As I Lay Dying

by: William Faulkner

Sections 20–28

Summary Sections 20–28


Darl is standing with Anse when Jewel passes them, heading for the barn. Anse remarks to Darl that Jewel is disrespectful for not coming with them to bury the body. Cash proposes that they leave Jewel behind. Darl says that Jewel will catch up to them, and he sets out with the rest of the family in the wagon, which bears the coffin.


Anse frets that Jewel lacks respect, even for his dead mother, and Darl begins to laugh in response. The wagon has just passed Tull’s lane, and, just as Darl has predicted, Jewel approaches swiftly behind them on the back of his horse.


Darl sees Jewel approaching. The group passes Tull, who waves at them. Cash notes that the corpse will begin to smell in a few days, and that the coffin is still unbalanced. Darl proposes that Cash mention these observations to Jewel. A mile later, Jewel passes the wagon without acknowledgment. As Jewel passes them, his horse’s hooves kick up a spot of mud on the coffin, which Cash diligently scours off.


Anse reflects on how unfair the life of the farmer is, and reflects on the reward he expects in heaven. The family drives all day and reaches the farm of a man named Samson just before dark, only to find that torrential rains have caused the rivers to swell and flood the bridges. Anse takes comfort in the fact that he will be getting a new set of teeth.


The Bundren children show their grief in quite disparate ways, but these reactions can be broken into two rudimentary categories: physical and mental. Darl lives entirely in the realm of the mind, and almost never expresses emotion. He is so bent on rationalizing events that he refuses to acknowledge that his mother even exists anymore. Dewey Dell finds herself similarly lost in thought, although she appears to place the loss of her mother completely second to her own fears and sexual longings. In fact, for Dewey Dell, the possibility that a life is lurking inside her is more frightening than the idea of death. Cash, on the other hand, lives in a world that is entirely physical. He copes with, or ignores, the death of his mother by absorbing himself in the construction of her coffin. This fixation with building does not stop when the coffin is finished, and we see Cash fretting over the imbalance of the coffin and bringing his toolbox to the funeral. Cash’s manner throughout the turmoil of Addie’s death is incredibly deliberate, and it seems fitting that he acquires a limp, the perfect physical complement to his slow, stunted approach to all things emotional.

Vardaman and Jewel, however, come close to finding a middle ground between these extremes. Jewel’s reaction to Addie’s death is highly emotional. He almost single-handedly muscles the coffin into the wagon, and loudly curses his various siblings—actions that indicate a very strong physical and mental reaction. Moreover, Jewel displays great determination in refusing to ride with his family and in the speed with which he rushes by the rest of the Bundrens on his horse. Darl’s equation of Jewel’s mother with a horse certainly parallels the thinking of Vardaman, who tries to cope with the complexities of what his mother’s death means to him. Vardaman’s reactions are largely mental efforts, but his earlier beating of Peabody’s horses, and the fact that he returns to the bog to catch another fish, demonstrate that he too reacts to things on a physical level. If the siblings’ reactions do find common ground, it is because each singles out one object or issue through which to filter Addie’s death: Darl with questions of existence, Jewel with horses, Vardaman with fish, Cash with his carpentry, and Dewey Dell with her sexuality.