sound as though they were speaking out of the air about your head.”


Cora watches Darl enter the house and is touched by the emotion with which he bids Addie farewell. She contrasts Darl’s sweetness with Anse’s and Jewel’s callousness. As Darl stands in the doorway, Dewey Dell, his sister, asks him what he wants. He ignores her and instead stares at his mother, “his heart too full for words.”